Providing a two-year intervention program to disruptive kindergarten children could help prevent substance use in adolescence, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Canadian researchers studied 172 boys from low socio-economic backgrounds with disruptive behavior and divided them into three different groups. One group of boys and their parents took part in the two-year intervention program, when they were aged between 7 and 9 years old. The program included social skills training for the boys at school, to help promote self-control and reduce their impulsivity and antisocial behavior, as well as parent training to help parents recognize problematic behaviors in their boys, set clear objectives and reinforce appropriate behaviors.
A second group of boys and parents received no intervention and acted as the control group.
A third group of boys were assigned to an intensive observation group, which differed from the controls in that their families were visited in their homes by researchers, attended a half-day laboratory testing session, and were observed at school. All the boys were followed up until the age of 17, to assess their use of drugs and alcohol.
The researchers found that levels of drug and alcohol use across adolescence were lower in those boys who received the intervention program. The reduction in substance use continued through the boys' early adolescence right up to the end of their time at high school.
Researcher Natalie Castellanos-Ryan, of the Department of Psychiatry at Université de Montréal and Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Sainte Justine, Canada, said: "Our study shows that an two-year intervention aimed at key risk factors in disruptive kindergarten boys from low socioeconomic environments can effectively reduce substance use behaviors in adolescence—not only in early adolescence but up to the end of high school, eight years post-intervention. This finding is noteworthy because the effects are stronger and longer-lasting than for most substance use interventions that have been studied before."
Dr Castellanos-Ryan added: "The intervention appeared to work because it reduced the boys' impulsivity and antisocial behaviour during pre-adolescence – between the ages of 11 and 13. Our study suggests that by selectively targeting disruptive behaviours in early childhood, and without addressing substance use directly, we could have long-term effects on substance use behaviours in later life."
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