Every single day, youth—like all people—make choices that affect their health, including the use of tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs. It is critical to support youth in making informed, health-promoting choices. Educators play a critical role in helping youth develop the fundamental health literacy skills that will support their health and well-being throughout their lives. For example, by including science-based information on alcohol and drugs in your curriculum—either as part of National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week® (NDAFW), March 20-26, 2023, or throughout the year.
Drug use in students
Rates of substance use reported by middle and high school students have declined in recent years and held steady in 2022. According to a national survey, 11% of eighth graders, 21.5% of 10th graders, and 32.6% of 12th graders used drugs other than alcohol or tobacco products in 2022.
Despite the downward trend in overall drug use, overdose deaths among youth ages 14 to 18 have increased dramatically over the last couple of years. Most of these deaths involved illicit fentanyl, which is increasingly being added to other drugs without the knowledge of the person who uses them. This includes illicit pills made to look like prescriptions medications. In 2022, one in twenty 12th graders reported using prescription medications without a prescription or in a way other than as prescribed by a clinician. Often, these drugs were taken, bought, or given to them by someone else.
The developing brain
Like a computer program that’s still being coded, a young brain is constantly developing. In fact, the human brain continues developing well into a person’s 20s—a time that is often full of important transitions in a young adult’s life.
Drugs can change the brain’s structure and function, and the developing brain is particularly vulnerable to these effects. In the short term, drugs’ effects on the brain can impede judgment and decision-making abilities. Heavy or long-term use can lead to brain changes that can increase the risk for addiction and many other problems.
Although using drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the risk is higher the earlier in life a person starts to use substances.
What is addiction?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is a chronic but treatable medical condition that is more likely to occur in the presence of specific risk factors—such as social determinants of health like housing instability, trauma history, and access to drugs, and less likely to occur among certain protective factors, like healthy family and peer relationships and financial stability.
Also like many other conditions, addiction can both be prevented (before it starts) and treated (after it starts). Prevention is where you come in!
What can I do?
You don’t need to be an expert in neuroscience or addiction to provide information and support your students. Whether you’re responsible for delivering health education or not, you can support youth in making informed choices about drug use and health.
Helping youth learn science-based information about drugs and addiction is a good place to start. Events like NDAFW make it easy for you to take the first step now—or incorporate action into your community any time of the year.
What is National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week®?
NDAFW is an annual health observance that inspires dialogue about the science of drug use and addiction among youth. NDAFW provides an opportunity to bring together students, educators, healthcare providers, scientists, and community members to address youth drug and alcohol use in communities nationwide. NDAFW encourages conversations about the facts and reinforces the importance of using the right language when talking about drugs, substance use disorders, and co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.
This spring, NDAFW takes place March 20 through 26. You and your colleagues can plan an event or activity to empower teens and young adults in your community to make informed decisions about alcohol and drugs. With options like in-person events, activities, social media conversations, and contests, there are countless ways you can plan an event that’s right for your community.
How can I get involved?
NIDA offers a host of resources to help you plan and promote your NDAFW event. From skills-based, standards-mapped lessons and activities to interactive Kahoot! quizzes, there are resources you can leverage to customize an educational opportunity. NDAFW can fit into your regularly scheduled drug prevention curriculum.
Individuals in communities like yours are what makes NDAFW successful. Since 2010, NDAFW has grown into an international event that brings together middle and high schools, local nonprofits, and other community-based organizations; state and local health departments; PTAs; faith-based organizations; afterschool clubs; and more to reach tens of thousands of people.
To learn more about NDAFW and how you and your community can participate, visit here.
Register today, by visiting here.
For referrals to substance use and mental health treatment programs, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit www.findtreatment.gov to find a qualified healthcare provider in your area.
To learn more about substance use and addiction research, visit https://nida.nih.gov.