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Middle School Intervention Study Shows Promising Results

Teen substance abuse

Your child has probably been exposed to some anti-drug programs at school. And there is evidence to suggest that these messages are getting through to kids by preventing them from experimenting with drugs or alcohol at an early age. But is this type of instruction effective in the long-term?

That is what a study conducted by scientists from Arizona State University, Stanford University, and the University of North Carolina endeavored to figure out. The researchers, led by Dr. Nancy A. Gonzales, provided a substance abuse intervention program to hundreds of Latino middle school students, and then followed up with the students five years later to see whether or not the adolescents were abusing drugs or alcohol. The results of their research were published online in March in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Study Focused on Latino Youth

From 2003 to 2006, a total of 516 Mexican-American 7th graders were identified for observation, with one group acting as a control group and the other undergoing a nine-session Bridges/Puentes family-focused group intervention program. Then, 420 of the same students were studied between September of 2009 and September of 2014 (when most of them were seniors in high school), and the data was analyzed in 2016 and 2017.

The intervention program consisted of youth, parents, and family sessions delivered during the spring semester at the students’ schools. Separate programs were offered for students from Spanish-dominant and English-dominant families.

Researchers Find Encouraging Results

After the data analysis was completed, the researchers observed some important findings. Those students who went through the middle school intervention program were less likely to be suffering from an alcohol use disorder five years later. Moreover, those students who underwent intervention and had previously drunk alcohol or taken drugs exhibited fewer instances of alcohol use and drunkenness five years after the program.

Dr. Gonzales and her cohorts concluded that there was “an association between a universal middle school intervention and alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorders among Mexican-American high school students and implementation of universal middle school interventions to reach Latino communities.” Though the research was narrowly focused on Latino middle schoolers, the results showed promise for similar kinds of intervention programs that are provided to pre-teenaged students.

No Success in Reducing Binge Drinking

The only bit of bad news from the study pertained to rates of binge drinking among the study participants. The researchers did not find any statistically significant correlation between the middle school intervention program and the frequency of binge drinking as teenagers.

Teen substance abuse

The reason this discovery is so disappointing is that previous studies have shown that Hispanic adults tend to binge drink more than their white counterparts – even though Hispanics are more likely to be non-drinkers than white adults. Binge drinking is defined as consuming enough alcohol within a two-hour period to be legally drunk (i.e., a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher).

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 42% of Hispanic adults surveyed reported binge drinking at least once in the previous year as compared to under 37% of white adults. In addition, 26% of Hispanics admitted binge drinking at least once a month on average as opposed to 21% of whites. Ironically, over 70% of white adults admitted to consuming any alcohol in the past year, which was substantially more than Hispanics’ rate of 54.5%.

Still, the JAMA Psychiatry provides a glimmer of hope for alcohol prevention advocates who are targeting middle schoolers, especially those students in the Mexican-American community. Perhaps future studies will reveal that the benefits of such intervention programs extend to middle schoolers of all ethnic groups.

If your middle school or high school student is abusing alcohol, contact us for information on getting him or her help.

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