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Substance Abuse Prevention: How to Prevent Drug Abuse

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

We all know that substance abuse is a dangerous practice with serious repercussions. It’s something that can spiral out of control almost immediately, leading to long-term effects and even death in the most extreme cases. It’s important to understand just how prevalent substance abuse is in today’s world. According to the National Institutes of Health, roughly 10% of Americans above the age of 12 suffer from a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.

In fact, it is estimated that over half of all adults have used an illegal drug at some point in their lives. In this article, you will read about how to identify the signs of substance abuse and what you can do to prevent it. If you know someone who could be at risk for abusing drugs, alcohol, or other substances, then these tips will come in handy.

Identify Substance Abuse is the first step towards Substance Abuse Prevention

When someone has a substance abuse problem, it can impact their life in negative ways. There are several signs of substance abuse that may indicate someone needs help. Substance abuse is an umbrella term that covers the use of any substance to excess, leading to adverse consequences. In general, individuals who struggle with substance abuse have some combination of personality traits and personal risk factors that make them more susceptible. They also face pressures from society, friends, and family that make it harder for them to break the cycle of addiction. The various types of substance abuse fall into three categories: drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances such as video games or pornography. Any type of substance abuse can lead to serious negative consequences if left unchecked. Now let’s look at some key signs of substance abuse you should be aware of.

Neglecting Responsibilities

Individuals who engage in substance abuse tend to neglect their responsibilities over time. This may start with smaller commitments, such as missing a weekly family dinner or not showing up for work on time. As substance abuse progresses, the individual may neglect larger commitments such as job duties or caregiving obligations. If a loved one has neglected their responsibilities, it may be an indication that their substance use has reached a problematic level.

Mood and Behavioral Changes

People who are addicted to substances may experience some changes in their behavioral patterns and moods. Mood swings are common among substance abusers. Some substance use is even designed to cause a person to become more irritable or aggressive. However, the individual’s baseline mood should return to normal once they have finished using the substance. If an individual shows persistent changes in mood, it could indicate that they are using substances or are addicted to one. Mood and behavioral changes can manifest as anger, anxiety, paranoia, depression, or other mood disorders. It is important to be aware of these symptoms in yourself or your loved ones, as they can be signs of a serious issue.

Physical Signs of Substance Abuse

Some physical signs of substance abuse include bloodshot eyes, weight fluctuations, teeth decay, insomnia, and unusual smells on the breath or skin. It is important to note that these signs may indicate other health issues as well. That being said, if you notice a combination of these signs in a loved one, it could be an indication of a substance abuse problem. If you notice physical signs of substance abuse in a loved one, you could be the difference between enabling their addiction to continue and getting them the help they need to stop.

Tolerance Build-up and Withdrawal

One of the biggest signs of substance abuse is when an individual experiences a tolerance build-up. Tolerance occurs when a person needs larger and larger doses of a substance to get the same desired effects. For example, if someone is abusing prescription painkillers and they need to increase their normal dosage, it could be a sign that they are abusing the drugs. When someone’s body builds up a tolerance to a substance, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using it. Many substances have specific withdrawal symptoms that people should be aware of. For example, someone who has abused opioids will experience significant withdrawal symptoms if they stop using them.

Signs of Drug Problems

Some drug abuse signs include taking more of a substance than prescribed, using a substance in a new or different way, or spending more time or money on drugs than expected. If a loved one is abusing drugs, they may start to exhibit these signs. If you notice these signs in someone, you may want to reach out and help them find the help they need. 

When Does Alcohol Use Become Alcohol Abuse?

Some alcohol abuse signs include drinking more often than expected, drinking more in a sitting, experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the individual stops drinking, or drinking in risky situations. If you notice these signs in a loved one, it could be an indication that they are abusing alcohol. If you notice alcohol abuse signs in yourself, it is important to seek help as soon as possible to break the cycle of addiction.

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

If you or a loved one seems to be abusing prescription drugs, there are several signs to look for:

  • Wrecked health: People who abuse prescription drugs often use them in ways that damage their health. For example, they may crush and snort painkillers, mix them with alcohol, or take them without a prescription. Doing so can cause organ damage, breathing problems, heart problems, and even death.
  • Changes in mood: Someone who abuses prescription drugs might experience sudden changes in mood, such as frequent irritability, aggression, or depression.
  • Changes in appetite: People who abuse prescription drugs may eat less because of the drugs’ side effects, like nausea. They may also consume more calories when taking stimulants or other drugs that increase their appetite.
  • Changes in sleeping habits: Prescription drugs can have different effects on sleep. Some, like painkillers, may make you drowsy. Others, like stimulants, can make it easier to stay awake.
  • Changes in social activities: Someone who abuses prescription drugs may start to avoid social activities, especially ones that involve risk, such as attending sports events, where they might get caught by a teacher or coach.
  • Increased moodiness: People who abuse prescription drugs may become more irritable and moody because of the drugs’ effects, even while they are sober.
  • Changes in school performance: Someone who abuses prescription drugs may struggle with school performance, such as low grades and a higher probability of dropping out.

