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School Risk Factors

Academic Failure - Beginning in the late elementary grades (grades 4 - 6) academic failure increases the risk of both drug abuse and delinquency. It appears that the experience of failure itself, for whatever reasons, increases the risk of problem behaviors.
  • Putting them all together, what were your grades like last year?
  • Are your school grades better than the grades of most students in your class?


  • Lack of Commitment to School - Surveys of high school seniors have shown that the use of hallucinogens, cocaine, heroin, stimulants, and sedatives or non-medically prescribed tranquilizers is significantly lower among students who expect to attend college than among those who do not. Factors such as liking school, spending time on homework, and perceiving the coursework as relevant are also negatively related to drug use.
  • How often do you feel that the schoolwork you are assigned is meaningful and important?
  • How interesting are most of your courses to you?
  • How important do you think the things you are learning in school are going to be for your later life?
  • Now thinking back over the past year in school, how often did you:
  • (a) Enjoy being in school?
    (b) Hate being in school?
    (c) Try to do your best work in school?

  • During the LAST FOUR WEEKS how many whole days have you missed:
  • (a) because of illness.
    (b) because you skipped or cut.
    (c) for other reasons.

    School Protective Factors

    Opportunities for Positive Involvement - When young people are given more opportunities to participate meaningfully in important activities at school, they are less likely to engage in drug use problem behaviors.
  • In my school, students have lots of chances to help decide things like class activities and rules.
  • There are lots of chances for students in my school to talk with a teacher one-on-one.
  • Teachers ask me to work on special classroom projects.
  • There are lots of chances for students in my school to get involved in sports, clubs, and other school activities outside of class.
  • I have lots of chances to be part of class discussions or activities.


  • Rewards for Conventional Involvement (Recognition) - When young people are recognized and rewarded for their contributions at school, they are less likely to be involved in substance use and other problem behaviors.
  • My teacher(s) notices when I am doing a good job and lets me know about it.
  • The school lets my parents know when I have done something well.
  • I feel safe at my school.
  • My teachers praise me when I work hard in school.


  • Peer/Individual Risk Factors

    Alienation and Rebelliousness - young people, who do not feel part of society, are not bound by rules, don't believe in trying to be successful or responsible, or who take an active rebellious stance toward society, are at higher risk of abusing drugs. In addition, high tolerance for deviance, a strong need for independence, and normlessness have all been linked with drug use.
  • I do the opposite of what people tell me, just to get them mad.
  • I ignore rules that get in my way.
  • I like to see how much I can get away with.


  • Friends Who Engage in the Problem Behavior - Young people who associate with peers who engage in alcohol or substance abuse are much more likely to engage in the same behavior. Peer drug use has consistently been found to be among the strongest predictors of substance use among youth. Even when young people come from well-managed families and do not experience other risk factors, spending time with friends who use drugs greatly increases the risk of that problem developing.

    Friends Who Engage in ATOD Use
  • Think of your four best friends (the friends you feel closest to). In the past year (the last 12 months), how many of your best friends have:

  • (a) smoked cigarettes?
    (b) tried beer, wine or hard liquor (for example, vodka, whiskey or gin) when their parents didn't know about it?
    (c) used marijuana?
    (d) used LSD, cocaine, amphetamines, or other illegal drugs?

    Interactions with Antisocial Peers
  • Think of your four best friends (the friends you feel closest to). In the past year (the last 12 months), how many of your best friends have:

  • (e) been suspended from school?
    (f) carried a handgun?
    (g) sold illegal drugs?
    (h) stolen or tried to steal a motor vehicle such as a car or motorcycle?
    (i) been arrested?
    (j) dropped out of school?
    (k) been members of a gang?

    Favorable Attitudes Toward the Problem Behavior - Young people who accept or condone antisocial behavior are more likely to engage in a variety of problem behaviors, including drug use.

