Powerful Substance Abuse Messages to Our Youth

Teenage Girl with an Electronic Cigarettes and Vaping

Teens are at high-risk for pressures from peers and young adults to engage in underage drinking. There are many variables that influence their risk for substance use and abuse. There are many programs that offer prevention and education to youth, tweens, teens, and young adults.

Parents and caregivers play a significant role in what decisions their children make throughout life.

Often substance abuse awareness programs are done in schools and media and have been shown to be associated with a reduction in alcohol and substance abuse [1].

Prevention programming can be a way to provide scientific, accurate, and age-appropriate information about substance abuse and use.

Youth Prevention Messages

Often prevention programming is an efficient way to reach youth. It can be a way to help them understand the dangers of using drugs and alcohol, what behavior, physical, and mood changes occur with initial and continued drug use.

Powerful messages can also be a way to target underserved youth who may not have access to prevention messages.

Prevention programming can be made more efficient by gaining a better understanding of how adolescents are given prevention messages.

Similarly, prevention programming can be better targeted to address underserved populations if the characteristics of adolescents not exposed to prevention messages or programs are known.

From 2002 to 2015, three of every four teens aged 12 to 17 years were exposed to substance use prevention messages in the media or through school.

Teen girl reading story for youth

One in every two teens talked with parents about substance and drug prevention, and in 2015 one in every nine teens participated in community prevention programs outside of school [1].

Overall, the introduction to prevention programs has not changed much since 2015 across the United States.

Overall, parents play an essential part in their child’s decision making and choices.

Most teens are getting prevention and awareness messages from their family to the point, that many prevention agencies like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) put out programs such as “Talk. They Hear You” campaigns to reduce underage drinking through parental support [1].

Education Components

Awareness and prevention not only induces awareness and prevention campaigns against the dangers of using but also about how to cope with a loved one or friend who is struggling with an addiction [2].

These programs can also include information about resources available in the local area around for support for the family of an addict.

Educational information can also be targeted at those who are struggling with substance abuse and its effect on the mind, body, functioning in daily life, and relationships.

Prevention messages focus on abuse education. It means teaching youth about drug and alcohol abuse, how to avoid it and peer pressure, as well as assistance available for someone struggling with abuse.

Messages also include continuing the conversation with family, teachers, peers, and loved ones about education and risks around substance abuse. Peer pressure is a topic that is common in the prevention of addictive behaviors.

In elementary schools, the focus is typically on increasing knowledge about substance abuse and risks. For middle school and high school students that topic generally is not only awareness based, but built into school curriculums [2].

Misinformation is Risky

Misinformation is typically about the amount, type, and frequency of use for legal and illegal substances, like alcohol and marijuana.

Educating the youth can help prevent them from using drugs in the first place, especially substances made to seem harmless but may be incredibly addictive.

Substance abuse messages that focus on the consequences of drug use and high-risk behaviors that can also occur while under the influence can help future abuse. Having accurate information can be powerful for youth.

It can help them in situations where there might be peer pressure to use to make an informed decision about usage.

All substances and drugs need to be covered, along with its consequences, when having a discussion with your child about use.

Being able to stress that some drugs are considered ‘minor’ or ‘hard’ drugs, that all have significant changes and effects on a person’s body, mind, and relationships.

Effectiveness for the Youth

Some research has shown that education and awareness messages are as useful as research-based prevention programs. A research-based program typically contains evidence and tested to show a reduction in substance abuse behaviors.

Awareness programs are those that provide information about risky behaviors, situations, and the consequences of abuse.

Both programs can increase protective factors within youth and decrease substance abuse and use, and reduce risk factors that make teens more susceptible to substance use [2].

Awareness and prevention messages need to be on-going and continues to increase the impact of the message. If awareness programs are not consistent, a reduction of the retention of the information can occur, increasing the risk of use.

Another aspect of these programs is that interactive programming is also powerful, where students can play a role in drug abuse education, development of prevention skills, and practice with other peers.

Teen standing with backpack

There are many online websites to help continue the conversation at home with your child. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) offers information for all ages, a family checkup questionnaire, and resources for parents.

NIDA for teens is also a website resource that is aimed at teenagers and provides further interactive education.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers numerous resources for education, prevention, and treatment for substance abuse.

They also provide resources for starting programming in schools, within the family, and community settings. AWARxE Prescription Drug Safety Program is a website that provides information around proper use, storage, disposal and prevention of prescription drugs.

In conclusion, teens are at highest risk for substance abuse [3]. They are in a period of transition from child to teen to adult. They may have mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and may turn to substances to cope with symptoms.

Teens that tend to lean toward drugs may have lack of adult supervision or positive adult role models. Successful prevention models can be impactful and help reduce abuse rates nationwide.

Educating your child on the potential risks of drug use and abuse can enable them to make better choices.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.
Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] Lipari, R. (n.d.). EXPOSURE TO SUBSTANCE USE PREVENTION MESSAGES AMONG ADOLESCENTS. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_3380/ShortReport-3380.html
[2] Substance Abuse Education Resources. (2017, August 02). Retrieved November 20, 2017, from https://www.projectknow.com/research/substance-abuse-education-resources/
[3] Teenage Substance Abuse Prevention – Preventing Teen Addiction. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2017, from https://www.addictioncenter.com/teenage-drug-abuse/teenage-substance-abuse-prevention/

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on January 8, 2018

Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.