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Substance abuse tears families and communities apart. It ruins lives-and sometimes takes them. Recovering from drug and alcohol abuse is infinitely more difficult than avoiding it in the first place. That’s why prevention is so important. Parents, school-based programs, and substance abuse coalitions can all play a vital role.

Education and awareness are cornerstones of prevention. But it’s equally important to identify and address potential risk factors for substance abuse, particularly in young people’s lives. A chaotic home life, ineffective parenting, poor academic performance, mental illness, and parents or friends who abuse substances can all put children and adolescents at risk.

Reducing those risk factors and putting protective factors in their place can go a long way toward minimizing the chances that a child or teen will end up abusing alcohol or drugs. Protective factors include:

  • Strong family bonds
  • Clear parental expectations
  • Healthy connections with school, church, and community
  • Reinforcement of healthy messages at home and elsewhere

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When it comes to preventing substance abuse, parents are the single most important influence in their children’s lives-more influential than peers or media or anything else. That’s why it’s so important for parents to take an active role in instilling healthy behaviors and choices in children and teens.

Here are just a few of the ways parents can help prevent their children from abusing drugs and alcohol.

  • Stay engaged in your children’s lives. The stronger your relationship with your children, the better you can guide them toward healthy choices. Ask about their schoolwork and activities, get to know their friends, and do things together as a family. Show your children that you care about who they are and what’s important to them.
  • Establish clear family rules about drinking and drug use. Make it clear what your expectations are about drug and alcohol use—e.g. no drinking until age 21, no getting into a car with someone has been drinking or doing drugs, no attending parties where drugs or alcohol are present, etc.—and what the consequences will be if those rules are broken.
  • Set a good example. Your behaviors and attitudes about drinking and drugs make a powerful impression on your children. If you drink in front of your kids, do so in moderation. If you host a party with alcohol, be sure to serve non-alcoholic beverages too, and don’t let guests drive drunk. Use prescription drugs as directed, and do not use illegal drugs, including marijuana.
  • Don’t try to teach your children “responsible drinking” by providing them with alcohol. Many parents believe that supplying their teenage children (and possibly their friends) with alcohol in their home, in a supervised environment, they are taking the “mystique” out of drinking, and that their children are less likely to drink in excess as a result. In fact, researchers have found that providing alcohol is associated with increased teen alcohol use, including higher rates of alcohol-related problems.
  • Start now. Research has found that the later people first use alcohol or drugs, the less likely they are to develop an addiction or other substance-related problems. By talking with your children about drugs and alcohol in age-appropriate ways starting as early as kindergarten, you help them understand what substance abuse is, and what your expectations are when it comes to drinking and drugs.

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School-based programs play a critical role in preventing substance abuse and can start as early as preschool. In early childhood and primary education, research suggests that the focus should be on addressing risk factors for drug and alcohol abuse: aggressive behavior, social-emotional issues, academic failure, etc. In middle and high school, the focus can widen to include skills such as building healthy peer relationships, resisting drugs and alcohol, and strengthening personal commitments against substance abuse.


In the past, preventing substance abuse was left to parents, schools and law enforcement. But new research suggests that prevention is most effective when it’s a proactive, community effort, with multiple groups working together to prevent drug and alcohol abuse at every stage of life, starting as early as possible.

Substance abuse coalitions bring together parents, youth, educators, law enforcement, the faith community, health care providers, social service providers, civic and government officials, business leaders, members of the media and other concerned citizens to help prevent, reduce and respond to drug and alcohol abuse and related problems in their communities.

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CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America)