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J Adolesc Health. 2008 Aug;43(2):157-64. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2008.01.015. Epub 2008 Apr 25.

The role of risk and protective factors in substance use across adolescence.

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The Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA.



To compare the relative influence of risk and protective factors across several domains on adolescent substance use in a large sample of youth.


Cross-sectional survey data were collected from students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 in Pennsylvania (N = 91,778). Generalized linear mixed models were estimated for each grade level to examine associations among indices of three risk factors (individual, peer, and family) and three protective factors (family, school, and community) and both recent and lifetime substance use.


The risk factors were stronger predictors of substance use outcomes compared with the protective factors, regardless of grade level or substance use type. In particular, the individual and peer risk factors were strongly related to lifetime and recent use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. Among the protective factors, the strongest associations with substance use were found in the community domain. Several age-related differences in the associations were also found, suggesting that family and community factors were more salient among younger adolescents whereas peer and school factors were stronger among older adolescents.


These findings provide support for the social development model (SDM), which proposes that adolescent substance use is associated with factors across multiple spheres of influence. Age-related differences in these associations suggest that effective interventions to reduce adolescent substance use may need to emphasize different domains of risk and protective factors at different stages of adolescent development.

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