Study: UW Program Curbs Teen Drinking, Smoking, Violence

Dec 10, 2013

A free program developed by the University of Washington helps curb teen drinking and violence, according to new research.

The “Communities That Care” program takes a one-size-doesn’t-fit-all approach in tackling these problems.

The program leads stakeholders in a series of exercises that lets them identify risk factors in their particular communities.

“We’ve identified over 20 risk factors that do increase the likelihood of not only delinquency but also substance use. Those are common predictors of outcomes," said researcher J. David Hawkins, who founded UW’s Social Development Research Group. “If, for example, 65 percent of the eighth graders say, ‘My folks don’t know who I’m with when I’m not at home,’ then family management is a risk factor."   

Once those risk factors have been determined, "Communities That Care" then suggests the best prevention programs available. 

And the results of a new study show this appraoch works.

Study Shows Program’s Effectiveness

The findings of a 10-year study by the University of Washington showed the rates of teen violence, delinquency, drinking and smoking were significantly lower in towns that had implemented the program than those that had not.

The study tracked 4,500 students from the fifth grade until the 12th grade. The students came from 24 small- to moderately-sized town in seven states, including Washington and Oregon.

The results showed 32 percent of the teens in the test towns never had a drink, compared to 23 percent of the teens in the control towns.

Similarly, half of the teens in the test towns never smoked, compared to 43 percent in control towns. And 58 percent of teens from the test towns had been delinquent, compared to 67 percent of their peers in the control towns.

The study’s findings were published Dec. 9 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

Wide Usage and Growing Interest

Communities across the U.S. have been using the Communities That Care program since the 1990s. Public health officials in Jefferson County used the system to identify the best middle school curriculum to tackle substance use in Port Townsend.

Officials are now using the system in Chimacum. And a coalition in Seattle, including Garfield High School, has also signed on.