Education about substance abuse is an important part of helping individuals understand the many aspects of this topic. This information can include factual data about what substance abuse is; warning signs of addiction; information about how alcohol and specific drugs affect the mind and body; the consequences that addiction can have on one’s physical and mental health, family, relationships, and other areas of functioning; and how and why substances are abused.
Education may also include information on how to deal with a family member or friend who is struggling with a substance use disorder, and how to be supportive during the detoxification and rehabilitation process.
This could also include counseling education, which helps everyone involved—from the person abusing substances to family and friends. It is important that people who abuse substances are aware of how a drug can affect their minds, bodies, relationships, and functioning. This awareness can help them realize the potential damage that could occur, or the damage that has already occurred. Substance abuse education may also include information about what treatment entails to prepare everyone involved for the potential outcomes.
The Importance of Substance Abuse Education
The main focus of substance abuse education is teaching individuals about drug and alcohol abuse and how to avoid, stop, or get help for substance use disorders—and this can begin at a young age. Education can start with parents educating their children, and in primary school programming designed to increase knowledge about substance abuse and the associated risks. For teenagers, substance abuse education is generally incorporated into school curriculum as well. Adults who want to learn more about substance abuse (that they can then share with their kids) can attend classes, group meetings, and research information online in order to learn more about the topic.
Substance abuse education is important for children, teenagers, and adults alike; there are many misconceptions about commonly used legal and illegal substances, such as alcohol and marijuana. Ensuring that children are educated about drugs can help prevent them from using them, especially ones that are made to sound harmless, but are in reality very addictive or dangerous to the body. Helping adults understand the repercussions of drug use can prevent a problem from forming and can provide information they can share with their children to prevent future issues.
Knowledge is power, and with accurate information about the topic, a person will be more likely to make a fact-based and informed decision. When educating people, all drugs should be covered, regardless of the strength or perceived risk of harm. While opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine are viewed as “hard drugs,” and therefore have serious consequences, “minor drugs,” such as marijuana and alcohol can still be addictive and are frequently abused. People of all ages should be aware of the damage that all drugs and alcohol have the potential to do to the body, mind, and relationships.
With the availability of internet resources, there is unlimited access to knowledge about drugs and alcohol, but not every site provides reliable information. If you are preparing to teach a substance abuse education course to adults or deliver a school presentation for children or teenagers, make sure that you know your information well, and verify it as accurate. This website has a number of excellent, reliable, and well-researched resources that can be used to educate yourself about drugs, so read them thoroughly. Having accurate and reliable information is the best way to identify yourself as a knowledgeable teacher who students will listen to, regardless of their age.
Do Drug Education Campaigns Work?
Studies have shown that substance abuse prevention programs are effective if they are research-based and implemented properly.1 Research-based education programs are rooted in scientific evidence and tested thoroughly, and have been shown to significantly reduce substance abuse behaviors, including use of nicotine, alcohol, and drugs.1
These programs boost protective factors, which decrease the likelihood of substance abuse issues, while reducing the impact of risk factors that make individuals more susceptible to substance abuse.1 It is especially important to include substance abuse education and prevention in schools, because they can help students avoid trying substances and reduce the risk of developing a substance use disorder later in life. Substance abuse education can begin as early as preschool to help reduce the impact of risk factors on later decision-making—especially during the turbulent adolescent years—where substance use disorders often begin.2 Of course, it is important to adjust the material to be age-appropriate.
Recent surveys show drops in alcohol, tobacco, and substance use in American teenagers in grades 8, 10, and 12.3 Use of alcohol and cigarettes were at a record low in 2015, and are currently at the lowest rate they have reached since 1975.3 Drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy or Molly), heroin, prescription drugs, bath salts, hallucinogens, crack cocaine, synthetic marijuana (K2 or spice), and amphetamines have all declined in use among American students in grades 8, 10, and 12.3 And binge drinking rates in American students have also dropped significantly.3 Marijuana use rates in American students have remained fairly stable since 2010.3
This universal drop is attributed to increased prevention programming that is incorporated into school curriculums, which seems to deter students from trying illicit substances, alcohol, and tobacco. Education is especially important for newer, “designer” drugs, such as synthetic marijuana (e.g., Spice and K2) and bath salts (e.g., synthetic cathinones), which can be marketed as harmless, but are incredibly dangerous drugs that often have unpredictable results when taken.
Effective drug education campaigns should be ongoing, with recurring programming to fortify the original prevention message.2 Studies show that lack of follow-up programming can reduce the benefits of prevention campaigns.2 In addition, interactive prevention programming has better outcomes, allowing participants to play an active role in drug abuse education and the development of prevention skills, especially when role-playing and discussion groups with peers are included.2
When research-based drug abuse education campaigns are implemented, they are not only effective, they can also reduce the cost of future substance use disorders.2 Studies show that for every dollar allocated toward prevention campaigns, there is a ten-fold savings in treatment for substance use disorder treatment.2
Helpful Resources on Prevention and Safety
There are many reliable, informative substance abuse education sources available on the internet. The following is a list of some of the sources that can be accessed to learn more about substance use and prevention.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. This site provides information on substance use prevention for all ages, and also offers a family checkup, a questionnaire that helps parents learn about parenting skills that help prevent future substance use in children or teens.
- NIDA for Teens. This site is an offshoot of the National Institute on Drug Abuse website that provides information aimed at teens in an interactive, interesting, and easy-to-understand format that appeals to young people.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This link contains a wealth of knowledge about prevention, substance use disorders, and treatment. It addresses prevention programming at several different levels, including school, family, and community settings, as well as providing information about risk and protective factors and evidence-based practices.
- Monitoring the Future survey. This website surveys American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders to provide current statistics on teen alcohol, drug, and tobacco use. The results are analyzed to determine trends based on the results from previous years.
- Youth.gov. This is a government site that offers information about substance use prevention, as well as links to all areas of prevention, including articles, programs, publications, research, training resources, and websites.
- Above the Influence. This is the website for a popular nationwide substance use prevention campaign. This program was developed as part of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, and works to encourage teenagers to resist peer pressure and negative influences that promote substance use.
- AWARxE Prescription Drug Safety Program. This site provides information about proper use, storage, disposal, and prevention for prescription drugs. Prescription drug awareness events occurring throughout the United States are also listed on this site.
- Too Smart To Start. This is an educational program funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Its aim is to spark conversations between adults and adolescents about the risks and harm of underage alcohol consumption, and to increase awareness of underage drinking as a detrimental thing. This website offers different areas for children, teenagers, families, teachers, and leaders in the community, providing different information and resources for each group.
- Preventing Drug Use Among Children and Adolescents: A Research-Based Guide for Parents, Educators, and Community Leaders. This is a publication from the National Institute on Drug Abuse that provides comprehensive information on substance use prevention. It addresses risk and protective factors, community-based drug prevention, incorporating the principles of prevention into programs, and even provides examples of evidence-based prevention programs.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. This is a government website that offers community outreach information, and provides links to helpful publications and websites regarding prevention of substance use.
There are many other prevention resources available online, but be aware that not all of the information is reliable. Look for community, state, or government resources for the most up-to-date, effective, research-based prevention information.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2003). Preventing drug abuse among children and adolescents (in brief).
- University of Michigan. (2015). Use of ecstasy, heroin, synthetic marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes declined among US teens in 2015.