October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month

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It seems like every time you turn around these days there’s another special day to commemorate. Earlier this month – if you scroll through social media at all – you most likely noticed National Daughter’s Day and National Son’s Day.

Now, yes, great: celebrate your daughters and sons because we know you love them and they deserve all the love and attention they get.

But that’s what you do every day, as a parent, so many of us ask: are these days for real?

The answer is like the answer for the December holidays: they’re as real as you make them. In other words, you can take them or leave them, and in the grand scheme of things, it won’t make a difference.

On the other hand, over the past decade, you may have notice an increase in something else: awareness days. Specifically, awareness days around mental health, mental health treatment, substance use disorder (SUD), SUD treatment, alcohol use disorder (AUD), and AUD treatment. Last month – September – was National Recovery Month.

Please navigate to our blog and read this article:

National Recovery Month 2022: Recovery Benefits Everyone

In contrast to the increase in national commemorative days that appear to be just for fun, the increase in awareness days around mental health and substance use are not there to drive clicks and likes and shares on social media, or to sell greeting cards: they’re there because people around our country are hurting and they need our help.

That’s why we have National Substance Abuse Prevention Month: in order to raise awareness about the misuse of substances and substance use disorder, which cause significant harm to millions of people every year.

What is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month?

In 2011, then-President Barack Obama declared October as National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. The goal of the declaration, and the month itself, was the following:

“Encourage parents, youth, schools, businesses, and community leaders across the country join in a month-long observance of the role that substance abuse prevention plays in promoting safe and healthy communities.”

The month began as an overall substance abuse awareness month with a focus on youth. Over the following ten years, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) sponsored the month and organized a wide range of activities to bring awareness to the important of substance abuse prevention. Then, in 2021, President Biden changed the name and focus of the month, to align with two trends in substance abuse prevention:

  1. The escalated need for prevention in light of the ongoing opioid and overdose crisis.
  2. The change in the way we talk about addiction and substance abuse.

The former reason is pressing: we’re in the middle of a drug overdose crisis in the country, and need to bond together to focus on long-term prevention. The latter reason reflect the person-first movement in treatment and awareness, and the recognition that stigmatizing language creates barriers to treatment for many people.

That’s why, in 2021 the new administration changed the name of the month to National Youth Substance Use Prevention Month, and the White House delivered this new proclamation:

“We must continue to encourage parents, caregivers, educators, and other members of the community to play an active role in promoting evidence-based prevention efforts that encourage healthy lifestyles, promote alternatives to substance use, and educate young people about the harms associated with substance use. We know that delaying substance use until after adolescence, when the brain has fully developed, decreases the likelihood of an individual developing a substance use disorder.”

That states the case in simple terms.

Now let’s take a look at the latest data on substance use in the U.S. for teenagers and adults. After we offer the statistics, we’ll present the action steps the ONDCP recommends we all take in order to do our part for National Youth Substance Use Prevention Month.

Substance Use Among Teens and Adults: Facts and Figures

We accessed these statistics by consulting the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2020 NSDUH) and the 2021 Monitoring the Future Survey. These two annual surveys include data from close to one hundred thousand people in the U.S. The consistency of these two surveys allows us to identify both short term changes and long-term trends in substance use in the U.S., and the large sample size enables us to make population-level generalizations from the data.

If that last phrase is new to you, what it means it a sufficient amount of people participate in the survey that we can consider it representative of the substance use trends for the entire country, not only for the people surveyed.

Let’s take a look at that data.

Lifetime Drug Use: 2021 Monitoring the Future Survey

  • Any Drug Use:
    • 8th graders: 16%
    • 10th graders: 25%
    • 12th graders: 42%
Adults 18+ in 2020: 52.9%

Annual (Past Year) Drug Use: 2021 Monitoring the Future Survey

  • Any Drug Use:
    • 8th graders: 10%
    • 10th graders: 19%
    • 12th graders: 30%
Adults 18+ in 2020: 22.9%

Thirty Day (Past Month) Drug Use: 2021 Monitoring the Future Survey

  • Any Drug Use:
    • 8th graders: 6%
    • 10th graders: 11%
    • 12th graders: 21%
Adults 18+ in 2020: 14.1%

The prevalence rates are instructive, and teach us that we need to muster our resources and communicate the facts about the risks of drug use to our teens and adults. Now let’s consider another metric. The stats above are for drug use itself, but it will help us to look at the rates at which the use of substances among our adults and teens changes to the disordered use of substances, a.k.a. substance use disorder (SUD).

