The use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs can seldom be attributed to one cause. Instead, there are usually a number of factors present, some that correlate to usage (risk factors) and others that act as buffers to such use (protective factors). The relationship between risk and protective factors is often hard to define, and research has yet to find conclusive evidence to explain why some people use these substances while others do not.
Nevertheless, a review of more than 30 years of research by J. David Hawkins, Ph.D., and Richard F. Catalano, Ph.D., has identified several factors that are predictive of use. Additional research by the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services has confirmed the validity of these factors and expanded upon them. Although it is easy to make assumptions about drug use that appear to be logical, many such assumptions are incorrect. An example of one such commonly held, yet faulty, belief involves the public's perception of the role that self-esteem plays in these problems. While many people try to blame drug use on "low self-esteem," the research has consistently shown that self-esteem is neither a reliable risk factor nor a reliable protective factor in the area of alcohol, tobacco and other drug problems.
The research offers a clear set of risk factors that occur statistically more often among individuals who develop these problems. The research also identifies a clear set of protective factors that can moderate the negative impact of risk factors among individuals, families and communities. In fact, the research has shown that protective factors can help minimize the effects of exposure to risk factors, even when multiple and severe risks exist within more than one area of life (such as family, school, community and individual/peer influences).