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Drug and Alcohol Prevention: Intergenerational factors and the role of the family

When talking about the prevention of substance use, it is useful firstly to unpick what we actually mean by the term ‘prevention’: what are we trying to prevent? What is the ultimate aim – and how is it best achieved? In reality, a number of goals come under the prevention banner, including the
prevention of any substance use at all, delaying the onset of use, and preventing or reducing the harms caused by substance use to individuals, families and communities. This briefing encompasses all of these concepts of prevention.

Many people use substances at some point in their lives without experiencing adverse long-term effects, but for a minority, substance use escalates into a highly problematic issue. This can have a devastating impact both on the lives of those using drugs and alcohol and those around them, most notably their families. Recognising that the application of different approaches is required for different circumstances, the government’s 2010 Drug Strategy stated that ‘interventions need to respond incrementally to risks in terms of drug use, vulnerability, and particularly age.’ So as well as different goals, prevention activities also have different audiences. Traditionally, most prevention initiatives have been universal; that is, ‘directed at unselected populations of children or young people, typically in a classroom situation.’2 Prevention activities can often be concealed within more ‘generic’ activities, such as sports and other clubs, which promote positive development in children and young people. By comparison, there are few initiatives which selectively target children thought to be at a heightened risk of substance use involvement – for example, where parental substance use is a factor there is a strong case for targeted and intensive interventions, since children whose parents use substances use are typically at greater risk. Similarly, universal prevention activities are of little relevance where substance use has already become problematic. In such cases, approaches geared towards reducing the harms and consequences of substance use are more suitable.