    Attitudes Favorable Toward ATOD Use
  • How wrong do you think it is for someone your age to:

  • (a) drink beer, wine or hard liquor (for example, vodka, whiskey or gin) regularly (at least once or twice a month)?
    (b) smoke cigarettes?
    (c) smoke marijuana?
    (d) use LSD, cocaine, amphetamines or another illegal drug?

    Rewards for Antisocial Behavior
  • What are the chances you would be seen as cool if you:

  • (a) smoked cigarettes?
    (b) began drinking alcoholic beverages regularly (at least once or twice a month)?
    (c) smoked marijuana?
    (d) carried a handgun?

    Attitudes Favorable Toward Antisocial Behavior
  • How wrong do you think it is for someone your age to:

  • (e) take a handgun to school?
    (f) steal anything worth more than $5?
    (g) pick a fight with someone?
    (h) attack someone with the idea of seriously hurting them?
    (i) stay away from school all day when their parents think they are at school?

    Early Initiation of Problem Behavior - Early onset of drug use predicts misuse of drugs. The earlier the onset of any drug use, the greater the involvement in other drug use and the greater frequency of use. Onset of drug use prior to the age of 15 is a consistent predictor of drug abuse, and a later age of onset of drug use has been shown to predict lower drug involvement and greater probability of discontinuation of use. * How old were you when you first:
    (a) smoked marijuana?
    (b) smoked a cigarette, even just a puff?
    (c) had more than a sip or two of beer, wine or hard liquor (for example, vodka, whiskey, or gin)?
    (d) began drinking alcoholic beverages regularly (at least once or twice a month)?
    (e) got suspended from school?
    (f) got arrested?
    (g) carried a handgun?
    (h) attacked someone with the idea of seriously hurting them?
    (i) belonged to a gang?

    Anti-Social Behavior - Young people who engage in problem behaviors are at higher risk for engaging in antisocial behavior.
  • How many times in the past 12 months have you:

  • (a) been suspended from school?
    (b) carried a handgun?
    (c) sold illegal drugs?
    (d) stolen or tried to steal a motor vehicle such as a car or motorcycle?
    (e) been arrested?
    (f) attacked someone with the idea of seriously hurting them?
    (g) been drunk or high at school?
    (h) taken a handgun to school?
  • Have you ever belonged to a gang?
  • If you have ever belonged to a gang, did that gang have a name?


  • Sensation Seeking - Young people who seek out opportunities for dangerous, risky behavior in general are at higher risk for participating in drug use and other problem behaviors.
  • How many times have you done the following things?

  • (a) Done what feels good no matter what.
    (b) Done something dangerous because someone dared you to do it.
    (c) Done crazy things even if they are a little dangerous.

    Perceived Risks of Drug Use - Young people who do not perceive drug use to be risky are far more likely to engage in drug use.
  • How much do you think people risk harming themselves (physically or in other ways) if they:

  • (a) Smoke one or more packs of cigarettes per day?
    (b) Try marijuana once or twice?
    (c) Smoke marijuana regularly?
    (d) Take one or two drinks of an alcoholic beverage (beer, wine, liquor) nearly every day?

    Peer Individual Protective Factors

    Social Skills - Young people who are socially competent and engage in positive interpersonal relations with their peers are less likely to use drugs and engage in other problem behaviors.
  • You're looking at CD's in a music store with a friend. You look up and see her slip a CD under her coat. She smiles and says, "Which one do you want? Go ahead, take it while nobody's around." There is nobody in sight, no employees and no other customers. What would you do now?
  • It's 8:00 on a weeknight and you are about to go over to a friend's home when your mother asks you where you are going. You say, "Oh, just going to go hang out with some friends." She says, "No, you'll just get into trouble if you go out. Stay home tonight." What would you do now?
  • You are visiting another part of town, and you don't know any of the people your age there. You are walking down the street, and some teenager you don't know is walking toward you. He is about your size, and as he is about to pass you, he deliberately bumps into you and you almost lose your balance. What would you say or do?
  • You are at a party at someone's house, and one of your friends offers you a drink containing alcohol. What would you say or do?


