Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Four Key Features of Risk and Protective Factors

2. Risk and Protective Factors are Correlated and Cumulative

Risk factors tend to be positively correlated with one another, and negatively correlated with protective factors. That is to say, young people with some risk factors have a greater chance of exposure to still more risk factors—they are also less likely to have protective factors.

Risk and protective factors also tend to have a cumulative effect on the development—or reduced development—of behavioral health problems. Young people with multiple risk factors have a greater chance of developing a problem or disorder; young people with multiple protective factors are at reduced risk.

Understanding how risk and protective factors influence one another—that they do, in fact, influence one another—underscores the importance of (1) intervening early, and (2) developing interventions that target multiple factors, rather than addressing individual factors in isolation.


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