Addiction: Early Intervention for Youth

Elaboration of a early intervention handbook to identify addictive behaviors in adolescents and young adults

By Antonio Jesús Molina Fernández, head of programs and projects department of the association Dianova Spain. Mr. Fernández holds a degree in Psychology and Social and Cultural Anthropology and is an associate Professor at the Department of Social Psychology, Complutense University of Madrid.

In the course of 2015, in collaboration with the National Plan on Drugs of the Spanish government, Dianova Spain developed an intervention manual dedicated to the early detection of problematic drug use and other addictive behaviors in adolescents and young adults.

When speaking of indicated prevention or early prevention for youth and their families, it should be noted that they require specific programs with interventions tailored to young people with substance abuse related problems (or other types of addictive behavior) and their families.

Far from focusing exclusively on the addiction behavior, these programs aim to analyze the causes of it and to mitigate its impact on the adolescents and his family, such as aggression, lack of communication, school failure and other behavioral problems.

The programs objectives were to:

  • Provide adolescents with the necessary resources to improve their protection factors against risk situations,
  • promote the necessary changes in the family to meet the needs of adolescents and facilitate their full development: values, feelings, attitudes, behaviors, etc.
  • Mitigate the more compulsive and out-of-control behaviors in a behavioral model based on control of conduct disorders and short-term rewards.
  • Analyze and minimize risk factors, especially in the control o schedules, behaviors, performing tasks and video games,
  • Correlate the age of onset of use and academic failure, given the widespread feeling among the young that studying is useless, which requires the inclusion of alternative education strategies.

We have utilized interventions derived from the theory of risk and protective factors, according to which a risk factor can be defined as "any factor associated with the increased likelihood of a behavior generating negative consequences" and a protective factor as "any factor that reduces the impact of a risky behavior."

According to the theory of risk and protective factors, "protective factors help people not to engage in potentially risky behaviors and/or facilitate alternative solutions. (Spooner, Hall y Lynskey 2001).

In general, during the implementation of the program, we could determine that:

  1. There is a general consensus about the multifactorial nature of substance abuse.
  2. There are factors related to the individual and his relations with his family and friends (intrapersonal and interpersonal factors) and to environmental and contextual factors.
  3. Risk and protection factors are not situated at each end of a continuum. In other words, the absence of a risk factor does not entail the presence of a protection factor and vice versa. However, the greater the concentration factor, the higher the risk or protection.
  4. There are different risk factors depending on drugs, including those related to the effects of drug use on the brain, the neuropsychological alterations and related cognitive and behavioral aspects.
  5. There are risk factors that influence the person throughout his/her development and others that have a greater influence depending on the individual’s age, such as peer pressure in early adolescence.
  6. There are risk and protection factors that are common to different problem behaviors (school failure, unwanted pregnancy, violence, etc.) with related biopsychosocial consequences, particularly in the lifestyle.

The program was developed using a methodology in 6 modules:

  1. Current concepts in the prevention of drug abuse and other addictive behaviors: health education,
  2. The three stages of development between 3-16 years and prevention training in the family setting,
  3. What is adolescence – responses and expectations towards substance use (and other addictive behaviors)
  4. Training of parents in prevention and risk factors detection,
  5. Action Plans in prevention and protective factors,
  6. Competences and abilities for parents.

The program was effectively addressed through a participatory approach dedicated to thoroughly exploring various issues, clarifying doubts and encouraging full participation (avoiding the trap of passivity). Focus groups were set up, with presentations, case studies and role plays, through a participatory methodology involving parents and other participants during dedicated tutoring sessions (also via social networks online).

Additional information