Leaders in Drug Abuse Prevention
December 31, 1991
Author: Mohai, Caroline E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel
ERIC Identifier: ED341892
During the past
decade much has been learned about school-based drug prevention
programming. We now know that effective programs are
comprehensive, begin intervention efforts early, project a clear
no-use message, contain different strategies for different
populations, and coordinate their program with a broader
community-wide prevention effort (Mohai, 1991).
More light has also
been shed on the strengths and weaknesses of specific program
components, including curricula. Though drug prevention curricula
assessment has been difficult, evidence is mounting that curricula
based on the Social Influence Model (SIM) is especially effective
in changing student drug-use attitudes and behavior (Ellickson,
1990; Bangert-Drowns, 1988; MacKinnon, 1991). Research has also
shown that allowing students to take an active role in prevention
program delivery strengthens the program as well as boosting the
self-esteem and academic performance of the students who assist
(Carr, 1988; Benard, 1990; Norem-Hebeisen, 1983). Because of these
advantages, more and more schools are enlisting the skills and
enthusiasm of trained "peer leaders" to lead other students
through SIM-based drug prevention curriculums (Perry, 1986).
LEADERS IN STUDENT SERVICES
Peer leaders have
been used by student services professionals since the mid-1960s.
Peer leaders have assisted school counselors and administrators in
providing support for fellow students with special needs such as
academic (tutoring), social (orienting new students), physical
(aiding handicapped students), or emotional (leading support
groups). Both the growing strength of the self-help movement, and
the diminishing resources available to schools for assisting
students, have made peer leader programs appealing. (Carr, 1988;
Selection of peer
leaders has been done in a number of ways, although most programs
do not restrict participation to high achievers or student
leaders. In fact, serving as a peer leader has been shown to have
a transforming effect on the school performance of underachieving
and alienated youth (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
1989). Once selected, peer leaders go through a special training
program to develop strong communication and decision-making skills
(Myrick & Sorenson, 1988).
Specific benefits of
a peer leader program include: (1) freeing up time for teachers
and counselors to perform other tasks, (2) providing strong role
models for other students (peers are more effective as role models
than adults), (3) creating a less threatening counseling
environment where students can share attitudes and experiences
that they might not wish to discuss with an adult, and (4)
strengthening the self-esteem of peer leaders by providing them
with leadership experience and an opportunity to play a meaningful
role in the lives of others (Webb, 1987).
SOCIAL INFLUENCE MODEL (SIM) AND DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION
Based on the
knowledge that social pressures play a major role in shaping
behavior, especially the behavior of youth, the Social Influence
Model (SIM), or Peer Influence Model as it is sometimes called,
seeks to strengthen students' awareness of and resistance to the
external pressures exerted by friends, family, and the media, and
to internal pressures such as low self-esteem that can lead youth
to drug use (Norem-Hebeisen, 1983; Pentz, 1990; Benard, 1990).
Prevention curriculum based on SIM dispenses objective information
about drug use (within the context of a clear no-use philosophy),
examines drug use attitudes and behaviors, and gives social
resistance skill training (Ellickson, 1990; Mohai, 1991).
Peer Leaders in SIM Discussion/Resistance Skill Training
A variety of SIM
curriculum delivery modes exist including printed materials,
presentations, media announcements, posters, games, surveys,
movies, and computer programs. One SIM approach especially
conducive to the use of peer leaders is discussion and resistance
skill training groups where students can sort out together
assumption from fact and learn and practice assertiveness skills
that will help them successfully negotiate their way through the
various social situations in which their behavioral choices are
challenged (Ellickson, 1990; Perry, 1986; U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, 1989).
Discussion/resistance skills training has become popular because
it capitalizes on adolescent needs for competence, autonomy,
recognition, and fun, and addresses social isolation that can lead
to feelings of alienation and delinquent behavior. (Carr, 1988;
Benard, 1990). Skills targeted for improvement are:
problem identification and management
communication, including assertion and refusal skills (Carr,
Peer leaders lead
fellow students through a specific drug prevention curriculum that
includes group discussion, question/answer and writing exercises,
and individual and group role playing. During these exercises
students challenge each others' beliefs, try out new social
skills, and provide important emotional support to one another
that can extend beyond the group session (Benard, 1990).
Using peer leaders
to deliver SIM-based drug prevention curricula has many benefits.
