What Is Prevention?

Prevention is the act of helping people (often with a focus on young people) avoid drug use and abuse.

Prevention aims to change personal, social or environmental factors to delay or avoid the onset of drug use and its progression to harmful or problematic misuse.

Prevention strategies are aimed at increasing resources within a community so that individuals are more likely to make healthy choices and avoid the potential harm that drug use can cause.

Substance abuse is among the most costly health problems in the United States. When comparing the costs of 33 common diseases and conditions in the U.S., problem alcohol use ranked second, tobacco use ranked sixth, and drug disorders ranked seventh.
(National Institutes of Health [NIH], 2000)

Programs designed to prevent substance abuse can reduce these costs.

More information about prevention is provided below. Click on the links to jump to the topic that most interests you.

What Is a Drug?

Can we Prevent Substance Abuse in Vermont?

Protective and risk factors

Researchers have identified some key points, protective and risk factors, identify ways to help youth resist substance use and identify youth who might be at risk of addiction later in life.

Local coalitions

Local coalitions across the state work daily to engage communities and promote prevention strategies. These local efforts are a critical part of keeping Vermont youth and families healthy.  

For more information about how to find your local coalition and other prevention resources click here.


What Is a Drug?

The term “drug” includes not only illegal substances such as heroin, cocaine or marijuana but also legal substances such as prescription medication, tobacco and alcohol - which cause more preventable premature fatalities than illegal substances.

Can we Prevent Substance Abuse in Vermont? 

Yes!  Research over the last two decades has proven that drug and alcohol addiction is both preventable and treatable.  

Prevention programs work to boost protective factors and eliminate or reduce risk factors for drug use.  

The Five Core Protective Factors

  • Strong bonds exist between youth and adults
  • Youth gain the skills necessary for becoming a mature adult
  • There are opportunities for youth to have meaningful involvement in the community
  • Community, school and family involvement is recognized
  • Healthy beliefs and clear standards are communicated and modeled by adults

The Risk Factors

Risk factors should be interpreted in the same way as risk factors for any disease. Here’s an example, if a patient has one of the risk factors for heart disease, her/his chances of having a heart attack increase, but the presence of the risk factor does not predict that the patient WILL have a heart attack.

So, if any of these risk factors are present in your child’s life, the likelihood of developing a problem increases, but having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that a child will become a drug abuser—only that the risk is increased.

Individual/Peer Risk Factors

One of the strongest predictors of adolescent drug use is having friends that use. The evidence is clear that friends, rather than strangers, influence children to experiment with and continue to use drugs and children who grow up without other risk factors, but who associate with children who use drugs have an increased risk for drug use and/or abuse.

Children who have positive (or favorable) attitudes toward alcohol and other drug use are more likely to start using. When children are in elementary school, they may carry strong, adult-supported feelings against drugs, but by the time they reach middle school many have developed attitudes more favorable toward substance use. This shift in attitude often comes just before children begin to experiment with tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.

Most adults and young people who have an alcohol or other drug use problem began drinking or using at an early age.  Children who begin to use tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs before age 15 are twice as likely to develop problems with drugs, than are children who wait until they are older.

Delaying first use until age 19 or older dramatically decreases the risk for  substance use problems. . In fact, young people who have not used tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs by age 21 are unlikely to ever abuse these substances.

Family Risk Factors

Research shows a link between family drinking problems and adolescent alcohol and other drug abuse.

 In order to make good decisions about their own behavior, children need:

  • clear guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable behavior by their families
  • to be taught basic life skills, including anger management,  
  • consistent support and recognition for acceptable behaviors,and
  • consistent, but appropriate, consequences for unacceptable behaviors.

The research tells us parents who have a favorable attitude toward youth alcohol and other drug use increases the risk that their children will start using.  

Allowing your child to use alcohol or other drugs, hosting parties where alcohol and other drugs are present and even asking your child to get you a beer from the refrigerator, light your cigarette, or to mix you a drink, increases the likelihood that your children will use alcohol and other drugs. 

Community Risk Factors

Communities with laws which are unfavorable toward drug use, such as higher taxes on alcohol, have lower rates of alcohol consumption and alcohol-related traffic fatalities. 

Greater availability of drugs in schools, combined with inadequate policies against alcohol and other drug use, leads to a higher use of drugs among students.

If alcohol and other drugs are easily available in the community the risk of use increases among youth. Risk is increased even when teens only perceive that alcohol and other drugs are easily available.

School Risk Factors

Students in grades 4 through 7 who do not perceive school as meaningful or rewarding, regardless of the reason, have a greater risk of getting into trouble with drugs.  And students who expect to attend college have significantly lower usage rates of drugs such as cocaine, stimulants, and hallucinogens.

There is an increased risk for adolescent drug abuse when a child receives low or failing grades in fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. Poor school performance can have many causes, including a lack of parental support, boredom, a learning disability, and a poor match between student and teacher. Whatever the cause, children who aren’t doing well in school are more likely to turn to drugs than are students who succeed in school.