Alcohol Awareness Month

Over 1.2 million teens aged 12-17 have a substance use disorder 

 Young people deal with issues that our parents and grandparents never had to think about—including substances and social expectations. Few decisions can affect your life and your future like the decision how, when, and if you want to use substances.

Protecting yourself from alcohol and drug problems reduces the risk that you’ll struggle in school. Substance use for young people is linked to negative outcomes like unwanted pregnancy, incarceration and legal problems, health issues, and abusive relationships. It’s a lot easier to think clearly when you’re not using—which seems like a no-brainer. Avoiding substances can pay off, but how do you handle the pressure in day-to-day situations?

Reducing your risk of substance use problems is an investment in your future. Remember that substance use disorder is a mental health disorder, just like depression or anxiety! In some ways, preventing addiction is like avoiding STDs or managing your mental health: small, positive decisions can add up to major long-term benefits.

If you’re struggling with substance use, or if someone you know is having problems with drugs, get help. You can call our national helpline at 1-800-622-2255 to get more information about substance use and resources that will help you. 

Here are eight ways to prevent substance use from taking over your life.

Just say no. Seriously: don’t stress what other people think about your decision not to use. Negative reactions from the people you spend time with, or people you might not even know, can feel really awful. Nobody likes to feel judged. However, by sticking to what feels right for you, you can keep your self-respect. Other people don’t know you as well as you know yourself. Don’t let someone else make your decisions for you. If someone is pressuring you to do something that’s not right for you, you have the right to say no.

Stick with people you trust. Find an adult you can count on. Although some adults have a limited viewpoint about substances, and may not understand what you’re going through, some adults can be very supportive. Talking to a trusted adult, whether it’s a family member, community member, teacher, counselor, or friend is a good way to figure out your feelings about substances. Put problems in perspective by talking them through. It’s an invaluable opportunity to benefit from someone else’s life experience.

Party sober. Learn how to enjoy life and the people you care about without adding alcohol or drugs. Substances can change who you are, limit your potential, and complicate your life. Waking up in the morning without a hangover or any regrets about how you behaved the night before is priceless. Concerts, parties, shows, and other events are fun without substances. Do what you enjoy, without using. If you’re an introvert, connect with activities that fulfill your creative side. Taking a workshop, trying a new exercise class, going on a road trip, or exploring a subject that interests you are all ways of expanding your mind without using substances.

What are the house rules?  Your parents’ job is to provide some guardrails for you while you learn how to make your own decisions. That probably includes substance use. Find out what your family’s rules are for drinking and substance use, and talk about your own feelings and experiences with them. You may be the only person at home who doesn’t use, and that’s OK. Not everyone’s family has a zero-tolerance policy about substances. Some people’s parents or caregivers have substance use problems or may try to share their substances. To avoid unhealthy patterns, stay true to yourself. If substance use is a problem at home, reach out to a trusted adult at school or outside your home and talk to them about what’s going on.

Educate yourself.  Substance use, recovery, and even the substances people use have changed a lot in the last decade. Educate yourself about fentanyl, naloxone, and laws that affect people with substance use disorder. Many schools offer drug and alcohol education, but that information may be limited, dated, or just plain wrong. Do your own research to learn about the real risks of substance use and the benefits of recovery. Share what you’ve learned with friends, family, and your community.

Plan ahead. Having a game plan is essential. Whether you’re going to a party or heading out with friends, you need to plan ahead. What will you do if someone offers you substances? It’s OK to practice saying “no” in different ways. You may feel less sure of yourself in certain social situations or with certain friends or people. Sometimes, having someone you can text to check in is really helpful. If you’re going into a situation where there will be substances, and you don’t feel secure, bring a friend you can count on, have an exit plan, and set limits on how long you’ll be there.

Set a positive example. Believe it or not, your choices affect other people. Who’s looking up to you? Whose role model are you? If you’ve committed to avoiding substance use, one of the best things you can do is stick to your decision. Talk about your decision with others. Talk about why staying substance-free matters to you. Just being yourself can be a positive example for people who need support or encouragement to make the same choice you did.