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Epidemiology and Prevention

Epidemiology helps prevention professionals identify and analyze community patterns of substance misuse and the various factors that influence behavior.

Epidemiology is the public health science that describes the incidence, distribution, and control of disease in a population. Epidemiologists look for why certain health problems occur. They search for patterns in how often a problem occurs, where it occurs, and how many people it affects over time. They then use this information to figure out the best approaches to preventing the problem—or to at least slow down its spread.

CAPT’s resources can improve your knowledge of prevention epidemiology by helping you:

Epidemiology and Substance Use Prevention

In the prevention field, epidemiologists study patterns of substance use and misuse, as well as the factors that place individuals at increased—or decreased—risk of engaging in unhealthy behaviors. The epidemiology of substance use prevention is the foundation for SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), ensuring that decisions are data-driven and outcomes-focused.

In working to prevent substance misuse and related behavioral health problems, epidemiologists are concerned with two key questions:

  1. What is the nature, extent, and pattern of substance use behaviors and their associated consequences?
  2. What risk and protective factors influence these behaviors and consequences?

Data about the patterns of substance misuse in a particular population or community can help focus prevention strategies and programs, and help decision-makers reach those populations in greatest need. For example, if data from your community show that young adults identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) are at increased risk for using illicit drugs, then prevention efforts should focus on engaging this population.

Identifying problems and understanding the factors associated with those problems can help you target your prevention efforts. For example, if data reveal that third-party sales are a primary source of underage alcohol access (that is, adults buying alcohol for minors), then prevention efforts should be directed at adults who engage in this practice. It’s important to remember, however, that factors driving a problem in one community may not be the same as those driving the same problem in a different community.

Publications and Resources

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Last Updated: 04/05/2016