Tips for Substance Abuse Prevention That Works

Alcohol, Tobacco, Other Drug and Gambling (ATODG) Prevention; this is what we do at Compass Mark. Sounds easy, right? Just stop something from happening….we all know how to do that. Or do we? The truth is, if ATODG prevention was easy, we wouldn’t have ATODG epidemics. Prevention is counterintuitive to the way we think. You can’t scare everyone away from drugs. Only low-risk, rule-following people will react the way we want to scare tactics and, frankly, they are already low risk!  You can’t show kids drug paraphernalia the way we did in the D.A.R.E program during the 1990s; we may have taught kids how to use! Shouting from the rooftops “We have a COMMUNITY DRUG PROBLEM” will put some under the impression that ATODG use & abuse IS everywhere; that everyone is doing it. This is definitely not our intention, right? Many kids are more likely to use if they think it’s the norm. Prevention is not simple. Calculating exactly which population needs which tools, education, and support is central to good effective prevention. Each person needs a different amount of prevention, based upon their level of risk. Sometimes we are born with risk factors already in place; other times, they develop as a result of our life experiences.  As a result, every person has different prevention needs. When the wrong prevention strategies are directed toward an at-risk person those strategies fail, wasting valuable resources. Worse than failing, you can actually increase the likelihood that someone will become an addict if exposed to bad prevention practices. At Compass Mark, we work hard to ensure the best prevention strategies are used across communities like Lancaster and Lebanon, so we’d like to share a few facts about effective substance abuse prevention. How to Raise the Bar in Prevention Practice Prevention is a science. When any science progresses, it typically moves forward and old practices fall away. I would never want a brain surgeon to operate on my brain with tools from 1950. I want the most advanced tools in the medical field! This is why PA Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Gary Tennis announced the defunding of Reality Tour (aka scared straight) programs on December 7, 2015. Scared straight programs, by and large, don’t work. Avoid them!

  1. Know who you are going to be talking to. How old are they? What type of life experiences have they had? Don’t use derogatory terms or share stories of the horrors of addiction. That person you are talking with might love someone with addiction, but not have the power to intervene. Negative talk and preaching will only add shame and stigma to the disease of addiction. Keep personal power of choice and HOPE central to any message:  YOU are your best bet, and people CAN recover!
  2. Don’t use scare tactics. It might feel effective to lay something heavy on people you care about, but fear won’t stop the risk takers. You might accidentally encourage them to take the risk!
  3. Keep the conversation going!  One talk, one time, might not be enough for everyone. Create an ongoing, strengths-based environment in your home or school. Focus on nurturing positive leadership, setting life goals, and encouraging healthy activities. Take any opportunity to remind someone of the power of choice; addiction is not an inevitable disease: You have the power to avoid it.

Addiction affects only 10% of the population. We don’t need to fear it, and it CAN be prevented if we practice GOOD prevention! For more information or tools to help you incorporate good prevention strategies into your home or school, visit: Prevention of Substance Abuse & Mental Illness (SAMHSA) Preventing Drug Use Among Children & Adolescents: Summary (NIDA) You can also contact Compass Mark at (717) 299-2831 and ask for assistance in planning effective substance abuse prevention in Lancaster County and Lebanon County. Written by Bevan Allen, Compass Mark Training & Community Service Manager   Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/