Summertime Substance Use Prevention Approaches for Youth and Young Adults

HAGS (Have a Good Summer)!

I remember seeing HAGS written throughout my teen’s high school yearbook, but I had no idea what it meant. Of course — “have a great summer” — a goal for all of us as we look forward to long days of sunshine and spending time outdoors, getting together with family and friends and taking vacations.

But summer also can be a dangerous time for many youth and young adults when it comes to experimenting with alcohol and other substances. In the prevention community, we know from many studies that the summer is often a time of initiation of alcohol, tobacco products and cannabis among adolescents and college students.

A NIDA-funded study also found, through analysis of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health data from 2011–2017, an estimated 3,033,000 individuals in the United States initiated cannabis use, 1,037,000 initiated cocaine use, 794,000 initiated LSD use, and 787,000 initiated ecstasy/MDMA/molly use — and that initiation occurred more in the summer than other seasons. This initiation is attributed to several factors, including more idle time and more recreational activities (such as parties and outdoor music festivals).

However, there are positive actions that we can take to mitigate the risk and ensure youth and young adults have a healthy and happy summer. One way is to continue to have frequent conversations with the youth and young adults in our lives about the dangers and consequences of drug use on their minds and bodies. This is especially important as they transition from a more structured environment of high school and parental controls at home to more freedom and independence as they enter the workforce or prepare for college.

Parents and caregivers also can encourage and support teens in the summer to stay active through sports and other physical activities and to keep busy through summer jobs, community volunteer work and exploring new interests through summer learning programs.

There are many resources designed to help families become more informed about the risks of substance use and to help get those conversations going. The following are a few of my go-to resources — and they are all free!

As a mom myself, I found that a busy teen was a happy and safe teen. However, if your teen or young adult needs help, don’t wait for things to improve. Act fast. Talk to your family physician or contact:

Prevention works if we all work together! HAGS!