Annual (Past Year) Substance Use Disorder (SUD) in 2020: Age Groups

  • Teens 12-17: 5%
  • Adults 18+: 7%
  • Young adults: 18-25: 15%
  • Adults 26+: 6%

Those numbers are larger than most people realize. For perspective, consider this: there are about twenty-five million teens in the U.S., which means about 1.25 million have SUD. And among the two-hundred-sixty million adults in the U.S., over twenty million have SUD.

Now we’ll offer the statistic – above all others – that confirms the need for a National Youth Substance Use Prevention Month. In the year 2021:

  • 73,453 people died from opioid-related overdose
  • 107,306 people died from overdose on any drug

Those are the highest numbers on record – and the overdose crisis/epidemic/emergency is not improving. In fact, it’s getting worse. Therefore, it’s important for all of us to do what we can to prevent the misuse of substances among adults and teens.

What We Can All Do to Help

First, we need to pay special attention to specific demographic groups:

  • Youth and teens
  • People with mental health disorder such as anxiety and depression
  • People prescribed opioids for pain
  • Anyone who experience job loss, income insecurity, food insecurity, or housing insecurity as a result of the pandemic
  • Anyone who experienced significant loss or grief during the pandemic

Next, we can get involved at home, in schools, in the workplace, and in the community. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) published a list of steps each of us can take to spread awareness in prevent substance use among youth and adults.

Here’s what they recommend:

How to Get Involved in National Youth Substance Use Prevention Month

Helping Youth

  • If you work at a school, or with youth, or have school age kids, you can:
    • Organize awareness workshops
    • Start a contest about prevention and awareness:
      • Video
      • Essay
      • Art
    • If you have kids, you can:
      • Talk to them about substance use:
        • Risks: physical, emotional, psychological
        • Consequences: physical, emotional, psychological, legal, academic

Supporting Peers in the Workplace

  • If you’re in a position of authority:
    • Create employee seminars on the risks of excess alcohol and drug use
    • Focus on opioids: the nation is still in crisis
    • Create stress management seminars and opportunities, including:
      • Exercise
      • Meditation
      • Mindfulness-type activities, such as yoga or tai chi
    • If you’re not in a position of authority:
      • Have conversations with peers to educate, reduce stigma, and set yourself up as a safe, compassionate peer in case a coworker needs someone to talk to but has no one.
        • You can be their safe person

Helping Communities

  • At neighborhood meetings, homeowner’s association meetings, or any community event:
    • Speak and raise awareness about drug use
    • Focus on opioids and overdose: we’re still in crisis
    • Include warnings about fentanyl

You may not want to be that person railing against problems that don’t exist. However, right now in the United States, the opioid and overdose crisis is very real and very dangerous. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Stopping just one person from trying opioids or any of the dangerous synthetics that may contain fentanyl can save a life: that’s more than a pound of cure for the effort it takes to speak and raise awareness.

Up to this point, we’ve focused on the collective: how we, as a nation, a culture, and a greater community, can help increase awareness about the danger of substance use. We’ll close this article by narrowing the focus to the individual, and offering a five step process that may help a person who needs help decide to get the help they need.

How to Create Change in Your Life: Substance Use

It’s not always easy to make big life changes.

And when the changes are related to the disordered use of substances, they may seem impossible, overwhelming, or out of reach. First, we want to remind anyone reading this that one thing: you are not alone. Next, want to remind you this: change is possible – and you can do it.

We located this resource on the National Community Action Agency (NCAA) website. The NCAA – not the college sports league – is a nationwide group of community action centers created in 1964 to help families in communities around the country access life-improving services with specialized programming targeted to specific community needs.

The NCAA created these five steps for anyone worried about their substance use, and think it may be time to take proactive steps to create sustainable change.

A Simplified 5 Step Process for Creating Change

  1. Remind yourself why you want to change your:
  • Drug use
  • Alcohol use
  • Relationship to drug and/or alcohol use
  1. Write down the pros and cons of changing your alcohol or drug use patterns
    • Have you tried to stop before?
    • What helped?
    • What hurt?
  2. Set specific, measurable goals:
  • Start date for changing our use or relationship to use
  • Define the changes you seek:
    • No use
    • Total cessation of use
  1. Research and contact evidence-based substance use treatment programs in your area:
    • Substance use treatment centers
    • Mental health treatment centers
    • Support groups: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  2. Seek professional or community support:
    • Residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, or outpatient programs
    • Peer meetings like AA or NA
    • Tell your friends and family you’re committed to change, committed to recovery, and ask them to support you in any way they can.

We close this article with this information because we know change starts with each of us. We can help our friends and family with substance use issues, but we need to know how to help ourselves, too. If you need professional support for a substance or alcohol use problem, please remember this:

The sooner you get the treatment you need, the better the outcome.