How Can I Decrease the Likelihood of Abusing Prescription Drugs?

If you or someone you care about are at risk for abusing prescription drugs, you can take some steps to lower the risk. Some steps to reduce the risk of prescription drug abuse include:

  • Be aware of the risks of mixing substances: Be aware that mixing substances can increase the risk of an overdose or other dangerous consequences.
  • Seek help if you have a problem: Don’t be afraid to seek help if you notice you or a loved one is struggling with a substance abuse problem.
  • Take advantage of prevention programs: Schools and communities commonly offer programs to educate students about the dangers of substance abuse.
  • Get involved in prevention programs. If you’re a parent, you can also help your child avoid abusing prescription drugs.

Adderall Abuse Prevention in School

If you suspect a student is abusing prescription drugs, you might want to look out for several signs, including:

  • Excessive tiredness: Some prescription drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin, make people feel more alert and less tired. This can lead to people staying up late or taking the drug during school hours.
  • Changes in eating habits: A significant number of prescription drugs make users feel hungry. Some people may take these drugs during school hours and then skip meals to avoid gaining weight.
  • Changes in restlessness or mood: People who abuse prescription drugs may appear more restless or moody.
  • Changes in academic performance: Students who abuse prescription drugs may struggle with schoolwork, such as low grades and a higher probability of dropping out.
  • Changes in social activities: Students who abuse prescription drugs may start to avoid social activities, especially ones that involve risk, such as attending sports events, where they might get caught by a teacher or coach.
  • Changes in sleeping habits: Students who abuse prescription drugs may sleep more or less to avoid taking the medication during school hours.
  • Changes in handwriting: Students who abuse prescription drugs may write more neatly, perhaps because they can concentrate better on their schoolwork while on the drugs.

How to Prevent Underage Drinking

If you’re a parent of a child in middle or high school, you want to take steps to prevent your child from abusing alcohol. Some steps to prevent underage drinking include:

  • Keep alcohol out of the house: The best way to prevent underage drinking is to simply not have any alcohol in the house. If your family has friends over who drink, make it clear that you have no alcohol in the house.
  • Talk to your child about alcohol: Talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol abuse when they’re old enough to understand.
  • Tell your child to say no to drinking: Make it clear to your child that they should never drink when they’re under the age of 21.
  • Take your child to programs designed to prevent underage drinking.

What Can Parents Do To Prevent Youth from Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse can have tragic consequences, especially when it occurs among teenagers. Drugs and alcohol can alter a young person’s brain chemistry, resulting in depression, anxiety, and even psychosis. In the United States alone, there are more than 200,000 teens who enter drug rehab centers every year because of their struggle with substance abuse. It is also estimated that almost one-third of teenagers experiment with drugs or alcohol before they finish high school. Unfortunately, many teenagers experiment with drugs and alcohol without even realizing the potential consequences. As parents or guardians of a teen who may be at risk for substance abuse, it’s your responsibility to ensure that you know the signs and implement preventive measures as soon as possible.

Talk to your children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol

The most effective way to prevent substance abuse among teens is by having an open and honest discussion with your children as soon as they are old enough to understand. Make it clear that you will always be there to help them avoid making poor decisions that could lead to substance abuse. People between the ages of 12 and 17 are very curious and may find themselves intrigued by the notion of taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Make it clear that these substances are not something to be taken lightly and could have very serious long-term effects on their health and well-being. If your children are old enough, you may even want to take them to a drug treatment center so that they can see what happens to people who abuse drugs long-term. When you talk to your children about drugs and alcohol, make sure to discuss why people take these substances, what effects they have, and how to avoid getting involved in them in the first place. 

Establish rules for social events

One of the easiest ways to prevent substance abuse among teenagers is to establish rules for social events in your home. It is not appropriate for your child’s friends to be drinking alcohol in your home, even if they are over the age of 21. Most teenagers are under 21 years of age, which means they aren’t legally allowed to consume alcohol in the first place. If you are having a party in your home and one of your child’s friends is drinking alcohol, they should not be allowed to drive home. Make sure that you are aware of your child’s friend’s plans for getting home and that they have a ride arranged. It is always a good idea to make sure that a sober driver is available for anyone who is drinking alcohol. If you have a party in your home and your child’s friends are under the age of 21, you should have a rule against all alcohol and drug use. There should be no alcohol in the house and no alcohol should be served or consumed at the party.