  • Impulsiveness
  • It is important to think before you act.
  • Do you have to have everything right away?
  • I often do things without thinking about what will happen.
  • Do you often switch from activity to activity rather than sticking to one thing at a time?


  • Healthy Beliefs and Clear Standards (Belief in the Moral Order) - Young people who have a belief in what is "right" or "wrong" are less likely to use drugs.
  • I think it is okay to take something without asking if you can get away with it.
  • I think sometimes it's okay to cheat at school.
  • It is all right to beat up people if they start the fight.
  • It is important to be honest with your parents, even if they become upset or you get punished.


  • Community Risk Factors

    Availability of Drugs, Alcohol, and Firearms - The availability of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and other illegal drugs has been related to use of these substances by adolescents. Availability of handguns is also related to a higher risk of crime and substance use by adolescents.
  • If you wanted to, how easy would it be for you to get:

  • (a) cigarettes?
    (b) beer, wine, or hard liquor (for example, vodka, whiskey, or gin)?
    (c) marijuana?
    (d) handguns?
    (e) a drug like cocaine, LSD, or amphetamines?

    Laws and Norms Favorable to Drug Use - Research has shown that legal restrictions on alcohol and tobacco use, such as raising the legal drinking age, restricting smoking in public places, and increased taxation have been followed by decreases in consumption. Moreover, national surveys of high school seniors have shown that shifts in normative attitudes toward drug use have preceded changes in prevalence of use.
  • If a kid smoked marijuana in your neighborhood, or the area around where you live, would he or she be caught by the police?
  • If a kid drank some beer, wine or hard liquor (for example, vodka, whiskey, or gin) in your neighborhood would he or she be caught by the police?
  • If a kid carried a handgun in your neighborhood, or the area around where you live, would he or she be caught by the police?
  • How wrong would most adults in your neighborhood, or the area around where you live, think it was for kids your age:

  • (a) to use marijuana?
    (b) to drink alcohol?
    (c) to smoke cigarettes?
  • About how many adults have you known personally who in the past year have:

  • (a) used marijuana, crack, cocaine, or other drugs?
    (b) sold or dealt drugs?
    (c) done other things that could get them in trouble with the police like stealing, selling stolen goods, mugging or assaulting others, etc.?
    (d) gotten drunk or high?

    Transitions and Mobility - Neighborhoods with high rates of residential mobility have shown to have higher rates of juvenile crime and drug selling, while children who experience frequent residential moves and stressful life transitions have been shown to have higher risk for school failure, delinquency, and drug use.
  • How many times have you changed homes since kindergarten?
  • Have you changed schools in the past year (the last 12 months)?
  • How many times have you changed schools since kindergarten?
  • Have you changed homes in the past year (the last 12 months)?
  • People move in and out of my neighborhood a lot.


  • Low Neighborhood Attachment and Community Disorganization - Low levels of bonding to the neighborhood are related to higher levels of juvenile crime and drug selling.

    Low Neighborhood Attachment
  • If I had to move, I would miss the neighborhood I now live in.
  • I like my neighborhood, or the area around where I live.
  • I would like to get out of my neighborhood, or the area around where I live.


  • Community Disorganization
  • I feel safe in my neighborhood, or the area around where I live.
  • How much does each of the following statements describe your neighborhood, or the area around where you live?

  • (a) crime and/or drug selling
    (b) fights
    (c) lots of empty or abandoned buildings
    (e) lots of graffiti

    Community Protective Factors

    Opportunities for Positive Involvement - When opportunities are available in a community for positive participation, children are less likely to engage in substance use and other problem behaviors.
  • There are lots of adults in my neighborhood I could talk to about something important.
  • Which of the following activities for people your age are available in your community?

  • (a) sports teams
    (b) scouting
    (c) boys and girls clubs
    (d) 4-H clubs
    (e) service clubs

    Rewards for Conventional Involvement (Recognition) - Rewards for positive participation in activities helps children bond to the community, thus lowering their risk for substance use.
  • My neighbors notice when I am doing a good job and let me know about it.
  • There are people in my neighborhood, or the area around where I live, who encourage me to do my best.
  • There are people in my neighborhood, or the area around where I live, who are proud of me when I do something well.


