Governments and organizations are being pressured to find effective means of dealing with substance abuse problems and prevention is seen as a key factor in achieving that goal.
The Importance of Alcohol and Drug Use Prevention Among Youth
Alcohol and drug use at a young age often herald addiction problems later on. A major study conducted in the United States found that a person’s age at the onset of alcohol use was one of the predictors of alcoholism at a later age. Forty percent (40%) of those who had started using alcohol at age 14 developed an alcohol dependence at some point in their life. Conversely, approximately 10% of those who had started using alcohol at age 20 or later developed a dependence on alcohol.
This study tends to show that a better understanding of the effects of alcohol and drugs on the human body and brain could help reduce the early onset of alcohol use and its resultant problems by raising awareness about the relationship between early alcohol use and dependence and informing prevention programs. This would involve tailoring prevention programs to a youthful audience and applying basic principles needed to provide an efficient preventative approach and a better understanding of the risks involved in alcohol and drug use.
Building a Solid Framework for Prevention
Alcohol and drug use among youth cannot be ascribed to one reason alone. In fact, a wide range of reasons can lead to alcohol and drug use, including a profound misunderstanding of its effects. Other common reasons include the desire to relieve stress or assuage overly-strong emotions, to affirm one’s independence, to fit into a group or to satisfy one’s curiosity. When substance use leads to addiction, other factors that are more difficult to pinpoint but equally important can be involved, including personal, family, school-related and social problems. Because youth are in a constant state of change (physical and psychological) as they transition through adolescence, they are more susceptible to risk factors (complicated family environment, friends who are using, etc.). As a result, they need individuals and social groups that can help them deal with their situation without resorting to drugs.
A Canadian study of « out of the mainstream » youth (youth who are homeless and use drugs) showed that 60% of the girls and 47% of the boys in the study had left home to escape abusive, alcoholic or drug-addicted parents. 
Drug- and alcohol-use prevention programs can be integrated into broader health and well‑being prevention and awareness programs. Overall support and self-assurance are also factors in prevention. Finally, organizational policies must avoid trivializing and glorifying alcohol and drug use (higher prices, publicity bans, minimum age for buying and drinking alcohol, etc.).
Empowerment through knowledge
To be efficient, prevention programs must be geared to young peoples’ living environment. For example, where frequent or excessive alcohol use is common, a program based on the benefits of reduced alcohol consumption would be appropriate.
Empowerment through knowledge is a key component of prevention. Studies to clarify the impact of drugs and alcohol on youth can be used to develop mid- and long-term prevention goals for youth by helping them to understand the physical effects and subsequent problems caused by these substances and to act in accordance with that knowledge. Once the target (youth who are at risk of using drugs or alcohol) and axis (means of prevention) of alcohol- and drug-use prevention programs have been identified, youth can be engaged in an active dialogue on the effects of alcohol and drug use.
Understanding youth and promoting their involvement
Prevention programs must take into account young people’s perceptions of drug consumption. Youth often have a subjective view of the effects of drug use (see: Effects and Harms of Cannabis: Misconceptions among Youth), focusing on their immediate rather than their long-term effects. Occasional use is glorified and addiction problems are ascribed to solitude, unhappiness, even depression .
Adolescents need to be understood and to see themselves for who they are rather than through the lens of the social group they think they belong to. The community approach, or the therapeutic approach used at Portage, allow youth to work together on their substance-related problems and find solutions that make sense to them. Non-judgment is a key component of prevention programs and sets the tone for an environment based on trust in others and in oneself.
To see or download the infographics:
 Grant, B.F., et D.A. Dawson. « Age of Onset of Alcohol Use and its Association with DSM-IV Alcohol Abuse and Dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiological Survey », dans Journal of Substance Abuse, vol. 9.
 Caputo, T., R. Weiler et J. Anderson. The Street Lifestyle Study, Health Canada.