A shiny copper balance scale rests on wooden boards stained orange, green, blue, red and purple
An old-fashioned balance scale serves as a good metaphor for how we do addiction prevention.

When our prevention specialists are out in the community, we’re asked some predictable questions about our work.

Q: Are most kids using opioids? A: Definitely not. In both Lebanon & Lancaster Counties, less than 1% of kids have ever tried heroin or misused prescription painkillers.

Q: What’s the most current drug trend? A: Overwhelmingly, the most used drug among youth and adults is alcohol, and drinking is up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it’s important to keep up with trends, we must keep alcohol use prevention at the top of our lists.

Q: How do we know what prevention methods work? A: We don’t have to wonder! We’ve studied prevention for decades, and would love to tell you about our public health-based methods.

Most people would agree that addiction is an illness, but when it comes to prevention, most also lose sight of the fact that there are risks for developing this illness, just as there are with hypertension or skin cancer. And luckily, there are also protective factors, or strengths, which help us remain healthy. These risk and protective factors are the North Star of addiction prevention: we always look to them to help guide the way. We’d like to share with readers the power of understanding these risks and strengths, which can offset the fear that just anyone will develop an addiction.

Risk Factors

As with other illnesses, some of the risk factors for addiction are within our power to control, and others are not. Take a look at this list of risk factors. Which are easiest to change, and which are harder to influence?

  • Genetic predisposition for addiction
  • Childhood trauma
  • Family or friend circle has favorable attitudes toward using alcohol, tobacco, other drugs or gambling (ATODG)
  • Don’t feel connected to family, school, or community/neighborhood
  • Extreme poverty
  • Identify as LGBTQ+
  • Have a mental illness
  • Do not believe that ATODG use can be harmful

A prevention specialist would look down this list and see that genetic traits, such as how alcohol or drugs are metabolized and react in the brain, are fixed. Attitudes toward ATODG use and how harmful that use might be, however, are certainly something that can change. After doing research to see which risk factors are a problem in a community, we would bring in a prevention program that offered protective factors to balance out that risk.

Protective Factors

Think of the process of prevention as an old-fashioned balance scale. Onto one of the hanging pans, we put a risk factor, and the weight of it makes that pan hang lower. To balance things out, we want to start adding protective factors to the other side.

  • Belief in the moral order
  • Having at least one loving adult who can be counted on
  • Opportunities to achieve and be recognized at home, school, or the community/neighborhood
  • Feeling attached to family
  • Adequate financial resources for the family
  • Ability to make friends
  • Positive partnering between school and family
  • Presence of mentors and support for interests
  • Good coping and problem-solving skills
  • Extended family support
  • Mastery of academic skills

Prevention Across the Lifespan

No matter how big and heavy the risks factors are, the balance scale will swing back toward health if we add enough protections to the other side. The higher the risk, the more prevention we need to do with that person, and for a longer amount of time. Compass Mark envisions a world where children get evidence-based addiction prevention each year in school–kindergarten through 12th grade. A world where youth with more risk factors get extra doses of prevention through small groups at school, mentoring in the community, family counseling, faith-based activities, and extracurriculars that excite them. Where prevention is sustained into adulthood through workplace wellness programs, and assisted living options that educate seniors.

All of those protective factors serve to prevent people from developing an addiction at any age. How are risk and protective factors for addiction working in your life? Do you need extra strengths to outweigh your risks? And how can you increase protective factors in children? Our prevention specialists are available to talk you through it–please reach out!

Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm // 717.299.2831 // info@compassmark.org

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