Where Does Substance Misuse Prevention Happen?

Our attention is naturally focused on our physical health right now as we all watch COVID-19 unfold in our communities. And while we do not have all the answers today about how to stay safe and maintain our individual well-being, we are all clearly working toward the same goal: to emerge from the pandemic strong and healthy. That includes preventing substance misuse today and every day and being proactive in caring for our mental health.

Research tells us that protective factors are an important component in preventing substance misuse and abuse. These factors include strong and positive family bonds and the involvement of parents in the lives of their children. Research has also shown that “one of the most influential factors during a child’s adolescence is maintaining a strong, open relationship with a parent. When parents create supportive and nurturing environments, children make better decisions.”

As we adapt to this new normal of social distancing, figuring out where to get groceries and even staying employed, thinking about how to prevent substance misuse may not be top of mind. However, we can and should leverage this opportunity to talk to our children about it.

SAMHSA’s National Prevention Week (NPW) 2020 is being observed May 10–16. Each year, NPW provides families with an opportunity to explore the risks associated with drinking underage, using illicit drugs and sharing prescription medications. It encourages and provides strategies for families and communities to talk openly about these substances and their consequences on youth physical and mental health.

Of course, sometimes us parents just need an icebreaker. SAMHSA’s “Tips for Teens” series is a great way to start conversations with teens, as it places substances in their true light. It details signs that the substance is being used and places to get help and support. Parents of younger youth might also explore the “Talk. They Hear You.” national campaign that provides parents with resources and conversation starters about underage drinking and other drugs (www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking).

For nearly 10 years, NPW has supported community engagement around prevention by providing evidence-based information, resources and tools for community-planned activities. NPW also features a prevention challenge that encourages individuals to participate in NPW through social media. This year, the challenge focuses on “Prevention Happens Here,” designed to illustrate how in communities across the country, we all have the power to make prevention possible. Learn how you can participate in the challenge and support NPW by visiting www.samhsa.gov/prevention-week.

While community engagement in NPW is limited to virtual participation this year, we all can be preventionists right at home! We have a unique opportunity to get our children’s attention, take time to discuss the issue and ultimately protect the health of our family. By providing facts and real information about the risks associated with substance misuse and the strategies for promoting positive mental health, we take an important step toward emerging from COVID-19 stronger than ever.