Program Review: Project ALERT

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The glamorization of drugs and alcohol in the media, or with celebrities, peers, or other important people has been detrimental to the lives of the young children seeing this first hand. There are many consequences of drugs and alcohol that are never discussed alongside these influential people. Through research many studies have shown that drugs can erase a teen’s potential in life. This is something that could be avoidable if education of drugs and alcohol was implemented at the young age that they are being introduced to these things.

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According to study conducted by McCabe et al. (2007), a child that is 13 years of age who starts using non-medical prescription drugs is 25.3% more likely to become a life time user compared to that of a 21 year-old who only had a 7% chance of this. Project ALERT is a program that teaches teens both sides of drugs and alcohol abuse, emphasizing those sides that are usually hidden from the media. They believe that every student should be given all of the information in order to make a decision against using drugs. The following paper will offer a critique on Project ALERT, by including information on: the program and the cultural/social factors of participants, the efficacy, and finally my own personal reflection of the program.

Project ALERT is a classroom-based substance abuse prevention program aimed towards children in middle school. It is directed at helping prevent those students from experimenting with drugs and alcohol. ALERT stands for Adolescent Learning Experiences Resistance Training. This program was developed in the early 1980s by a team of researchers at RAND corporation. Phyllis Ellickson and her team developed this program with the initial support and funding from the Hilton Foundation, however now it is funded through grant funding and foundation support. Through this type of funding Project ALERT is able to make all of their programs, lessons, and materials free. The target audience for this program are students in seventh and eighth grade, who through research, have been deemed the most likely age for drugs to be introduced to. It is a two-year online program that can be interspersed through their schooling in health, sex education, sciences, or physical education classes. There are a total of 11 lessons to be taught during the first year of the program and three booster lessons that would be delivered throughout the following year. Project ALERT slightly addresses cultural and social factors of drug and alcohol abuse. The program’s lessons and assignments are also available in Spanish, however the videos are not. There are over 21,000 teachers certified in more than 4,000 school districts that are using Project ALERT in their classrooms. The materials that are provided are very appropriate for this age range and help explain substance abuse in an easy and understanding way.

In order to evaluate the efficacy of Project ALERT, a study was conducted right before it was going to be created in 1993 by the researchers at RAND corporation. The purpose of this study was to look at the long term effects of drug-use prevention programs, specifically, Project ALERT (Ellickson, Bell & McGugian, 1993). The target audience of this study was 30 California and Oregon schools from eight urban, suburban, and rural communities all with varying populations of ethnicities, social class, etc. They were put randomly into three different groups, two treatment groups and one control group. One treatment group consisted of 10 schools who had the ALERT class taught by adult teachers while the other treatment group consisted of 10 schools having teenage teachers. After six years of conducting this experiment there were two glaring conclusions. The first one was that once the student finished all of the lessons and continued through the rest of their schooling, the program’s impact on drug use also stopped. The second conclusion was that the lessons that were taught had a long lasting effect on cognitive risk factors. Overall, Project ALERT effectively delayed or reduced the use of cigarettes and marijuana in these schools. Although it is believed that drug prevention would increase tremendously in the later years if the education were to be continued throughout high school, there should be more studies conducted on this in order to know the exact results.

Project ALERT based off of my research findings as well as outside research appears to be extremely effective in young children and substance prevention. When researching substance abuse prevention programs, I found it interesting that this one decided to target children of such a young age. After reading the research conducted around it, it makes the most sense to me to start education younger in order to help with long-term prevention. Seventh and eighth graders were the target audience of this program since this is the age group where drugs and alcohol are typically first introduced. It was proven that education in this age of children helped prevent or push the use of drugs and alcohol to later in life. It specifically helped with the prevention of cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use. Through the research and studies mentioned above Project ALERT does have difficulty with the diminishing impact of the lessons as the years pass after the program is completed. The only improvement I would mention to Project ALERT is to try and expand their resources in order to continue the program throughout the high school years. It is very important to introduce this topic of conversation about drugs and alcohol abuse to students at an early age however, sometimes it get’s lost on them once the lessons are stopped. They could possibly team up with another substance abuse prevention program that targets high school students to come up with curriculum for students of that age as well.

Overall I think that Project ALERT has a solid foundation and grasp when it comes to the education on substance abuse prevention. I believe that with their program, training, and materials that they can expand throughout America and touch the lives of more and more seventh and eighth grade students. If they were able to partner with another program or create their own extension to Project ALERT for high school students, I believe that overall substance abuse prevention would increase.


  1. Ellickson, P. L., Bell, R. M., & McGuigan, K. (1993). Preventing adolescent drug use: Long term results of a junior high program. American Journal of Public Health, 83(6), 856-861. doi:10.2105/ajph.83.6.856
  2. Mccabe, S. E., West, B. T., Morales, M., Cranford, J. A., & Boyd, C. J. (2007). Does early onset of non-medical use of prescription drugs predict subsequent prescription drug abuse and dependence? Results from a national study. Addiction, 102(12), 1920-1930. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2007.02015.x
  3. Substance abuse prevention for grades 7 & 8. (n.d.). Retrieved from
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Program Review: Project ALERT. (2021, May 14). Retrieved from