Preventing Substance Abuse is Good, But Don’t We Want More for Our Kids and Clients?

As parents or health professionals, we want our kids and clients to be free from alcohol, tobacco and drug addiction.  But don’t we want more for them than just the absence of addiction?  The answer for many of us is yes! 

We want our kids and clients, whether youth or adults, to be free from substance abuse, but we also want them to be healthy, happy and successful.  We want them to be motivated to choose positive, life-affirming behaviors over destructive ones, to have the skills to self-regulate and effectively control their own behaviors, and to have positive self-esteem and healthy self-images necessary for leading wellness lifestyles.  In other words, we want them to develop into the best possible versions of themselves. 

Promoting Holistic Health for Your Kids and Clients 

Can professionals and parents achieve these greater, wellness-based outcomes for their kids and clients by limiting their communication and programs to preventing substance abuse or other risk behaviors?  Not likely.  To be a provider or parent that can affect comprehensive, holistic health for your youth or clients, you have to raise the bar on expectations and goals you have for them.   

One practical tool allowing professionals and parents to aim high and target enhancing the holistic health of youth and adults is the Prevention Plus Wellness (PPW) Model.  The PPW Model is an efficient and effective method for developing wellness communication and programs that: 

1)   Address preventing and reducing substance use and abuse, but at the same time also target concrete health-promoting behaviors to improve overall well-being and personal improvement.

2)   Adopt a proven marketing approach that models appealing wellness habits and their positive outcomes, especially illustrating highly motivating attractive peer images and desired future images. 

3)   Highlight how specific substance use behaviors are harmful to positive models, behaviors and images, thereby connecting and integrating risk behaviors and health-enhancing behaviors within single cost-effective communication/programs. 

4)   Give kids/clients opportunities to set goals to avoid specific harmful substance use behaviors, but also initiate or improve existing health and personal improvement behaviors to achieve desired positive outcomes and images.  

5)   Use a proven and practical screening and brief intervention approach designed to save time and money, and allow feasible implementation in the busiest of settings.   

Address Both Heath Risk and Health Enhancing Behaviors 

If you want to prevent substance abuse, but also promote the broader well-being of your kids and clients, you’ll need to address both health risk AND health-enhancing behaviors.  By limiting the focus of your communication or programs to just one OR the other type of health behavior you are reducing your potential for influencing multiple, cross-behavior health effects.  In addition, because engaging in health promoting behaviors is associated with reduced participation in health risk behaviors, by integrating wellness into your prevention efforts you will likely increase both the breadth and size of your communication/program outcomes for your youth and adults.   

Use a Proven Marketing Approach to Motivate Behavior Change 

Marketing and sales experts with the most successful companies in the world know the potency of using positive images for influencing buying behavior.  The same powerful motivational tools are available to parents and professionals who wish to prevent substance abuse and improve the health and fitness of their youth and customers.  The trick is to present positive models and outcomes associated with specific wellness behaviors.   

For example, describing friends who participate in regular physical activity as athletic, fit and successful communicates an appealing peer behavior model and positive images.  Similarly, explaining how building physical activity into your weekly schedule can help you feel more active, energetic and positive about your life can cue desired future images and enhance motivation to increase fitness habits.     

Show How Health Risk and Health Enhancing Habits Are Connected 

To influence health behaviors you’d like to prevent or decrease in your kids or clients (e.g., risk habits like alcohol or marijuana use and abuse), as well as those you want to increase (e.g., health-enhancing habits like healthy eating and physical activity), it’s important to show how both types of health behaviors influence each other.  This means highlighting how a specific risk behavior like alcohol use or binge drinking harms a concrete healthy habit such as engaging in regular physical activity.   

For example, communicating that alcohol use, especially binge drinking, can reduce one’s motivation and energy to exercise, hurt success in sports and school, and results in extra calories and weight gain highlights the harmful effects of a specific type or level of substance use on an individual health behavior and its related positive images. 

Provide an Opportunity to Set and Monitor Multiple Behavior Goals 

Teaching your kids and clients to set and monitor wellness goals is critical to increasing self-regulation skills.  It also provides them with an opportunity to harness their newly increased motivation resulting from your integrated health risk and health promoting behavior messages into concrete action to achieve desired self-images.   

However, goals should not be limited to just avoiding or reducing specific substance use or abuse behaviors, as important as these are to improving health.  Instead, allow your youth and adults to also choose those health-enhancing behaviors they wish to initiate or increase to promote greater health and well-being.   

Use a Screening and Brief Intervention Strategy to Save Time and Money 

By providing your wellness and prevention communication or program in a screening and brief intervention format, you will not only save time and money, but it allows you to work with kids and adults in even the busiest of settings, including schools, homes, clinics, worksites and many others.  Screening and brief interventions are among the most widely evaluated and effective approaches for influencing health behaviors of youth and adults.   

The PPW Model approach involves quickly screening youth or adults to identify their current health habits, providing positive feedback on behaviors and images and connecting these to selected risk behaviors, and presenting an opportunity to set and monitor both health risk and health-enhancing behavior goals.  Later, follow-up support and resources can be provided to strengthen and maintain initial communication/program effects. 


Parents and health professionals want to prevent substance abuse among their kids and clients, but they also want them to be healthy, happy and successful.  For this to occur, we need to set goals to enhance holistic health and not limit our efforts simply to preventing risk behaviors. 

The Prevention Plus Wellness (PPW) Model was presented as an effective and efficient approach for providing wellness communication and programs for youth and adults.  The five components of holistic health communication/programs based on the PPW Model include:      

1)   Address both preventing substance abuse, as well as improving concrete health behaviors.

2)   Adopt a marketing approach that models appealing wellness habits, outcomes and images. 

3)   Highlight how specific substance use behaviors harm positive behaviors and images. 

4)   Give kids/clients opportunities to set health risk and health promoting behavior goals. 

5)   Use a proven screening and brief intervention approach to save time and money. 

The PPW Model is a tool that allows parents and professionals to cost-effectively address both prevention AND wellness within single, brief communication or programs.  For that reason, it is a practical approach for helping our kids and clients achieve their best possible selves.

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