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Substance Use & Prevention

Talking to your child about substance use makes them less likely to misuse or abuse alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. This website will help prepare you for these crucial conversations by supplying you with key facts and step-by-step strategies for effective communication.

Learning the Facts and How to Communicate Them

As our children grow up, they will face new challenges. The best way we can support them through these challenges is simply to talk to them and to listen to what they have to say. Through open, honest, and frequent conversation, we can have a significant impact on their experience with substance use, making it less likely that they will misuse or abuse alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

But first we need to learn the facts – and how to communicate them effectively. You can learn both here. We have collected the most important facts on substance use and the most valuable tips on communication to help you prepare for conversation with your child.


Opioids are a class of powerful drugs including illegal substances such as heroin and prescription medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine. Doctors prescribe opioids for pain relief in patients recovering from serious injury or surgery, or in patients suffering from debilitating diseases such as cancer. Young people who abuse opioids usually obtain them from family or friends with prescriptions, though they are also sold illegally. As with other addictive substances, young people are more susceptible to addiction to opioids because their brains are still developing.



Fentanyl is a potent opioid used by doctors to treat pain and induce anesthesia during surgery. But it is also produced and sold illegally, sometimes in combination with or under the name of other prescription medications such as OxyContin and Adderall. This kind of contamination, along with its potency, makes fentanyl extraordinarily dangerous and one of the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths today.

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Alcohol poses serious health risks despite being socially acceptable and legal for those of drinking age. It impairs judgment and lowers inhibitions, making it a leading factor in sexual assault as well as car accidents, homicide, and suicide. It is especially dangerous for young people, who get drunk more quickly than adults, have a harder time knowing when to stop, and are more prone to addiction because their brains are still developing.

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Marijuana is a psychoactive drug produced from the cannabis plant. Although the drug has been legalized in some parts of the country, it remains federally illegal. As the potency of marijuana has dramatically increased in recent decades, so have its health risks. Smoking marijuana, which contains many of the same toxins as cigarettes, poses many of the same risks as smoking tobacco. But unlike tobacco, marijuana impairs concentration, coordination, and reaction time and has been linked to depression and anxiety. Marijuana is especially dangerous for young people, inhibiting the development of their brains and increasing the risk of addiction to other substances.

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Prescription Medication

Prescription medications are those drugs, including opioids, depressants, and stimulants, that cannot be legally obtained without a prescription from a doctor. The fact that doctors sometimes prescribe them does not mean that they are safe to use. On the contrary, their use is regulated precisely because they are dangerous and unpredictable, producing different effects in different people and often harmful or even fatal side effects. The danger is even greater in the case of prescription drugs that are obtained illegally, which were likely produced illegally, introducing the risk of contamination.

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E-Cigarettes and Vapes

E-cigarettes and vapes are delivery devices for nicotine, the same harmful and highly addictive stimulant found in tobacco. These devices work by heating a nicotine-containing liquid, or “e-liquid,” into a vapor that can be inhaled. Contrary to popular belief, e-cigarettes and vapes are just as dangerous and addictive as cigarettes. E-liquid can contain up to 2,000 ingredients, including carcinogens and other known toxins, which, along with nicotine, can lead to heart disease and cancer.

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Learn The Facts

Learning the facts about substance use – from the effects of individual drugs to the symptoms of a drug overdose – will help you answer your child’s questions, empowering them to make informed decisions. It could save their lives or help them save someone else’s.

Start The Conversation

Talking with your child about substance use can be difficult. But these are some of the most important conversations you will ever have. Follow these tips to set the stage for effective communication with your child.

Family Resource Guide

A downloadable version of this Resource Guide, which contains all of the material from the website and more, is available here. Use it at your convenience to learn the facts about substance use and to prepare for crucial conversations with your child.


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More Resources

You are your child’s greatest resource when it comes to learning about substance use. But you are not alone.

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Substance Use and Mental Illness

Young people who suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses often turn to alcohol and drugs to help them manage their symptoms. Although they may provide temporary relief, in the long run, they will only make the problem worse. Fortunately, there are other solutions. Mental illness is real, common, and treatable. Parents and family members are usually the first to notice if a child is suffering from mental illness. Your observations, along with those of your child’s teachers and caregivers, can help you determine whether you need to seek help for your child.

Symptoms of Mental Illness

Like adults, children struggle emotionally from time to time. But the following symptoms may indicate the need for professional help, especially if more than one is present or if any one symptom begins to interfere with school, friendships, or home life. Early identification, diagnosis, and treatment can help children reclaim their mental health and feel better.

  • Constant worry or anxiety
  • Depression, sadness, or irritability
  • Poor grades despite a strong effort
  • Repeated refusal to go to school or take part in normal activities
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression