Prevention Program Helps Teens Prevail Over a Gene Linked to Risky Behavior
Researchers developed a program called "Strong African American Families" to help rural African American 11-year-olds avoid such risky behaviors as drinking, smoking marijuana, and sexual activity. DNA test results showed some youths carried a gene found to increase the risk of substance use. Teens who had the gene but didn't participate in the program were almost twice as likely to have engaged in the risky behaviors as teens who had the gene and took part in the SAAF program.
Akinso: A family-based prevention program helps teens override a gene linked to risky behavior.
Brody: We worked with families because the families are the most powerful factors in young adolescence lives.
Akinso: Dr. Gene Brody is the Director of the Center for Family Research at the University of Georgia and the lead author of the study.
Brody: We try to enhance parenting skills that are protective, and we try to arm the adolescents with a set of skills and ideas about the future that also protect them from initiating alcohol and marijuana use.
Akinso: For two-and-a-half years, investigators monitored the progress of 11-year-olds enrolled in a family-centered prevention program called Strong African American Families (SAAF), and a comparison group. A DNA analysis showed some youths carried a common genetic variation known as 5-HTTLPR. This fairly common gene, found in over 40 percent of people, is known from previous studies to be associated with impulsivity, low self-control, binge drinking and substance use. Dr. Brody explains the findings within the two groups.
Brody: Pre-adolescents who had this variant, who did not participate in the program over time were much more likely to engage in risk behaviors than pre-adolescents use who were like them in all ways except that they didn't participate in the program.
Akinso: The parents and children participated in seven consecutive weeks of two-hour prevention sessions. The parents learned about effective strategies that included monitoring, emotional support, family communication, and handling racial discrimination. The children were taught how to set and attain positive goals, deal with peer pressure and stress and avoid risky activities. Dr. Brody says the prevention program proved especially beneficial for children with a genetic risk factor tied to risky behaviors.
Brody: The program provided them with an inoculation, just like a flu shot provides an inoculation against getting the flu, the strength that the program brought out in families was able to provide the use within an inoculation that was able to prevent them from becoming involved in these risk behaviors.
Akinso: This study was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. For information on this topic, visit www.niaaa.nih.gov or visit www.drugabuse.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.