A drug is anything we eat, breathe, inject, or absorb into our body (like a nicotine patch) that changes the way we feel and how well our brain and body work together. Drugs can be illegal (cocaine, crystal meth), legal (alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco if over 18 years old), and medicine (over the counter or prescribed by a doctor).
The drugs used most often by youth are the same as those used most often by adults, alcohol, cannabis, and nicotine. A 2016/2017 study by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that 44% of students in grades 7-12 had used alcohol in the previous year, while 17% had used cannabis.
To prevent substance use, we must first understand what puts young people at risk, and what protects them. Research tells us that the more risk factors a young person has in their life, the greater the chance of harmful drug use. At the same time, protective factors help to shield the young person from some of the risks. The goal of youth drug use prevention is to create and increase protective factors and to decrease risk factors. To be successful, prevention supports and strategies should target specific risks and be focused on children and youth.
National Addiction Awareness Week is a good time to think about preventing substance use. The Life Balance Wheel and Major Life Areas tool tells us where to place our focus.
- Reduce risk factors; like negative peer pressure, poverty, lack of social skills, mental health problems, violence or conflict, and disconnection.
- Increase protective factors; like basic daily needs (housing, food, safety), time with positive friends, and adults who set and enforce rules in a caring way.
- Teach life skills; like how to name and deal with feelings, make decisions, solve problems, manage moods, and communicate well with others.
- Involve young people. Young people do better when they are included in decisions that affect them and when trusted adults listen to their opinions and feedback
- Led by young people. Substance use prevention is more successful when young people lead activities and have a role in prevention.
- Connect to the community. Youth who have risk factors in their lives do better when they are connected to caring and responsible adults for support. Help connect young people to their community (volunteer, youth groups, church/mosque/synagogue).