K-12 Prevention Education Initiative

Prevention Foundation and Definitions

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Prevention Foundation

Many factors influence a person’s chance of developing a mental and/or substance use disorder. Effective prevention focuses on reducing those risk factors, and strengthening protective factors, that are most closely related to the problem being addressed.  

Risk and protective factors are characteristics at the biological, psychological, family, community, or cultural level that precede and are associated with a higher likelihood of negative outcomes or that support individuals in effectively dealing with stressful events.
·  Risk factors are characteristics within the individual or conditions in the family, school or community that increase the likelihood someone will engage in unhealthy behavior such as: the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, violence, suicide, or early sexual activity.

·  Protective factors are conditions or attributes (skills, strengths, resources, supports or coping strategies) in individuals, families, communities or the larger society that help people deal more effectively with stressful events and mitigate or eliminate risk in families and communities.
All people have biological and psychological characteristics and cultural practices that make them vulnerable to, or resilient in the face of, potential behavioral health issues. Because people have relationships within their communities and larger society, each person’s biological and psychological characteristics and cultural practices exist in multiple contexts. Prevention efforts targeting a set of risk or protective factors have the potential to produce positive effects in multiple areas.

Resilience is the ability of individuals to remain healthy even in the presence of risk factors. Prevention – for groups and individuals alike – is largely a matter of decreasing risks and increasing protective factors (that is, creating resilience) in the lives, families, and environments of those at risk.
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