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Most people of a certain age will remember First Lady Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign “Just Say No.” Then came a Partnership for a Drug Free America’s iconic ad “This is Your Brain on Drugs.”
Following that was the Drug Abuse Resistance Education or DARE, founded by Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, launched in the Los Angeles public school system and going nationwide thereafter.
Yet research shows that young people exposed to anti-drug education programs are just as likely to use drugs and drink alcohol as kids who did not receive the training are. Similar to the failed “war on drugs,” the cause of substance abuse is never addressed.
A new personality test, however, is having remarkable success detecting risk-related traits in children before they ever struggle with alcoholism, drug abuse or the disease of addiction.
Developed at the University of Montreal by psychiatry professor Dr. Patricia Conrod, PreVenture has cut underage drinking in participating schools by 29 percent and binge drinking – consuming five or more drinks in a sitting – by 43 percent.
What are Four Traits Associated With At-Risk Behavior?
The test, which never places self-fulfilling labels like “high risk” on teens, focuses on identifying four key traits associated with at-risk behaviors:
Of the four traits, three are linked to mental health issues. Hopelessness is a symptom of depression, anxiety-sensitivity relates to panic disorder and impulsiveness to attention deficit hyper-activity disorder (ADHD).
Teens prone to sensation-seeking present as at-risk due to the likelihood of alcohol and drug experimentation.
How Does the Personality Test Work?
Before the school year starts, teachers attend a two to three day intensive training focused on techniques geared toward combatting psychological problems.
The training teaches educators how to help kids with these personality traits. When schools starts, middle school students are given the personality test.
Several months later, workshops described as channeling your personality for success are offered school-wide, but with limited availability.
“Overwhelmingly, most students sign up,” Dr. Conrod tells the New York Times.
Entry into the workshop appears random, but kids selected to participate are those who tested highest in the four at-risk categories.
A study has shown the personality test detects 90 percent of students with one or more of these traits. Students are not told the reason for their acceptance in the workshop. If they ask, they’re given an honest answer, but, says Conrod, most do not ask.
The two 90-minute workshops are personalized for individual students and focus on cognitive behavioral techniques aimed at the trait they presented on the test. Most young people that have attended the workshops report that they are useful for them.
Another a positive is that drinking appeared to decline in the entire school, even in students that did not attend the workshops.
Conrod tells The Times that it’s likely a mix of teacher training, which creates empathy with students, and a reduction of peer-pressure from normally at-risk kids.
While the early days of anti-drug and alcohol campaigns were well intentioned, science continues to move forward by going deeper.
Addiction is a treatable disease, but early intervention for those most vulnerable might prevent a lifetime of troubles.