In recent decades, prevention has become an increasingly important challenge for public interventions in the addiction field
The importance of prevention
Preventing addictive behaviours among adolescents is a major challenge for society as a whole. However, prevention activities are often insufficiently prepared and are based more on beliefs or ideologies than on scientific knowledge. Moreover, these activities lack homogeneity, both in terms of lines of intervention and funding, and are not adapted to the specificities of the target population.
Dianova believes that the prevention of addiction among young people should integrate societal developments (new drugs, new modes of consumption, changes in legislation, etc.) through the use of scientifically validated strategies based on standards and methodological guidelines. These strategies are based in particular on:
- The acquisition of psychosocial skills (problem solving, decision making, interpersonal skills, stress management, etc.);
- Interventions aimed at developing parenting skills (communication skills, conflict management, ability to set limits, etc.);
- Prevention strategies tailored to youth with vulnerability factors (e.g. those whose parents suffer from substance use disorders).
Young people are not the only people who use substances, but adolescents today are growing up in an environment where drugs, both legal and illegal, are ubiquitous.
In most countries across the world, substance use increases sharply during adolescence. As young people’s social networks expand, their alcohol consumption becomes more frequent and intense, and the quantities consumed – in a single episode – are often significantly higher than those of adults. Tobacco and cannabis use tends to follow a similar pattern, with low levels of use up to the age of 15, which then tend to increase to more than half of adolescents between the ages of 17 and 18.
Providing information about drugs involves conveying objective and scientifically validated knowledge, while ensuring that it is well understood. But providing information is not enough.
Moreover, while these three drugs are the most problematic in terms of the number of people affected, the impact of other drugs, in particular synthetic opiates, must also be taken into account. Some of these synthetic drugs, manufactured illegally, are tens or even hundreds of times more potent than traditional street heroin or prescription opiates. Given the propensity of many young people to engage in more or less dangerous experimentation, it is vital not only to prevent addictive behaviours in general (especially at an age when the brain is not yet fully developed), but also to inform and raise awareness so that one day’s experience is literally not the last .
Gaining young people's trust
Experiences during adolescence are fundamentally positive; they are not only a source of learning and creativity, but also have a structuring value in allowing them to gain autonomy and to refine their perception of the world, of others and of themselves. It is therefore undesirable (and impossible) to prevent young people from having their own experiences. Therefore, drug prevention actions should also be based on the eventual lived experience of adolescents.
Effective prevention approaches also involve gaining the trust of young people by telling them the truth. Programmes aimed at young people must start from the premise that it is impossible to prevent all substance use.
Rather than focusing on abstinence, programmes should focus on preventing the most at-risk behaviours by addressing the personal and environmental factors that may trigger or maintain them.
Effective preventive action is built in the medium and long term from a comprehensive perspective: of course, young people must be informed, but they must also be supported in their perception of the risks and benefits associated with different drugs, their protective factors must be reinforced, they must be encouraged to participate in activities that reinforce their self-esteem and enable them to develop a positive and satisfying relationship with the world.
Thus, in the field of prevention, educational, empowering and self-management perspectives have now replaced traditional, dissuasive and restrictive approaches, thanks to advances in knowledge in the social and human sciences.
Dianova recommends the development of comprehensive and early prevention strategies, involving not only the target population (e.g. school pupils), but also parents and community actors. These programmes should include not only in-school modalities (e.g. psychosocial skills development), but also out-of-school modalities, such as parenting programmes, while ensuring that adolescents have healthy participatory spaces for leisure and free time.
 In recent years in the United States, opioid overdose deaths have doubled among adolescents, even though opioid use has declined dramatically among this population.