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Substance abuse and addiction problems have become epidemic in nature – in fact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has reported that over twenty-three million individuals struggle with substance abuse and addiction problems in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse further reports that substance abuse and addiction costs our nation over $600 billion each year in costs related to lost work productivity, healthcare and crime.

While there is no doubt that action must be taken to prevent drug and alcohol abuse from occurring, the problem is in defining that action. Prohibiting or restricting drug and alcohol use is ineffective and unreasonable, and when one considers how many individuals abuse illicit drugs it is clear that such a “solution” will, in fact, solve nothing. It is therefore important to pull apart what causes drug and alcohol use to occur and prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Why Drug and Alcohol Use Occurs

Most individuals turn to drug or alcohol use when they encounter a problem in their life for which they have no other ready solution. The problem could be physical, mental or emotional, and can include such things as pain, anxiety, stress, feeling left-out socially and more. Depending on the drug or alcohol that is used, the individual can experience relief, euphoria or other desirable sensations. The drug or alcohol cannot solve the problem for which it is taken, but many individuals enjoy the numbing sensations that are created, which can lead to further drug or alcohol use.

Unfortunately, few individuals who consume drugs or alcohol understand how they affect the body, or the harm that can be caused by continuous drug or alcohol use. Their confusion over experiencing the undesirable effects of drug and alcohol use may cause them to deny that drug or alcohol use is occurring, that they have a problem with drug or alcohol use, or that they need help.

Drug and Alcohol Use in Youth

While youth do not make up the entire population of substance abusers and addicts, they do contribute to the problems of substance abuse and addiction and often continue to struggle with drugs and alcohol into adulthood. According to the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Study:

  • Almost forty percent of high schoolers admitted to using marijuana at least once.
  • Over eight percent of high schoolers admitted to using marijuana before the age of thirteen.
  • Nearly six percent of high schoolers admitted to using marijuana on school property within the thirty days prior to the survey.
  • Nearly seven percent of high schoolers admitted to using some form of cocaine at least once.
  • Over eleven percent of high schoolers admitted to using inhalants at least once.
  • Nearly three percent of high schoolers admitted to using heroin at least once.
  • Nearly four percent of high schoolers admitted to using methamphetamines at least once.
  • Over twenty-five percent of high schoolers admitted that they had been offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school campus at least once.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports:

  • More than four thousand deaths in individuals under the age of twenty-one each year are caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Many health and social problems, including driving under the influence, physical fighting, poor performance in school, risky sexual activity and smoking occur in adolescents who participate in alcohol consumption.
  • Over sixty percent of high school students who consume alcohol participate in high-risk alcohol consumption, consuming alcohol to the point of intoxication frequently.
  • Roughly one and a half billion individuals over the age of seventeen participate in binge drinking in the United States every year.

The reasons an adolescent may turn to drug or alcohol use is varied, but often includes trying to relieve stress related to school, social scenes, family, relationships or even adolescence itself. Others may begin to use drugs or alcohol in order to feel accepted in social groups or because of peer pressure. Whatever an individual’s reason for turning to drug or alcohol use, it can be prevented.

Preventing Drug and Alcohol Abuse

There are many different programs in place throughout the country on federal, state and community levels with the intention of preventing or resolving drug and alcohol use problems. Of course, as long as drugs and alcohol exist, so must prevention and rehabilitation measures. Some effective prevention strategies include:

  • The fact remains that few individuals who participate in drug or alcohol use understand these substances, how they work in the body and their effects. They may have been told that “drugs and alcohol are bad”, and they may have been told horror stories about the extreme effects of drug or alcohol use, but this is not actually the kind of information that allows an individual to wisely choose to abstain from drug and alcohol use. Drug and alcohol education means outlining exactly what these substances are, how they affect the human body, how they fail to handle the problems for which they are taken, and some of the effects of drug or alcohol use.
  • Creating, promoting and encouraging healthy activities. Drug and alcohol use is not a necessary component of a social gathering or activity, and some individuals may need help in recognizing this simple fact. Whether healthy activities are based around promoting abstinence and sobriety or are simply drug and alcohol-free in nature, they can help prevent drug and alcohol use from occurring by providing ways for individuals to socialize and have fun without these substances.
  • Encourage individuals to educate others in the effects of drug and alcohol use. Drug and alcohol use can cause individuals to introvert into their own lives and pay less attention to what is occurring around them. The responsibility of sharing the truth about drugs and alcohol with others can help individuals focus on the community and society around them, and further affirm their own commitment to remain drug and alcohol free.
  • Life skills education. An individual who doesn’t know how to handle certain elements of life is always going to look for alternate solutions, and this can lead them into drug and alcohol use. Programs that provide valuable life skills education, like how to manage stress, successful parenting, building healthy relationships with others and more can help individuals be better armed for the challenges and difficulties of life and less likely to turn to drug and alcohol use.

The Benefits of Drug and Alcohol Prevention

It is true that there are a wide variety of drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatment centers and programs across the country, and many individuals who are suffering from substance abuse and addiction problems are able to successfully participate in effective treatment and move forward into healthy, happy, drug-free lives. However, when one considers that a substance abuser or addict has suffered for some time from the physical, mental and emotional damages of substance abuse and addiction and must thoroughly address and resolve the many causes and effects of drug use and addiction, one can see that it would be far easier to prevent drug and alcohol use from occurring in the first place. It is similar to preventing a house from catching fire, versus having to put out a raging fire and rebuild the damaged house and its contents. Prevention is always the easier path.

Research has proven that individuals who receive the right information about drugs and alcohol are usually able to abstain from using these substances. Coupled with the right support and programs, it is possible that the epidemic of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction can be effectively shifted.