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Communication: A Key to Alcohol & Substance Use Prevention


For many school districts here in Florida, students are preparing for back-to-school this week and next week. With the return to schooling, there is sure to be stress on students as they begin a new school year the same way they ended the last one—under the pressure of COVID-19.

That stress, and some newfound freedom of being away from home (for some), could lead to experimentation with substance use. Substance use is considered using any mind-altering chemicals such as alcohol, illicit drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and prescription drugs that are not prescribed to the user by a doctor or taken as prescribed by the user.

According to SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 2.2 million adolescents ages 12–17 and 18.8 million young adults ages 18–25 had consumed alcohol in the past month. The same survey found that in the past year, 3.1 million adolescents and 11.8 million young adults had used marijuana, and 699,000 adolescents and 1.9 million young adults had misused opioids.

One of the easiest and best ways to help prevent substance use in adolescents and teens is communication.  Good communication between parents and children is the foundation of strong family relationships. Developing good communication skills helps parents catch problems early, support positive behavior, and stay aware of what is happening in their children’s lives.

Some tips, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), for good communication with adolescents are as follows:

  • Show interest/concern. Don’t blame/accuse.
  • Encourage problem-solving/thinking.
  • Listening & Observing
  • Reducing Emotion: Sometimes talking with children brings up strong feelings that interfere with clear thinking. Following the CALM steps can help a parent keep the conversation moving in the right direction.
    • Control your thoughts and actions.
    • Assess and decide if you are too upset to continue
    • Leave the situation if you are feeling too angry or upset
    • Make a plan to deal with the situation

Do not be afraid to talk to your children about the risks and dangers of substance use at such a young age. SMA Healthcare has a couple of prevention programs tailored for youth that are also helpful when it comes to communication about substance use.

SPORT PPW is an evidence-based substance abuse prevention program designed to increase wellness-enhancing behaviors, including physical activity, healthy eating, getting adequate sleep, practicing stress control, and dealing with peer pressure. The Alcohol Literacy Challenge (ALC) is an evidence-based prevention program for elementary, middle, and high school students program that addresses the beliefs people have about the effects of alcohol and how media advertising influences how these beliefs are formed.

For more information on these programs or other prevention services that SMA Healthcare offers, contact our Access Center at 800-539-4228 or email Marisa Wetzel at