  • Family Risk Factors

    Family History of the Problem - When children are raised in a family with a history of problem behaviors (e.g., violence or ATOD use), the children are more likely to engage in these behaviors. Children raised in families high in conflict, whether or not the children are directly involved in the conflict, appear at risk for both delinquency and drug use.
  • Has anyone in your family ever had a severe alcohol or drug problem?
  • Have any of your brothers or sisters ever:

  • (a) drunk beer, wine or hard liquor (for example, vodka, whiskey or gin)?
    (b) smoked marijuana?
    (c) smoked cigarettes?
    (d) taken a handgun to school?
    (e) been suspended or expelled from school?

    Family Management Problems - Parents' failure to provide clear expectations, to monitor their children's behavior, use of inconsistent and/or unusually harsh or severe punishment with their children makes it more likely that they will engage in drug abuse whether or not there are family drug problems.

    Family Management
  • The rules in my family are clear.
  • My parents ask if I've gotten my homework done.
  • When I am not at home, one of my parents knows where I am and whom I am with.
  • Would your parents know if you did not come home on time?
  • * My parents want me to call if I'm going to be late getting home. * My family has clear rules about alcohol and drug use.

    Family Discipline
  • If you carried a handgun without your parents' permission, would you be caught by your parents?
  • If you skipped school without your parents' permission, would you be caught by your parents?
  • If you drank some beer or wine or liquor (for example, vodka, whiskey, or gin) without your parents' permission, would you be caught by your parents?


  • Family Conflict - Young people who feel that they are a valued part of their family are less likely to engage in substance use and other problem behaviors.
  • People in my family often insult or yell at each other.
  • People in my family have serious arguments.
  • We argue about the same things in my family over and over.


  • Favorable Parental Attitudes and Involvement in the Problem Behavior - In families where parents use illegal drugs, are heavy users of alcohol, or are tolerant of children's use, children are more likely to become drug abusers during adolescence. The risk is further increased if parents involve children in their own drug (or alcohol) using behavior, for example, asking the child to light the parent's cigarette or get the parent a beer form the refrigerator.

    Favorable Parental Attitudes Toward Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Use
  • How wrong do your parents feel it would be for you to:

  • (a) drink beer, wine or hard liquor (for example, vodka, whiskey or gin) regularly (at least once or twice a month)?
    (b) smoke cigarettes?
    (c) smoke marijuana?

    Favorable Parental Attitudes Toward Antisocial Behavior
  • How wrong do your parents feel it would be for you to:

  • (d) steal anything worth more than $5?
    (e) draw graffiti, write things or draw pictures on buildings or other property (without the owner's permission)?
    (f) pick a fight with someone?
    Family Protective Factors

    Family Attachment (Influences Bonding) - Young people who feel that they are a valued part of their family are less likely to engage in substance use and other problem behaviors.
  • Do you feel very close to your mother?
  • Do you enjoy spending time with your mother?
  • Do you share your thoughts and feelings with your mother?
  • Do you feel very close to your father?
  • Do you enjoy spending time with your father?
  • Do you share your thoughts and feelings with your father?


  • Opportunities for Positive Involvement - Young people who are exposed to more opportunities to participate meaningfully in the responsibilities and activities of the family are less likely to engage in drug use and other problem behaviors.
  • My parents give me lots of chances to do fun things with them.
  • My parents ask me what I think before most family decisions affecting me are made.
  • If I had a personal problem, I could ask my mom or dad for help.


  • Rewards for Conventional Involvement (Recognition) - When parents, siblings, and other family members praise, encourage, and attend to things done well by their child, children are less likely to engage in substance use and problem behaviors.
  • My parents notice when I am doing a good job and let me know about it.
  • How often do your parents tell you they're proud of you for something you've done?
  • People in my family stay mad at each other.
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