More than two decades of research from the American Medical Association show that alcohol causes severe and possibly lasting brain damage in people under the age of 21. Teens who use alcohol score worse on vocabulary, visual-spatial tests, and memory tests. They also are more likely to perform poorly in school and suffer from social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts, and violence. Still think it's "just a rite of passage?"

Learn about Risk and Protective factors

Risk and Protective factors are conditions in the community, family, school and the individual's environments that are known to increase or decrease the likelihood that a young person will engage in one or more problem behaviors.

Why do we look at these? The more risk factors youth face, the more likely the child is to have substance abuse and related problems as a teen or young adult. Enhancing protective factors can reduce the likelihood of these problem behaviors.

Your community prevention coalition looks at these risk and protective factors and how they operate in their respective communities. This information allows the coalition to select the needed activities and prevention programs that have been shown to reduce particular risks.

How to use Risk and Protective Factors to help your child

Risk factors are like red flags that can warn you about possible dangers in your child's future and help you take steps to prevent those dangers. Protective factors can be called preventive measures that can help keep your child from using alcohol, tobacco and other illegal drugs.

As Parents, the connection between risk and protective factors can be a resource that informs you of the many influences that affect your child's decisions and behaviors. Promoting or increasing protective factors, while reducing risk factors, helps to buffer young people from the negative consequences of exposure to risk. Protective factors either reduce the impact of the risk or change the way the young person would respond to that risk.

Risk factors function in a cumulative fashion; that is, the greater the number of risk factors, the greater the likelihood that youth will engage in delinquent or other risky behavior. There is also evidence that problem behaviors associated with risk factors tend to cluster. For example, delinquency and violence cluster with other problems, such as drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and school misbehavior.

Factors That Predict The Likelihood Of Risky Behaviors By Youth

Antisocial behavior
Favorable attitudes toward drug use
Early onset of alcohol and/or drug use
Poor refusal skills
Early onset of aggression or violence
Victimization and exposure to violence
Gun possession
Life stressors
Early sexual involvement
Intellectual or development disabilities
Mental health issues

Family history of alcohol and/or drug use
Parental use of harsh or physical punishment
Erratic discipline practices
Poor parental supervision
Poor family bonding
Family violence
Child victimization and maltreatment
Pattern of high family conflict
Family history of parent criminality
Having a young mother
Sibling antisocial behavior
Family transitions
Low parent education level
Low academic achievement
Negative attitude toward school
Low school attachment
Truancy/frequent absences
Dropping out of school
Identified as learning disabled
Frequent school transitions

Peer alcohol, tobacco or drug use
Gang involvement
Association with delinquent or aggressive peers
Peer rejection

Availability of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs in neighborhood
Availability of firearms
High-crime neighborhood
Low community attachment
Neighborhood youth in trouble
Feeling unsafe in the neighborhood

Factors That Protect Youth Against Substance Abuse And Other Problem Behaviors

Positive or resilient temperament
Healthy sense of self
Social competencies and problem-solving skills
Involvement in organized religious activities
Perception of social support from adults and peers
Positive expectations for the future

Good relationships with parents/bonding to family
Opportunities and reward for prosocial family involvement
High family expectations
Having a stable family

Positive attitude toward school
Student bonding
Connectedness to teachers
Opportunities and rewards for prosocial school involvement
Academic achievement
Clear standards and rules in school community
High expectations of students
Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
Involvement with positive peer group activities and norms
Good relationship with peers
Parental approval of friends

Safe environment (law enforcement presence)
Availability of neighborhood resources and activities
Positive social norms
Opportunities and rewards for prosocial community involvement
Economically stable communities