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

Graphic of a spray bottle including information on inhalants

Highlights dangerous results of inhalants and informs teens with steps they can take to rise above the influence of this harmful solvent or other material.

Graphic of a blood droplet.

Includes information about how HIV is spread and suggests strategies to prevent transmission.

Graphic of a cigarette with precautionary information for teens.

Provides strategies for living above the influence against the use of tobacco along with dangerous habits when using tobacco.

Graphic of needles with precautionary information for teens.

Outlines facts about steroids and what teens can do to learn preventative methods for short-and long-term effects of steroids.

Graphic of a vape with precautionary information for teens.

Highlights important e-cigarette use answers for teens who might be hesistant to ask others about. Also describes short and long-term effects of vaping. 

Graphic of marijuana with precautionary information for teens.

Presents evidence-based information in a fact sheet about marijuana and dispels common myths about its use for teens. 

Graphic of a scientific jar.

Delivers effects and signs of methamphetamine use. Common myths about methamphetamine are documented and dispelled. 

Photo of teens taking a selfie together.

Presents an initiative, developed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Discovery Education, that aims to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic by educating students about the science behind addiction and investigating how a public health epidemic impacts a community. This website houses all the materials associated with the initiative.

Front page of the consensus study report resource

Promotes recommendations for improving access to overdose treatment and first responder training programs. Also, reports practical and feasible steps toward reducing harm associated with opioids and increasing engagement and retention in lifesaving treatments.


Technical assistance resources.

Includes a six-session training for identifying and implementing telehealth services from the DHHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions
Graphic of pills with precautionary information for teens.

Informs prevention professionals, educators, health care providers, and others who come in contact with teens on a regular basis regarding how they can provide facts about sedatives. Describes short-and long-term effects, lists signs of use, and helps dispel common myths.

Graphic of a medical document and pills.

Shares addictive facts about stimulants and how they can derail student improvement. Provides best efforts for prevention professionals, educators, health care providers, and others who come in contact with teens on a regular basis to consider.

Graphic of a ziploc bag (cocaine) including precautionary information for teens.

Presents short-and long-term effects of cocaine use for teens. Emphasizes the importance of talking to parents, a doctor, a counselor, a teacher, or another adult if a student has questions about the deadly substance.

Graphic of psilocybin mushrooms with precautionary information for teens.

Provides facts about hallucinogens. Documents side effects including but not limited to suicidal thoughts, mixed senses, weight loss, speech problems, and disorganization. More for information, access this fact sheet.

Graphic of drug paraphernalia.

Lists facts about heroin. Stay up-to-date with this informative fact sheet and access sources for further intervention efforts.

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