Substance Abuse

Young Man Having Counselling Session

Substance abuse encompasses a harmful pattern of use of alcohol, tobacco products, and illicit drugs; this includes the presence of substance use and trade within school and campus environments and during school-related activities.

The use of alcohol, tobacco, and other illicit drugs undermines students’ ability to achieve academically, is associated with other harmful behaviors, and is incompatible with a school climate of respect, safety, and support for learning.

While the majority of students do not use alcohol, tobacco products, or illicit drugs, disengaged students are more likely to be users.

Research shows that, among students in eighth to twelfth grades, majorities report they did not use alcohol, tobacco products, or illicit drugs during the past 30 days.  Students who are disengaged in school are more likely to be users. In contrast, students who plan on completing four years of college are much more likely to avoid using alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs.  For example, among eighth-graders, students with college plans are more than four times as likely as those without to be substance-free. 

Alcohol is by far the substance most abused by students.

Most students do not drink; however, those who do are likely to be “binge” drinkers—consuming large quantities of alcohol specifically to “get drunk.”  Binge drinking is associated with poor school performance, and involvement in other health risk behaviors, such as riding with a driver who has been drinking, cigarette smoking, sexual activity, being a victim of dating violence, attempting suicide, and using illicit drugs.  In 2010, nearly a third of all traffic deaths among young drivers ages 15 to 20 were alcohol-related.  Consuming larger quantities of alcohol is also associated a risk factor for cancer among young women with benign breast disease.  Among illicit drugs, marijuana is by far the most commonly used by young people.

Cigarette smoking rates among middle- and high-school students have fallen by more than 50 percent over the past 15 years.

Reducing rates of cigarette smoking among teens has been one of the greatest public health success stories of recent times.  However, some teens may not realize that more recently promoted forms of tobacco—such as small cigars, lozenges, or hookah pipes—carry health dangers equal to or greater than those associated with cigarettes.  


Office of Adolescent Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Adolescent and School Health:


Featured Resources

Whats Works for Preventing and Stopping Substance Use in Adolescents: Lessons from Experimental Evaluations of Programs and Interventions cover page

Synthesizes the lessons learned from experimentally evaluated programs and interventions targeting adolescent and youth substance use from the Child Trends database of experimental evaluations of social interventions for children and youth--LINKS (Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully). Suggests findings related to both prevention- and cessation-based programs.

Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis cover page

Analyzes the importance of supporting effective prevention programs as part of a comprehensive substance abuse prevention strategy. Examines patterns of use, attendant costs, and potential cost savings related to substance abuse prevention programs and policies.

Substance Abuse Intervention and Treatment: A Guide for Schools cover page

Offers resources and practical information about dealing with substance use issues in the school setting, such as ATOD policies and procedures, signs and symptoms of use, Student Assistance Programs, drug testing, early intervention and treatment services, and confidentiality issues.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) logo

Provides states, providers, communities and the public with the best and most up-to-date information about behavioral health issues and prevention/treatment approaches.

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Describes the planning and evaluation process for organizing campus-based programs and policies that address alcohol and other drug abuse and violence and provides an overview of the elements and purposes of sound planning, consistent with the U.S. Department of Education's principles of effectiveness for prevention programs.

Provides the latest research-based approaches to reducing alcohol-related problems among college students and shares information on how colleges have been implementing evidence-based interventions to reduce alcohol problems on their campuses and communities.


Helps educate students in grades 5-8 on topics such as the differences between proper use, misuse and abuse of prescription medicine and tips for a healthy lifestyle; includes a send-home letter for parents with steps to help prevent and address medicine abuse.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) logo

Addresses the most fundamental and essential questions about drug abuse, including tracking emerging drug use trends, understanding how drugs work in the brain and body, developing and testing new drug treatment and prevention approaches, and disseminating findings to the general public and special populations. Includes parent & teacher and teen portals and resources.

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Offers a straightforward method for gathering and reporting student survey data on substance use-related problems. Administrators must understand the nature and extent of these problems at their institutions in order to develop effective programs and policies to reduce alcohol- and other drug-related (AOD) problems on campus.

The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention

Offers a two-hour course, developed by The National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC) and The Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center (UDETC), exploring the benefits of collecting and analyzing available data from a variety of sources when trying to identify appropriate strategies to address underage alcohol use at the community level. The course provides participants with an understanding of the values and process of making data-driven decisions regarding strategies with a focus on prevention and enforcement of underage drinking.

The National Criminal Justice Training Center
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Assists college administrators in identifying factors within the campus environment that contribute to alcohol-related problems. These factors are examined within the context of the public health approach, which emphasizes how the environment shapes behavior. Methods for identifying problems include scanning, analysis, response, and assessment. The publication also contains scanning and analysis exercises and selected resources. In addition, some analysis and scanning exercises are also provided in an online format, which can be downloaded, distributed, and used electronically.

Helps practitioners conduct fast, effective alcohol screens and interventions with patients, even during brief, acute care visits. Offers empirically derived tools, tips, and resources and outlines different levels of intervention with tips for topics to cover. 

Describes the nature and scope of alcohol- and other drug-related concerns on college campuses, and outlines what 30 institutions of higher education are doing to make their campuses safer.



Examines the scope of the problem of alcohol and other drug abuse, including the elevated risk in the first year of college, and discusses interventions and provides examples of programs that prevention professionals can use to help students successfully negotiate the transition from high school to college life.
Virginia Ross and William DeJong

This issue of The CBHSQ Report presents facts about young adults’ substance use, including information on the initiation of substance use, past year substance use, emergency department visits, and receipt of substance use treatment. The data presented are from the combined 2011 and 2012 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUHs), the 2011 Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), and the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).

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