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National Prevention Week 2021: How to Prevent Teens From Using Drugs

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

National Prevention Week (NPW) was established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to encourage schools, communities, and organizations to raise awareness about preventing adolescent substance use and mental health issues. This year, National Prevention Week is May 9-15. 

National Prevention Week occurs every May – towards the end of the school year – so that it stays fresh in students’ minds as they begin summer vacation. Data shows that summer is when drug and alcohol use increases among teens. According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), teens and young adults try drugs for the first time most often during the months of June or July. Hosting NPW during May is an effort to combat this trend.

This year’s theme is:


As part of its promotion efforts, SAMHSA encourages youth leaders to submit videos about what they do to prevent drug use and addiction in their communities. You can view these videos on SAMHSA’s social media or website during #NPW2021.

NPW 2021:  Daily Themes

Each year during #NPW, SAMHSA creates daily themes for mental health advocates to focus on. Every day of National Prevention Week has its own theme.

Here are the daily themes for 2021:

Monday, May 10: Preventing Prescription Drug and Opioid Misuse

Tuesday, May 11: Preventing Underage Drinking and Alcohol Misuse

Wednesday, May 12: Preventing Illicit Drug Use and Youth Marijuana Use

Thursday, May 13: Preventing Youth Tobacco Use (E-Cigarettes and Vaping)

Friday, May 14: Preventing Suicide

To help parents, teachers, school administrators, and community leaders participate in NPW in general and raise awareness around specific daily themes, SAMHSA created a toolkit that includes an NPW Fact Sheet, NPW Event Ideas, Tips for Planning Your NPW Event, and even an NPW Event Planning Checklist.

If you want to get involved at your child’s school or in your community, SAMHSA makes it easy this year. Click the links and you can help raise awareness and prevent drug and alcohol use among our youth.

How to Prevent Substance Use Among Teens

The number of adolescents with alcohol and/ or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) is disheartening. In 2019, statistics showed that more than 400,000 teens were diagnosed with AUD and close to a million adolescents ages 12-17 were diagnosed with AUD. To help SAMHSA raise awareness about addiction prevention, we want to go back to the very beginning – to the root of the issues – and help parents understand the protective factors against substance use. In medical terms, protective factors are the things that make it less likely for your teen to develop an addiction. Protective factors may be things you can control, or they may be things you cannot control. Nevertheless, it’s helpful to know why teens sometimes turn to alcohol and/or drugs and how you can prevent them from engaging in behavior that can damage their physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing.

Factors That Prevent Substance Use in Teens

Protective factors can be found on various levels. They exist on the individual level, on the family level, and on the community level. Evidence shows that when it comes to substance use, these variables are interconnected. That means that it’s difficult to pinpoint any one protective factor as the one that can definitely prevent your teen from turning to drugs. Rather, it’s a combination of factors that make a teen less (or more) likely to try substances.

The following data comes from SAMHSA, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, and this article on substance use prevention published in World Psychiatry.

Protective Factors Against Substance Use in Teens

  • Individual Factors
    • Risk-averse personality
    • High self-control
    • High self-esteem
  • Family Factors
    • Parental involvement
    • Parent supervision
    • Parental affection
    • Consistent enforcement of discipline
  • School/Peer Factors
    • School Attendance
    • Academic Success
    • Anti-drug use policies
    • Non-drug using peers
  • Community Factors
    • Faith-based activities
    • School-based extracurricular activities
    • Safe neighborhoods
    • Close bonds with neighbors
  • Societal Factors
    • Hate crime laws
    • Policies limiting the availability of alcohol
    • Prosecution of drug dealers

A Note On Protective Factors

For every protective factor we list above, the opposite is a risk factor.

For example:

  • Parental involvement is a protective factor against drug use, while parental neglect or abuse makes it a risk factor for drug or alcohol use.
  • Academic achievement is a protective factor, while academic problems are a risk factor.
  • Neighborhood violence and economic instability are both risk factors for substance use, while safe neighborhoods and economic stability are both protective factors.
  • Having friends who do not use drugs is a protective factor, whereas having friends who use drugs is a risk factor. In fact, the CDC indicates peer substance use is the primary risk factor for individual drug use.

To be clear, the presence of one or more protective factors does not mean a teen will not use drugs or alcohol, and the presence of one or more risk factors does not mean a teen will use drugs or alcohol. The presence of protective factors decreases the risk a teen will use drugs or alcohol, and the presence of risk factors increases the risk a teen will use drugs or alcohol: neither prevent nor cause alcohol or drug use on their own.

Here’s an important disclaimer about risk and protective factors from the World Psychiatry article cited above:

Although [protective] factors can protect the individual from risk, they should not be regarded as the absence of risk. Risk factors indicate where it is necessary to intervene and protective factors show how to do so.

Parents: Be Present in Your Teen’s Life

As you can see from the list above, there are lots of factors that parents cannot control in a teen’s life. A teen’s innate personality, the friends they gravitate to, and local, state, or federal substance use policies – all of these are generally out of your control, as a parent.

But there’s one major protective factor that is in your control:

Staying involved in your child’s life.

Parental involvement is one evidence-based way you can protect your child or children from turning to or experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol. And according to a report published by Partnership for a Drug-Free America, parental involvement is the best way to prevent alcohol and substance abuse in teens, statistically speaking. When teens feel accepted, loved, and validated by their parents, they’re less likely to substances to handle painful, confusing, or overwhelming emotions.

But what does that mean?

It means the following:

  • Be available and willing to listen to what your teen has to say.
  • Be present – physically and
  • Show genuine compassion and empathy for your teen.
  • Be respectful in your actions and words.
  • Avoid criticizing, talking over, or talking down to your teen.
  • Spend quality time with your teen and show a genuine interest in their life.
  • Keep your negative emotions in check and try to see things from their perspective.
  • Be willing to address your own issues that may create conflict or stress in your relationship with your teen or negatively impact your overall family dynamic.

If you have a hard time with any of the above, it’s worthwhile to consider family therapy, parental counseling, or parent support groups. Parents who are unable to be present or a validating force in their children’s lives often had parents who were not present and did not validate or empathize with them growing up. Many of these parents may have experienced abuse, trauma, or physical/emotional neglect during childhood. If you experienced any of these things as a child – and you’ve never addressed these issues in your life – you may benefit from professional support. While it may be difficult to admit that you need help as a parent, seeking support can benefit you, your children, and your family for generations to come.

Practical Steps to Take to Prevent Adolescent Substance Use

Of course, even the most nurturing and loving parents still need to create a home environment that will support preventative efforts. Therefore, it’s smart to keep any prescription medication locked in a cabinet or drawer. If you have a liquor cabinet or bar, keep it locked. Ask grandparents to do the same. Easy access to alcohol or pills in the home makes experimentation easy, which can, over time, lead to an alcohol or substance use disorder.

Additionally, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America report shows that teens whose parents talk to them about the dangers of alcohol and drugs are less likely to try them in the first place. That’s why it’s very important for parents to educate teens about the dangers of alcohol and drug use and set a firm no alcohol and no drugs policy in the home.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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