Why focus on youth substance abuse prevention?





  • Adolescence is the developmental period of highest risk for the onset of problematic alcohol and other drug use. (NIAAA)
  • Most adolescents have used alcohol or other drugs by the time they have reached the 12th grade, with alcohol and marijuana being the most commonly used. (Monitoring the Future)
  • Substance use during adolescence is associated with various negative outcomes including problems in school, injuries, emergency room visits, arrests, violence, and other risky behaviors (such as unprotected sex). (Durant 1999Hingson 1990)
  • The younger a person is when he/she first uses alcohol or drugs, the greater the likelihood that he/she will become dependent and/or addicted as an adult. (Hingson 2006)
  • Heavy alcohol and marijuana use in adolescence may result in long-lasting changes in the brain affecting memory and learning, decreasing motivation, and increasing the risk of serious mental illness. (Squeglia 2009)
  • Adolescents’ still-developing judgment and decision-making skills may limit their ability to assess risks accurately and make sound decisions about using drugs.
  • Addiction is a developmental disease, typically beginning in childhood or adolescence.
  • Drug use decreases when drugs are perceived as harmful.


Why do people take drugs?

Source: NIDA Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction

People begin to take drugs for a variety of reasons:

  • To feel good. Most abused drugs produce an intense feeling of pleasure. This sensation of euphoria is followed by other effects, which differ with the type of drug used.
  • To feel better. Some people begin abusing drugs in an attempt to lessen feelings of distress. Stress can play a major role in beginning drug use, continuing drug use, or relapse in recovering addicts.
  • To do better. The increasing pressure that some people feel to chemically improve their athletic or cognitive performance can play a role in initial experimentation and continued drug use.
  • Curiosity and “because others are doing it.” In this respect adolescents are particularly vulnerable because of the strong influence of peer pressure.


What are some warning signs of youth alcohol and drug abuse?

Source: AACAP Facts for Families 

  • Physical signs include fatigue, repeated health complaints, red and glazed eyes, or a lasting cough.
  • Emotional signs include personality change, sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low self-esteem, poor judgment, depression, or a general lack of interest.
  • Family signs include starting arguments, breaking rules, or withdrawing from the family.
  • School signs include decreased interest, negative attitude, drop in grades, many absences or truancy, or disciplinary action.
  • Social signs include new friends who are less interested in standard home and school activities or problems with the law.


Some of these warning signs can also be signs of other problems. If you have concerns, consult a physician to rule out physical causes of the warning signs.

What is drug addiction?

Source: NIDA Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction

Drug addiction is:

  • A chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.
  • A brain disease because drugs change the brain structure and the way it works.
  • Addictions are similar to other diseases in that they disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of the underlying organ, have serious harmful consequences, are preventable, treatable, and if left untreated, can last a lifetime.

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