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Substance Abuse Prevention

To help in facilitating substance abuse prevention, listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Focus on the young person talking to you. Give him or her your full attention and don’t plan your response while he or she is talking. Young people instantly detect when you have disengaged from listening to them. In today’s busy world, one of the most valuable things you can give a young person is your undivided attention.

We are created with two ears and a mouth for a reason, but sometimes the mouth still dominates our times as a leader. Choose your words carefully. If you ramble on and on, youth will learn to tune you out. If young people feel that they are being talked “AT,” they will lose interest in the substance abuse prevention sessions quickly.

Lead by example. Share from your heart, but don’t dominate the session. Youth do appreciate hearing you being vulnerable, they don’t want to be preached to.

Use genuine and specific affirmation. Instead of just saying “good job,” let them know that you think they are great. Always be genuine, because youth see through fake flattery.

Mentoring is a solution to many of the ills that afflict our youth. Substance abuse prevention and youth development research supports the idea that a relationship with caring adults helps youth to thrive. Busy adults today may have little time in their lives to give to young people. Fortunately, there is a great deal adults can do to show they care and to make a difference in young people’s lives that does not require a major commitment. Here are some ideas you might try.

    Everyday actions
  • Greet young people when you see them. Ask how they’re doing.
  • Congratulate young people when they accomplish something.
  • Ask young people for their opinions and perspectives.
  • Set reasonable boundaries and have high expectations.
  • Replace put-downs with affirmations. Make sure any teasing is supportive, not harsh.
    Special occasions
  • Send cards or e-mail greetings to young people you know to mark holidays, birthdays, and other important milestones.
  • Cheer at a child’s sports game, concert, play, or other performance.
  • Be a classroom assistant or tutor. Help a teacher prepare materials for class.
  • Take a child on a zoo adventure. Look for different animals, shapes, sounds, and colors.
  • Teach young people to share their money with charities by recruiting adults to match youth contributions.
  • Throw an after-school T (for “terrific”) party. Ask youth to wear their favorite t-shirts. Play games that start with the letter T, such as tag and trash can basketball. Serve snacks that start with the letter T, such as Tootsie Rolls and tangerines.
    Substance abuse prevention ideas
  • You can use free anti-drug resources from the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign ( and in the following ways:
    • Use articles on drug prevention in newsletters or other communication vehicles. You might also use public service announcements (PSAs), parenting tips, drug facts, or resource information.
    • Call the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) at (800) 788-2800 for free prevention materials.
    • Participate in national or community events to tie your group into existing prevention efforts. For example, Red Ribbon Week ( or is an annual national event designed to celebrate healthy, drug-free lifestyles for youth and is observed in communities across America at the end of every October.

Research shows that parents play a crucial role in their teen's substance abuse decision:

  • Teens who get anti-drug messages at home are 42% less likely to use drugs.
  • Involved parents make a difference. Spending time with kids, even taking a walk or playing a game, can significantly drop the rate of teen drug use.
  • Teens whose parents monitor TV viewing or Internet use, know where their teen is after school, and expect their teen to tell them where they are going, are at half the risk of substance abuse as teens whose parents do not.

Young people need guidance from their parents now more than ever:

  • In a recent “national report card,” teens gave parents a “C-” in preventing youth from using drugs.
  • Teens with “hands-off” parents are at four times greater risk of smoking, drinking, and using illegal drugs as teens with hands-on” parents.
  • Dads are far less likely than moms to talk to kids about drugs.

As you work with young people, look for those special connections called “teachable moments.” Think of a time when something you heard or saw sparked an unanticipated response, a quick comment, a provocative question, or unexpected revelation. That “something” was the invitation to a teachable moment. Youth leaders, parents, and caring adults can use teachable moments to thier advantage. The can use them to connect, guide a discussion, offer advice, or just make a clear statement of their own beliefs.

Teachable moments can occur when you are with one person, a small group, or a large group. They often occur when least expected, such as in the middle of a conversation when the topic suddenly turns to a celebrity who was admitted to a rehabilitation clinic. The challenge is to anticipate these teachable moments and seize the opportunity to share insight, wisdom, or experience in sensitive, meaningful ways.

Here are three tips for sparking teachable moments:

  • Share a news article regarding substance abuse or addiction with young people and discuss what they think.
  • Check out what’s in an upcoming episode of a popular show and then watch the program together. Talk about the content afterward. How was the depiction of drug and/or alcohol use handled?
  • Show a music video, film, or TV show that portrays the use of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco as the norm. Contrast the realities of substance use with the portrayal in the program.

To make the most of teachable moments:

  • Draw connections with a question. How is this story like our discussion last month about choices and consequences?
  • Draw connections with a statement. This story reminds me of our discussion about setting goals and priorities.
  • Explore with a statement. What do you think the consequences of this person’s actions might be for him? For his family? For his community?