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Substance abuse continues to be a growing issue in the United States, where approximately 40 million people or more are dealing with substance abuse disorders, whether related to alcohol, prescription medications or illicit drugs. 

National Substance Abuse Prevention Month is here to raise awareness and show support for the education that helps to grow knowledge, especially for young people, in an effort to prevent addiction and abuse.

History of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month

Getting its start in October 2011, National Substance Abuse Prevention Month was established to show support for and raise awareness about the harm that substance abuse can have – not only on individuals and families but also on entire communities. In addition, this event offers opportunities to remember those whose lives have been lost to drug addiction as well as encouraging and promoting the formation of education programs that help with prevention, particularly for youth.

The United States government recognizes and supports this event not only through the annual president’s proclamation, but also through different agencies such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and many others. In addition, many different non-profit organizations and counselor support networks are also involved, including the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) and a wide range of others throughout the nation.

While some people who may not be personally affected by substance abuse might think that they don’t need to be involved, this problem is a national situation that affects people in communities – whether they know someone who is a substance abuser or not. In fact, experts have estimated that substance abuse is costing the nation hundreds of billions of dollars each year, with more than $240 billion of costs for alcohol misuse and at least $190 billion in illicit drug use.

Even more important than financial costs, overdose deaths have spiked in recent decades, increasing by more than 700% from 1999 to 2021. People’s lives are literally on the line, from neighbors and friends to coworkers and family members. And one of the most important ways forward is to work toward prevention, with National Substance Abuse Prevention Month as a vital part of that effort.

How to Celebrate National Substance Abuse Prevention Month

Take National Substance Abuse Prevention Month seriously by getting involved as individuals as well as a community. Consider some of these ideas for observing and raising awareness for the month:

Understand More About Substance Abuse

Those whose lives have not been as directly touched by substance abuse may not be as aware or educated on the signs or what to look for in friends, family members or coworkers who may be affected by substance abuse. National Substance Abuse Prevention Month is an ideal time to get more information and grow the knowledge base by sharing it with others.

In support of this month, consider some of these important factors that are related to substance abuse:

  • Addiction and substance abuse can happen both with legal and illegal drugs – whether through alcohol, prescription painkillers, street drugs or a combination of these. Often, addiction to prescription drugs can happen when someone is simply following their doctors orders as given.

  • Substance abuse is never an intended outcome. But even a one-time use of a drug can rewire the brain for addiction and it’s important that young people in particular are aware of this.

  • Whether drug use is recreational or through medication misuse, this can be a sign of larger, underlying problems in life whether due to self-medicating mental health issues or trying to escape from life problems.

  • Addiction and substance abuse can be influenced by a person’s genetics as well as family patterns. A person with a family member who has substance abuse problems is more likely to struggle with addiction as well.

Support a Loved One

Those who have a friend, coworker or family member who may be struggling with an addiction or some form of substance abuse might want to take National Substance Abuse Prevention Month as an opportunity to care for them. This could mean showing support by telling a person in recovery how great they are doing, or by addressing a person who may have a problem with substance abuse.

Educate Young People

One of the most important parts of substance abuse prevention is to connect with and educate children and young people before they have access to drugs, alcohol and other mind-altering substances. Statistics show that 90% of addiction and substance abuse problems begin before the age of 18, which means educating youth is vital for prevention.

Some experts say that the age of five is a good time to begin talking to children about alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Parents can bring up the topic through conversation that is on the child’s level or they may want to introduce children’s books on the subject.

Consider some of these book titles that could help parents, teachers, counselors or others to explain and discuss the difficulties of addiction and substance abuse:

  • Critters Cry Too: Explaining Addiction to Children by Anthony Curcio (2016)
  • I Want More – How to Know When I’ve Had Enough by Dagmar Geisler (2020)
  • A Sickness You Can’t See by Laura Washington (2019)
  • What’s the Big Deal About Addictions? by James J. Crist, PhD (2021)

Host a Substance Abuse Prevention Event

Those who are community leaders, teachers, youth workers, or other influencers can get on board with National Substance Abuse Prevention Month by hosting events whether in person or online. This could include meetings and seminars that educate parents and teachers on how to help students. Or it could be a social media campaign that encourages individuals to consider their life choices and also offers options for getting help to kick existing habits or addictions.

Anyone can use their voice to raise awareness, volunteer for charities, make a donation, or get involved with some other activity that works toward prevention of the devastating impact that substance abuse has on families, communities and the world.

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