Advantages of Brief Prevention Programs

There is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a brief substance abuse prevention program. Nonetheless, brief programs are thought to hold a number of advantages over lengthier or more intensive prevention interventions. These advantages include being easier and quicker to implement, more adaptable to varying settings and populations, and less expensive to administer.

Due to their potential advantages, we decided to explore which evidence-based brief prevention programs were successful at influencing multiple substance abuse behaviors. Brief prevention interventions which are effective in impacting multiple drug behaviors could be some of the most cost-effective and viable programs for consideration by substance abuse prevention specialists.

Review of Brief Evidence-based Substance Abuse Prevention Programs

To determine which brief prevention programs are effective in influencing multiple drug abuse behaviors, we conducted a review of substance abuse prevention programs listed on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP).

First, we searched NREPP’s data base (http://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov/) using the search criteria “Substance Abuse Prevention.” Next, we used the key word “brief” to narrow our search results and determine which substance abuse prevention interventions were self-defined as being brief.

Then, we reviewed the program outcomes of all selected interventions to determine the numbers and types of substance abuse behaviors influenced by the interventions. Lastly, we reviewed the program and quality of research descriptions to determine the brevity of each program, and verify the specific types of substance abuse behaviors influenced.

Identifying Brief Multiple Behavior Prevention Programs

A total of 110 substance abuse prevention programs are currently listed on NREPP. Of these, 24 were found to use the term “brief” in their descriptions. Of these, four did not list any substance abuse behaviors as program outcomes.

Of the remaining 20 brief programs, 12 reported a single substance abuse behavior or behavior category outcome. The largest number of these brief programs (n=8) reported influencing alcohol use. Two programs reported influencing generic drug involvement. One brief program reported influencing cigarette smoking. Yet another program reported a positive outcome on alcohol/drug-related school suspensions.

The remaining eight brief programs reported two or more different substance abuse behavior outcomes. Seven of these programs reported alcohol plus other substance abuse behavior outcomes. Six programs reported marijuana with other drug behavior outcomes. Five programs reported substance or drug use with other drug behavior outcomes. Four programs reported cigarette smoking with other drug abuse behavior outcomes.

How Many Drug Behaviors Do Brief Prevention Programs Influence?

The Guiding Good Choices program for parents of children ages 9-14 years old reported the greatest number of drug abuse behavior outcomes, including alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes and tobacco, illicit drugs, and substance use behaviors. Strengthening Families Program for parents and youth ages 10-14 years old followed, with reported alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, and methamphetamine outcomes.

Two brief programs reported three substance abuse behavior outcomes each. SPORT for adolescents ages 13-17 years old was found to influence alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana, while Teen Intervene for adolescents ages 12-19 years old reported changes on alcohol, marijuana, and illicit drug use.

The remaining four brief programs reported two substance abuse behavior outcomes each. Brief Strategic Family Therapy for families with adolescents reported substance use and marijuana outcomes. InShape for college-aged young adults reported alcohol and marijuana outcomes. The PreVenture Programme for 13-15 year old adolescents reported alcohol and drug use outcomes. Lastly, Wellness Outreach at Work for workplace employees reported alcohol and cigarette smoking outcomes.

How Brief are Brief Prevention Programs?

The briefest programs to impact multiple drug abuse behaviors were InShape and SPORT. Both of these interventions consist of a single program session, with the option to re-implement the session as a booster. Another very brief program is Wellness Outreach at Work, consisting of one to four 20-minute individual sessions.

Other rather brief programs included: 1) The PreVenture Programme, consisting of two 90-minute group workshops; 2) Teen Intervene, consisting of three one-hour sessions, 10 days apart; 3) Guiding Good Choices, consisting of five sessions; and 4) Strengthening Families Program, consisting of seven two-hour sessions, with four optional booster sessions.

The longest “brief” program was Brief Strategic Family Therapy. This program consists of 12-16 family sessions, but as few as eight and as many as 24 sessions. The extended length of this program precludes it from being accurately labeled as “brief.”


For prevention specialists interested in the various advantages that brief programs provide, we recommend exploring one or more of the seven brief interventions identified in this review. Because these brief programs have been shown to influence multiple substance abuse behaviors, they are also likely to be more cost-effective than other prevention programs.

For providers interested in adolescents and young adults, consider SPORT, Teen Intervene, InShape, or The PreVenture Programme. Both SPORT and InShape are universal prevention interventions designed for all adolescents and young adults, respectively. In addition, Teen Intervene is an indicated intervention for youth in the early stages of alcohol or drug involvement, while The PreVenture Programme is a selective intervention for youth in school settings who screen for personality dimensions putting them at risk for substance misuse.

For providers interested family programs, we suggest taking a look at Guiding Good Choices, and Strengthening Families Program. Both programs are universal prevention interventions designed for use by parents in school settings.

Lastly, for worksite providers, the Wellness Outreach at Work program is the only brief intervention option. This is a universal intervention designed for young adults, adults, and older adults in workplace settings.

In conclusion, the aforementioned seven brief prevention programs have been shown to influence multiple drug abuse behaviors of individuals. As such, they are an excellent starting point for substance abuse providers interested in taking advantage of the many benefits which brief interventions hold over lengthier and more intensive prevention interventions.

Brief Prevention Program Websites
Guiding Good Choices: 

InShape: http://www.preventionpluswellness.com/

SPORT: http://www.preventionpluswellness.com/

Strengthening Families Program: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/sfp

Teen Intervene: http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/publishing.page

The PreVenture Programme: http://nrepp.samhsa.gov/ViewIntervention.aspx?id=264

Wellness Outreach at Work: http://www.ilir.umich.edu/wellness/

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