The advantages of working to prevent AOD harms before they become an issue are increasingly being proven. Community members know their communities best and have a huge opportunity to affect change in this area.
Working to prevent rather than treat harm gives the best long-term hope of reducing alcohol and drug (AOD) problems. Primary prevention efforts aim to tackle the causes of AOD problems to protect people from developing a problem in the first place.
Preventing AOD problems before they occur is known as ‘going upstream’.
Intervening ‘upstream’ of a problem means to get in early and remove the risk factors and increase the protective factors that can lead to people misusing drugs, and to an array of health (including mental health) problems.
Risk and protective factors are underlying factors that influence an individual to either avoid or engage in harmful behaviour. For example, influences that are known to facilitate or predict use of alcohol and other drug use are known as ‘risk factors’, while influences that are known to inhibit or reduce the likelihood of alcohol or other drug use are protective factors.
Risk factors for alcohol misuse include:
Protective factors for the same behaviour include:
These factors can be found in individuals, families, school, peer groups and whole communities at each stage of life.
Prevention requires us to identify factors and then implement strategies to:
The more a program reduces risk factors and increases protective factors, the more it is likely to succeed in preventing substance abuse among children and youth.