By giving youths an opportunity to help and learn from each other,
student-led SIM curricula address the internal needs of youth for
personal efficacy and self-worth, while building valuable skills
in identifying and effectively resisting social pressures to use
drugs. To be effective, peer-led SIM programming efforts should:
be supervised by well-trained adults capable of modeling the
be based on demonstrated needs;
represent the social composition of the school and community;
be interactive and experiential; and,
provide peer leaders with extensive training and opportunities for
skill renewal. (Carr, 1988)
LEADERS AS PREVENTION PROGRAM ADMINISTRATORS
In addition to their
use in directing group discussion/resistance skill training
groups, peer leaders also serve as prevention program
administrators: assessing school needs, selecting appropriate
programs, and coordinating program implementation and assessment.
They also have taken the leadership in developing alternative
drug-free school and community activities. Peer leaders in some
school districts have served as instructors for younger students,
teaching them about the hazards of drug use while indirectly
serving as powerful role models. Others have encouraged peer
leaders to establish and coordinate student-run businesses to give
youth more skills and greater experience with assuming adult
responsibilities (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
leaders have been effectively assisting school staffs since the
1960s, they have recently assumed their most critical role to
date: leading other students through drug prevention curriculums,
particularly those based on the Social Influence Model. In
addition, peer leaders are serving as prevention program
administrators and often are taking the leadership in developing
alternative drug-free school and community activities.
exploring possible drug prevention approaches and curricula,
several excellent guides to curriculum selection are available
from the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI),
P.O. Box 2345, Rockville, MD 20852, (800) 729-6686, the public
information arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services. Free titles include:
prevention Curricula: A Guide to Selection and Implementation";
Community Creating Change: Exemplary Alcohol and Other Drug
Prevention Plus II: Tools for Creating and Sustaining Drug-Free
Learning to Live Drug Free: A Curriculum Model for Prevention;
Prevention Resource Guide's for Elementary Youth and Secondary
Also serving as a
programming resource are the Drug-Free Schools and Communities
Regional Centers established in 1986 as part of the Drug-Free
Schools and Communities Act to help schools and communities
eliminate drug and alcohol use among youth. The five regional
Regional Center, Sayville, NY, (516) 589-7022
Regional Center, Louisville, KY, (502) 588-0052
Regional Center, Oak Brook, IL, (708) 571-4710
Regional Center, Norman, OK, (800) 234-7972
Regional Center, Portland, OR, (503) 275-9480
dedicated to the promotion and improvement of peer leader programs
may also be of help:
National Peer Helpers Association
Peer Counseling Project
L. (1988). The effects of school-based substance abuse education-a
meta analysis. Journal of Drug Education, 18(3), 243-260.
Benard, B. (1990).
The case for peers. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational
Laboratory. ED 327 755.
Carr, R. A. (1988).
Peer helping: the bridge to substance abuse prevention. The BC
Counsellor, 10(2), 3-18.
Ellickson, P. L., &
Bell, R. M. (1990). Prospects for preventing drug use among young
adolescents. Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation.
MacKinnon, D. P. et
al. (1991). Mediating mechanisms in a school-based drug prevention
program: First-year effects of the Midwestern Prevention Project.
Health Psychology, 10(3), 164-172.
Mohai, C. E. (1991).
Are school-based drug prevention programs working? (ERIC Digest).
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of
Educational Research and Improvement.
Myrick, R. D., &
Sorenson, D. L. (1988). Peer helping: A practical guide.
Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media Corporation.
& Hedin, D. P. (1983). Influences on adolescent problem behavior:
Causes, connections, and contexts. Child and Youth Services,
Pentz, M. A. et al.
(1990). Effects of program implementation on adolescent drug use
behavior: The midwestern prevention project (MPP). Evaluation
Review, 14(3), 264-289.
Perry, C. L. et al.
(1986). A process evaluation study of peer leaders in health
education. Journal of School Health, 56(2), 62-67.
U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services. (1989). Prevention Plus II: Tools for
Creating and Sustaining Drug-Free Communities. Washington, D.C.:
Webb, M. (1987).
Peer helping relationships in urban schools. (ERIC Digest). New
York: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 289 949)
Caroline E. Mohai,
MA, is a research assistant with the Initiative on Alcohol and
Other Drugs at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
This publication was
prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, U.S. Department of Education under contract number
RI88062011. The opinions expressed in this report do not
necessarily reflect the position or policies of OERI or the
Department of Education.
Title: Peer Leaders in Drug Abuse Prevention. ERIC Digest.
Document Type: Information Analyses---ERIC Information
Analysis Products (IAPs) (071); Information Analyses---ERIC
Digests (Selected) in Full Text (073);
Available From: ERIC/CAPS, 2108 School of Education,
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1259.
Descriptors: Drug Abuse, Elementary School Students,
Elementary Secondary Education, Peer Counseling, Prevention,
Secondary School Students
Identifiers: ERIC Digests
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