Be present and request frequent check-ins

If you are hosting a social event in your home, try to be as present as possible. Be sure to monitor who is consuming alcohol and who is driving home. If you have teenagers who are old enough to be driving, make sure that they are not driving while intoxicated. You can request that they check in with you at regular intervals when they are driving. If you are hosting a party, you should request that all of your guests check in with you on a regular basis. Make sure that you are paying attention to how intoxicated your guests are and how much alcohol is being consumed.

Don’t shame, but rather show love

If your child is using alcohol or drugs, there is nothing you can do to shame them out of it. In fact, shaming them will likely have the opposite effect and cause them to withdraw from you. Instead of shaming your child, show them love and let them know that you are there to help them. You can attend a substance abuse support group with your child or have a therapist or addiction specialist work with both you and your child together. There are many ways to support a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse. You can attend meetings, go to 12-step meetings, or you can even go to therapy with them to help support them on their journey to sobriety.

Provide alternatives for coping and stress relief

Another effective way to prevent substance abuse among teenagers is to offer alternative ways to cope with stress and anxiety. Make sure your child knows that they do not have to self-medicate in order to cope with the stresses of everyday life. There are so many different ways to cope with stress that do not involve drugs or alcohol. You can help your child find a healthy outlet for their emotions and encourage them to use alternative methods of coping with stress. These may include sports, art, or even video games. You can also help your child find healthy outlets for their feelings. There are many creative activities that can help your child release negative emotions in a productive way.

Offer ongoing education on the dangers of substance abuse

If you have children who are in middle or high school, you can offer ongoing education on the dangers of substance abuse. You can offer an elective class at your child’s school that teaches students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. You can also use your experience with substance abuse to share your knowledge with others. You can get involved with your child’s school or a community center and offer to give talks about the dangers of substance abuse.

Be an active listener and provide a safe space to discuss emotions

When your child is sad, angry, or stressed out, make sure that they have a safe place to go where they can release their emotions. If your child is struggling with negative emotions, they need to know that they can go to you and talk about what they are feeling without being judged. You want your child to feel safe expressing themselves to you. They should know that you are there to listen and provide support and understanding. Even when your child is angry with you or feeling frustrated, you should offer them a safe space to express themselves.

Watch for signs of depression or anxiety

If you have children who are in high school or college, you should make sure to watch for signs of depression and anxiety. These two conditions are very serious, but fortunately, behavioral health services can go a long way toward treating them. If your child is feeling depressed or anxious, you should make sure that they get professional help. Mental health issues and mental illness can lead to behavioral health problems like drug and alcohol abuse. Signs of depression include feeling sad, having feelings of isolation, having difficulty sleeping, and feeling fatigued. If you notice that your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, they may be suffering from depression and should seek professional help. Making use of mental health services and suicide prevention lines can be major protective factors when it comes to substance abuse.

Don’t be afraid of behavioral health services

If you notice any of the signs of substance abuse in your child, do not be afraid to seek professional help. You can attend support groups or find a therapist or addiction specialist who can help your family. If you suspect that you or your child is struggling with substance abuse, do not wait to get help. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to overcome the problem.

Identifying the Signs of Substance Use Disorders and Reduce Risk Factors

Much of drug abuse prevention relies on knowing the signs of substance abuse and seeking treatment early. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance abuse problem, you can find help. Seeking treatment as early as possible can increase your chances of success, making it easier to escape addiction and reclaim your life. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, seek help. There are many support options available, including treatment facilities, online resources, and support groups. Remember that there is always hope for recovery.

Prevention and Treatment Services for Prescription Drug Addiction

If you suspect someone you know has a prescription drug addiction, there are treatment options available. Many people with prescription drug addictions are able to quit with the help of therapy and medications.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a therapy option that combines behavioral therapy with medications such as naltrexone, methadone, or buprenorphine. In MAT, patients take drugs under a doctor’s supervision. These drugs reduce cravings, help people quit, and make withdrawal easier if people relapse.

Some people may also participate in a combination treatment, which includes therapy along with medication. Behavioral therapy focuses on changing destructive thoughts, feelings, and habits. It can help people understand their addiction and the negative impacts it has on their lives.

Read Further:

How to Help a Son Who Is Addicted to Drugs and Alcohol


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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