Prevention Matters

A New, Clear Prevention Goal

The goal of youth prevention is to help teens make One Choice: not to use any alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or other drugs for reasons of health. This goal is realistic and achievable. About 27% of high school seniors have never used any substance in their lives. This number has grown dramatically over the past four decades. IBH encourages the often opposing sides in the drug policy field to unite in their message for youth substance use prevention by embracing One Choice.

Gateway Drugs

The use of any alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana is highly correlated with the use of the other two. Alcohol, nicotine and marijuana are the three gateway drugs for youth

A study of data from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that compared to their peers who did not use marijuana in the past month, youth aged 12-17 who used marijuana in the past month were dramatically more likely to also report past month alcohol, cigarettes and other illicit drug use. Youth who reported no marijuana were less likely to report use of alcohol, cigarettes and other illicit drugs. View data graphs.


Use of any one gateway drug was associated with use of the other two and with use of other illicit drugs. Prevention should focus on approaches that reduce use of all substances simultaneously. Read the Commentary from the Institute for Behavior and Health, Reducing Future Rates of Adult Addiction Must Begin with Youth Prevention.

Abstaining from Drug Use

Source: Monitoring the Future

Over the past four decades the number of teens choosing not to use any drugs has increased dramatically. More and more teens understand that using alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and other drugs is unhealthy and unsafe. These teens are less likely to use other drugs and are likely to reach higher levels of academic achievement. More teens can make the choice to abstain from all drug use if they know that the best option for health is to not use any drugs.

Check out our Abstainer Spotlight to hear direct from teens about why they have made this healthy choice.

About one-quarter of today's college students admit they suffer consequences from drinking too much. Nearly 700,000 people say they've been assaulted by another student who had too much alcohol. CBS This Morning looks at how the University of Vermont is addressing substance use, encouraging freshman to refrain from substance use with a strong focus on physical and mental health.

Parents Matter

Parents are the most powerful force in their teens' lives. Informed and determined parents can stop teens from using marijuana.

Parents make a difference. Adolescents who believe that their parents will respond negatively to their drug use are less likely to use alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and other drugs. While other factors, like peers who use drugs, can influence a teen’s decisions, parent expectations of drug use and enforcement of drug-free rules significantly reduce teen drug use. Teens with parents that clearly express and enforce the no drug use rule are less likely to have friends that use drugs and are more confidently able to refuse alcohol and other drugs. Talk to your children about drugs, making sure that they know that no drug use is acceptable.

How Do You Really Keep Your Kids Safe From Addiction? 10 things parents can do to help keep their kids safe from addiction - Parent Toolkit from Addiction Policy Forum:

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests the following strategies for helping your kids avoid drugs:

  1. Communication: Communicating calmly and clearly about issues in the teen’s life helps parents and teens develop healthy relationships and promotes positive behavior.

  2. Encouragement: It is important for parents to encourage and celebrate good behaviors and accomplishments. This gives teens the confidence to try new things, develop new friendships, and tackle difficult tasks

  3. Negotiation: Learning to cooperate with your teen and work together to solve issues helps teens learn healthy ways of dealing with adversity and difficult situations

  4. Setting limits: Parents teach their teens self-control and responsibility by setting and enforcing household rules such as no drug or alcohol use.

  5. Supervision: Parents who monitor their teen’s behaviors are more able to identify and address problems that arise in the child’s life including pressure to use drugs and current use.

Check out For the Young and Curious Brains that Wonder ‘Why Say NO to Drugs?' written for Mentor USA by Aparna Shah, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher at Johns Hopkins University. 

Prevention Resources

CADCA - Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America is a membership organization that provides technical assistance and training and public policy advocacy for community coalitions working to make their communities safe, healthy and drug-free.

Cannabis Skunk Sense (CanSS) - CanSS is a UK-based charity that raises awareness of the continuing and growing threat to children, teenagers, and their families posed by cannabis use.

Community of Concern - A Maryland-based group committed to helping keep youth drug- and alcohol-free.

Family Resource Center - This site from the Treatment Research Institute (TRI) is a database of scientifically supported resources for families. It includes information about prevention, treatment, and recovery.

Get Smart About Drugs - This site from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a resource for parents. Learn the facts about drugs and how to identify and prevent drug use.

Just Think Twice - This site is specifically for teens that shatters myths about drugs and drug abuse and includes advice and stories from teens to teens about drugs.

Mentor Foundation USA - A non-profit organization that uses evidence-based intervention approaches to prevent and reduce youth substance use and promote health and well-being.

National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse - A national non-profit research and policy organization focused on improving the understanding, prevention and treatment of substance use and addiction.

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids - The Partnership helps families struggling with substance use, providing information, support and guidance to get the help their loved one needs and deserves. 

Partnership for Drug-Free Canada - The Partnership is working to create a movement to inspire and support parents to prevent drug use. - The Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research (CeASAR) at Children’s Hospital Boston provides a 15-minute course for parents that explains the effects of alcohol and drugs on the developing teen brain and gives science-based strategies for protecting adolescents from substance use.

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