Monday, August 8, 2011

Environmental Strategies – Why They Work!

For many years, prevention strategies have been an important part of reducing the harmful use of substances. The best known prevention strategies are the ones that address individuals for intervention. They are designed to influence their attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behavior. Environmental Strategies that seek to reduce or eliminate substance abuse and related problems by changing the overall context within which substance use occurs are less well known.

Dr. Deborah Fisher describes individual strategies as follows: “Traditional, individually oriented strategies accept the environment and risks it imposes as given, and focus on enhancing individuals’ abilities to resist temptations to use substances. These strategies provide information, skills training, and opportunities for personal development through a variety of programs, including school-based curricula, mentoring, and peer education and counseling. The goal of such efforts is to reduce the probability of substance abuse by changing characteristics of individuals. Much of the prevention to which youth are currently exposed falls into this category.”

Yet, individuals do not become involved with substances solely on the basis of personal characteristics. They are influenced by a complex set of factors, such as institutional rules and regulations, community norms, mass media messages and the accessibility of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. It has now been found that it is better and more effective to change the environment and availability of the substances to prevent substance use/abuse rather than just addressing individual issues.

Environmental strategies incorporate prevention efforts aimed at changing or influencing community conditions, standards, institutions, structures, systems and policies. These strategies are effective in modifying the settings where a person lives, which plays a part in how that person behaves. They can produce quick wins and instill commitment toward long-term impact in a community. They also address more people at one time and so are able to help more community members.

In Van Buren County the SAFE Coalition has been working in conjunction with community leaders to implement some of these environmental strategies to help prevent substance use/abuse. Some examples are:
•Youth working in the community to implement and strengthen tobacco free areas with additional signage.
•Youth sticker shock to provide counter advertising related to the costs of providing alcohol to a minor.
•Providing Merchant Trainings to help our local businesses to develop strong policies and procedures to prevent underage purchases of alcohol and tobacco.
•Compliance checks including a policy for law enforcement.
•School Conduct Policies with a proactive approach as opposed to reactive.

If you would like more information on Environmental Strategies please contact the SAFE Coalition at or 319-293-6412. You can check out what the coalition is about and is doing on our website -; on our blog -; or on Facebook - Van Buren County SAFE Coalition.

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