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Project ALERT

Ages 11-14

Rating: Level 1


Project ALERT teaches children to establish no-drug-use norms, to develop reasons not to use drugs, and to resist prodrug pressures. The program consists of a 14-lesson curriculum, participatory activities, and videos. Guided classroom discussions and small group activities stimulate peer interaction and challenge students, while intensive role-playing encourages students to practice and master resistance skills. Parent-involved homework assignments extend the learning process for participants.

The program is highly effective with middle school youths, ages 11 to 14, from widely diverse backgrounds and communities. Project ALERT has proved successful with high- and low-risk white, African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, and Native American youths from urban, rural, and suburban communities and a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. The original program was tested in schools in different geographic areas with varied population densities and among students from a range of racial/ethnic and economic backgrounds.


The program used a rigorous experimental pre–post design with random assignment to place 30 schools in either a control or one of two treatment conditions. Seventh and eighth graders in 20 of the schools went through the Project ALERT curriculum. Adults taught the classes in 10 of the schools, while older teens drawn from nearby high schools assisted the adults in 10 others. In the remaining 10 schools, students were not exposed to Project ALERT but continued to receive whichever drug-information programs their schools offered. The schools encompassed urban, suburban, and rural communities. Nine schools had a minority population of 50 percent or more. Eighteen drew from neighborhoods with household incomes below the State median.

To establish a baseline before the program began, the researchers surveyed 6,500 seventh graders about substance use and attitudes toward drugs. Over the next 5 years, the team conducted six follow-up surveys with nearly 4,000 of these teens as they moved through grade 12. The surveys compared students’ drug use and related attitudes before, during, and after their exposure to Project ALERT’s curriculum with similar data from students who had no contact with the program. Trained data collectors administered student surveys in all schools before and after program lessons. Self-reported drug use was validated by testing saliva samples collected from students and by consistency analyses over time. Logistic regression was used to analyze substance use outcomes as a function of treatment and baseline covariates. Multiple controls helped rule out alternative explanations of treatment effects. All analyses were adjusted for attrition and clustering of students within schools.


Evaluation reports conclude that Project ALERT reduces the initiation of marijuana and tobacco use by 30 percent, reduces heavy smoking among experimenters by 50–60 percent, is effective for both high- and low-risk students (including minorities), and performs equally well in a variety of socioeconomic settings. The program’s early gains erode after the lessons stop. Maintaining the effects of prevention lessons requires booster programs after adolescents make the transition to high school.

Risk Factors


  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Poor refusal skills


  • Availability of alcohol and other drugs


  • Peer alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drug use

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • Self-efficacy


  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults


  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


  • OJJDP: Blueprints
  • SAMHSA: Model Programs
  • NIJ: What Works
  • Department of Education


Bell, Robert M., Phyllis L. Ellickson, and Ellen R. Harrison. 1993. “Do Drug Prevention Effects Persist Into High School? How Project ALERT Did With Ninth Graders.” Preventive Medicine 22:463–83.

Ellickson, Phyllis L., and Robert M. Bell. 1990a. “Drug Prevention in Junior High: A Multisite Longitudinal Test,” Science 247:1299–1305.

———. 1990b. Prospects for Preventing Drug Use Among Young Adolescents. The RAND Corporation, R–3896–CHF.

Ellickson, Phyllis L., Robert M. Bell, and Ellen R. Harrison. 1993. “Changing Adolescent Propensities to Use Drugs: Results From Project ALERT.” Health Education Quarterly 20(2):227–42.

Ellickson, Phyllis L., Robert M. Bell, and Kimberly McGuigan. 1993. “Preventing Adolescent Drug Use: Long-Term Results of a Junior High Program.” American Journal of Public Health 83(6):856–61.


G. Bridget Ryan
BEST Foundation
725 South Figueroa Street, Suite 970
Los Angeles, CA 90017–5524
Phone: (800) 253-7810
Fax: (213) 623-0585
Web site: