Program Helps Teens with Genetic Tendency for Risky Behavior

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

The Strong African American Families (SAAF) program has been found to help teens who possess a tendency toward drug abuse and other risky behavior. According to researchers at the University of Georgia, some adolescents possess the short allele form of 5-HTTLPR, a gene that contributes to engaging in risky behaviors such as drug abuse, binge drinking, and poor self-control. The gene is found in forty percent of individuals.

Teens entered in the SAAF program and possessed the genetic tendency for risky behavior were found to be less likely than teens who did not possess the gene to engage in sexual activity, marijuana use, and drinking. The program underscores the value of teenage interventions that can influence behavior even when a genetic tendency toward risk taking exists.


The study, supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), shows that early intervention can help teens reduce risky behavior, despite what is in their genes. According to NIAAA Acting Director Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D, "The findings underscore that 'nurture' can influence 'nature' during adolescence, a pivotal time when delaying the start of alcohol consumption and other risky behaviors can have a significant impact on healthy child development.”

"The results emphasize the important role of parents, caregivers, and family-centered prevention programs in promoting healthy development during adolescence, especially when children have a biological makeup that may pose a challenge”, says study author Gene H. Brody, Ph.D., Regents Professor and Director of the Center for Family Research at the University of Georgia.

The study is the first to show that teens with a genetic tendency for risky behavior can be helped through targeted programs. The family-centered SAAF program is a good example of how developing adolescents can benefit from family support, open communication, and through goal setting, despite a genetic tendency toward risk taking.

Child Development