School Climate as a Universal Intervention to Prevent Substance Use Initiation in Early Adolescence: A Longitudinal Study

Document Type


Publication Date



Initiation of substance use often starts during adolescence, with tobacco and alcohol use frequently preceding the use of marijuana and other illicit drugs. Studies suggest that a positive school climate may prevent substance use while promoting healthy student behaviors. The purpose of this study was to determine the longitudinal associations between school climate and substance use initiation in a group of middle school students. Parallel latent growth curve modeling was used to examine changes among study variables longitudinally using a sample of 2,097 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students across 16 regional schools located in three counties in West Virginia. Results suggest that a positive school climate may prevent substance use initiation (β = −0.07 to −0.25, p < .01). However, perceptions of school climate decreased on their own over time (β = −0.28 to −0.66, p < .01). Furthermore, substance use initiation also increased as students grew older (β = 0.96 to 0.99, p < .01) and reduced the effects of school climate longitudinally (β = −0.07 to −0.24, p < .01). Early substance use initiation may be a warning sign of other underlying student issues and requires additional school support to foster student success. Findings suggest that a positive school climate may delay substance use initiation and promote school success. School climate may, therefore, be useful as an intervention to support school-based health promotion.