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Ages 11-13

Rating: Level 2


HeadOn: Substance Abuse Prevention for Grades 6–8 is a self-guided, interactive program that delivers substance abuse prevention science to middle school–aged adolescents by means of computer-based educational technologies that effectively teach key skills and information. The program primarily targets the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana but also includes lessons on opiates, inhalants, and stimulants. HeadOn is intended to be delivered in 15 sessions during the academic year or can be used at home. Each session is 30 to 45 minutes long.

The HeadOn program is designed to promote well-known protective factors based on both the social-influence model of drug use and a generalized skills-training model. Program modules are presented through various interactive technologies and are integrated by a “cab driver” (a narrator), who introduces the program user to various “neighborhoods” where he or she can access the modules.

The modules address various classes of drugs and their immediate and long-term effects. They also cover the risks of drug experimentation, consequences of drug use, the risk of misusing prescription drugs, and misconceptions about peer drug use. They teach drug refusal skills, resistance to advertisements for drugs, social skills training, and self-management skills training.

One of the media used to deliver the program is a computer-assisted instruction technology that promotes mastery and long-term retention of the material learned. The program also includes a game, Skills Challenge, which allows students to practice the skills learned throughout the lesson modules.


The program was evaluated using a quasi-experimental design with a pretest and posttest. Seventh graders in four public schools in Vermont participated in the study. Two schools used the HeadOn program (n=113), and two used the Life Skills Training Program (n=159), which has been proven to be effective. The average age of the students in the treatment group was 12.5; the average age in the comparison group was 12.2. Both groups were 55 percent male and 96 percent white. The students were given questionnaires that measured their attitudes, beliefs, intentions, and behavior related to substance and drug use.


Participants in the HeadOn group demonstrated significantly higher levels of accuracy in objective knowledge about drug abuse prevention relative to the participants in the Life Skills Training program. Both groups had comparable levels at baseline. At baseline the HeadOn group reported greater cigarette and substance use. The posttest revealed marked decreases in cigarette use for both groups, but the comparison group reported significantly lower rates. At posttest the HeadOn group reported a significantly greater reduction in their alcohol use, causing the two groups to have similar posttest rates. Participants in the HeadOn and Life Skills groups achieved comparable positive outcomes in self-reported intentions to use substances, attitudes toward substances, confidence in their ability to refuse a drug offer, and beliefs about the prevalence of substance use among both their peers and adults.

Risk Factors


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


  • Availability of alcohol and other drugs

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs


Marsch, Lisa A., Warren K. Bickel, and Gary J. Badger. Applying Computer Technology to Substance Abuse Prevention Science HeadOn: Substance Abuse Prevention for Grades 6–8. Burlington, Vt.: University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry, Psychology and Medical Biostatistics and HealthSim, Inc.


Dr. Warren K. Bickel, Ph.D.
HealthSim, Inc.
262 West 38th Street, Suite 1706
New York, NY 10018
Phone: (888) 897-4957
Web site:

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