Teen Drug Prevention Community

Recognizing risk and intervening early
Four teen girls laughing
Table of Contents
Intervention means taking action, and action saves lives.

Even in communities where prevention is a top priority, some teens use alcohol and other drugs. Knowing the following prevention principles can help us recognize these risks and intervene early.

Most young people are making healthy choices and have healthy attitudes about the risks of substance use

The more a community can incorporate healthy, accurate perceptions into its psyche, mindset, and language, the more a silent majority who are making healthy choices will influence and define that community's climate.

Surveys can help give a picture of what risky use looks like in a community, too. Signs of use are less cloaked in silence and secrecy when we look at the consequences of alcohol and other drug use that young people themselves report through anonymous surveys.

Because survey data helps pinpoint actual behaviors and norms, it can help establish in a little more detail what signs of use may look like. Data and facts about teen use where we live offer us a clear idea of the actual norm within our community, and they help everyone around us think critically about when use could become a problem.

Survey data about teen attitudes and use trends can guide the building of a trusted non-disciplinary system for early intervention in communities. Within a school setting, such early intervention health systems provide a safe path for students and faculty to help those for whom they may have concerns.

In communities that use a strategic social norms approach to prevention, the youth in those communities are less likely to falsely perceive that use is the norm among their peers. In these communities, kids are also more likely to notice higher-risk behaviors a peer or friend may be displaying, signaling a problem with alcohol and other drugs.

We are able to best recognize and intervene upon the earliest signs of alcohol and other drug problems in kids when we are actively aware that ongoing use of substances is a rarity among our youth, and also a cause for concern and intervention.

Early intervention saves lives

The negative outcomes of early use, progression, and addiction to alcohol and other drugs are all health issues. As with any other health concern we have for our children, we want to do everything in our power to prevent negative health outcomes, addressing them as early as possible so that they do not worsen over time.

Taking a health perspective makes clear to us that most adolescents do not use, early use is risky, and that use progressing into addiction puts kids at risk for a life-long disease—one that we can effectively prevent.

We can use all this prevention knowledge to give us the courage and confidence to intervene. When defined as "taking action to improve a situation"—instead of a confrontation—intervening is less a punishment and more concern-driven redirecting of behavior.

Intervention means taking action, and action saves lives. The signs we've all heard of or seen before—an abrupt change in peer group, a drop in performance or loss of interest in school activities, red eyes, a smell of smoke, moodiness or irritability—can sound cliché. But they are often real-time signs of use, and the truth of the matter is, we won't always know.

But if we feel confident in exactly how to address the situation and where to take our concern, we can go from being a bystander to one who takes action to improve a situation.

If you were to suspect use of a child or teen, how would you respond? Planning for action is an important step in being ready to act. It is helpful to have intervention protocols that you set as a family and which are defined and well-understood by your children and partner, as well as anyone else close to your family, such as other relatives or close family friends.

Intervention protocols in the community can support your efforts at home too! Many schools already have early intervention health systems in place, but teachers, students, and parents may not fully know how the process works unless protocol is clearly and regularly articulated to the entire community. Find out what your school does if you do not know, and support the effective use of any helpful early intervention resources available there.

In your commitment to keeping healthy kids healthy, make it a point to discover exactly what early intervention resources are available in your broader community as well.

Usually, even small communities have multiple options for you and others where you live to voice a health concern about a teen's use and to get that teen immediate help. Make sure your kids have awareness of and access to these resources.

Once you know your systems, use them early and often. Our young people's health depends on your action.

Keeping a health perspective

A health-rooted prevention mindset is a powerful tool to support healthy teens and teens who may have a problem with alcohol or other drugs alike. The better we understand and employ a health perspective in our communities, the better equipped we will be to use prevention as a means to spur action toward early intervention whenever it is needed.

Supporting our children's health through an understanding of addiction as a disease, delayed use reinforcement, social norms approaches, and effective early intervention health systems can all play a role in keeping healthy kids healthy day by day.

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