Decades of clinical research have shown that prevention, early intervention for emerging “risky” substance use, and continuing care following formal treatment are important for an effective public health oriented approach to help control substance use disorders among adolescents. Clear warning signs of an emerging substance use problem include binge drinking and drug use pictures posted on social media, drop in grades, change in friends, etc. In addition to these “red flags,” research has shown that there are certain populations of adolescents for whom the risk of developing a substance use disorder is greater (e.g., those whose parents are receiving substance abuse treatment or those with a mental health disorder).If you’re concerned that your adolescent is using drugs or alcohol, trust your gut and address the problem. The earlier a teenager or young adult receives support in reducing or stopping drug or alcohol misuse, the better their chances will be to overcome the problem. There are a number of research-derived, effective and practical interventions that can help and reduce not only the rates of addiction but also the more prevalent rates of substance use-related car accidents, unwanted pregnancies, infectious disease and school drop-out.

Intervention and Screenings

Substance use problems are ubiquitous in all the settings where adolescents are found: schools, pediatric healthcare settings, juvenile justice facilities, etc. But it can be prevented and early use can be halted before it becomes a problem or even addiction — but there have to be structures in place to help provide early detection and appropriate, non-punitive intervention. Thus, screening for risk factors or early disease presence is one of the first lines of defense. In fact, substance use screening should be part of all wellness screens as this can have direct impact on healthy living. While adolescents should be screened within all treatment and social services systems that they come in contact with (e.g., mental health system, foster care system, juvenile justice system), there are two locations where large numbers of “general population” youth can be found: medical settings (e.g., pediatric offices and primary care facilities) and schools.

Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) is a scientifically validated, nationally recognized approach to screening for and addressing AOD problems within medical settings. It is endorsed by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and perhaps most importantly by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association (AMA).

Schools that are fortunate to have a School-Based Health Center (SBHC) are in an excellent position to pro-actively screen large numbers of adolescents for alcohol and other drug risks, alcohol and other drug use, and substance use problems and disorders during routine appointments and care. By offering population-based services, they become a “normalized” part of the school community, de-stigmatizing SBHC visits and assuring anonymity for the specific service received. Research to date shows SBHCs increase access to behavioral health services and reduce traditional barriers to care such as funding, stigma, and confidentiality concerns. SBHCs also help reduce emergency room visits while increasing school attendance and student achievement. Importantly with regard to SBIRT, SBHCs have ready access to teens which facilitates follow-up, case management and the delivery of preventative care and brief interventions.

There are a number of different drug and alcohol intervention resources that your family can use to help address your child’s drug or alcohol use problem. Use the resources on this site to also help find substance use and addiction treatment for your child’s drug or alcohol problem. Help support your child’s substance use and addiction recovery and find additional resources about recovery here.

Meyers, K, et al., Paving the Way to Change: Advancing Interventions for adolescents who use, abuse or are dependent upon alcohol and other drugs. 2014.