Adolescents Respond Best to Interactive Drug Prevention Programs

Defining effective drug prevention programs: What works?

Tobler Research Associates conducted a systematic review of studies examining the effectiveness of tobacco and substance abuse prevention programs.

Under the contract, investigators conducted three separate meta-analyses examining:

  • 207 evaluations of school-based substance abuse prevention programs.
  • 99 evaluations of non-school-based programs.
  • 51 evaluations of family interventions that measured aggression and conduct disorder — two commonly used predictors in studies of young-adolescent substance abuse.

Key Findings

Among the investigators' findings, as reported in the Journal of Primary Prevention, 20(4): 275–336, 2000.

  • Interactive programs — which foster interpersonal skills and active engagement between students and teachers — are more effective than noninteractive programs — which are lecture oriented and stress drug knowledge.

    Interactive programs are more effective at reducing, preventing or delaying adolescent drug use for all substances combined and for each substance individually — tobacco, alcohol and marijuana).
  • As the number of participants in an interactive program increases, the program's effectiveness decreases. Non-interactive programs are only marginally effective at any size, yet are used in 90 percent of U.S. schools.
  • Many of the reports that list "evidence-based best practices" or "research-based model programs" include programs for which evidence of effectiveness is of questionable quality or lacking altogether.


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided support for the study through a contract with Tobler Research Associates. The firm closed following the February 2000 death of its principal, Nancy Tobler.

After the Program

In April 2000, RWJF awarded a $50,000 contract (ID# 039149) to the Social Capital Development Corporation (SCD), an Albany, N.Y., research organization, to continue the meta-analyses. SCD has subsequently received a $250,000 grant (ID# 040928) to refine the analyses. (See Program Results on ID# 040928.)