Prevent First Time Use and Misuse through Education

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Prevention is defined as the action of stopping something from happening or arising.  Prevention through education can be an effective way to prevent drug misuse and substance use disorder, which will reduce the numbers of overdose and fatal overdose within a community.  These are often longer term strategies, especially within the context of educating young people about the dangers and realities of starting to use substances.  

Educational prevention programs can - and should - start at an early age.  Society often promotes and glamorizes substance use, and young people are often exposed to substance use within their families and often feel peer pressure from friends who are using substances.  These are powerful forces in a young person's life that can be counteracted with effective education programs.

Education and prevention is an important part of helping individuals understand the dangers of drugs and alcohol. The main focus of drug education and prevention is teaching individuals about drug and alcohol abuse and the harmful impacts it has on people's lives.  For this reason hearing stories from those with lived experience is a powerful prevention tool.  There is no substitute from being face to face with someone and hearing first hand what their experience was like. These and other types of programs can help a person learn how to avoid, stop, or get help for addiction. 

Efforts also include those that target parents and provide them with the tools needed to educate their children about the dangers of drug use.  Parents are also educated to bet aware of warning signs that their child may already be using.  This can lead to an early intervention that often prevents the progression into substance use disorder.

The types of prevention programs are nearly endless.  Many successful approaches have been developed to target all types of populations.  Programs have been developed to focus on different age groups, different racial and ethnic backgrounds, schools, families, faith-based organizations, doctors, pharmacists, and the wider community.  The types of prevention programs are also extensive.  While many focus on the impacts of drug use (including different drugs like prescription medications), others focus on building up the individual and helping them address risk factors like anxiety and trauma that often lead to drug use.  Other prevention programs take the form of public awareness campaigns that seek to educate and warn large numbers of people. A good overview of prevention programs can be found here.



Key Topics and Strategies

The following resources pages focus on a number of key strategies that have been effective in preventing first time use and abuse.

One area of focus involves know the dangers of prescription medications, especially opioids and other pain medications.  The "first wave" of te current epidemic started when powerful pain medications were developed, heavily marketed, and often over-prescribed.  The addictive nature of these medications was largely unknown, and millions of people developed substance use disorder as a result.  Strategies include how to educate both patients who are prescribed these medications and parents of children who may be prescribed - or given the option to be prescribed - pain medication.

Young people are perhaps the most critical population to target with prevention programs.  Strategies included target where young people are located and the unseen risk factors that often lead to drug misuse and substance use disorder.  School based prevention programs are highlighted, including how to educate youth and create resistance to peer pressure to use drugs.

Looking at the underlying trauma and other mental health challenges many youth face is truly at the core of effective prevention.  Many people first start misusing drug to self-medicate and escape the depression, anxiety, and anger caused by traumatic events they have experienced.  Even without major trauma, an increasing number of young people are feeling stress and anxiety at high levels where again they seek relief by using drugs.  Educating youth about this reality and encouraging them to express these feeling and get needed help can achieve tremendous benefits for the individuals and entire community,




References and Related Articles

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Surgeon General, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington, DC: HHS, November 2016.

Hanley Foundation.  The Hanley Foundation is a national non-profit with a variety of prevention initiatives.  

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Good Policy and Practice in Health Education - "Education Sector Responses to use of Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs."