It is important to prevent drug use from starting, because once an addiction develops, the brain undergoes changes that make recovery more difficult.

Preventing drug abuse is usually a more successful strategy than treating a drug addiction that is already active. In fact, for every dollar invested in prevention, a community saves as much as $10 on drug and alcohol treatment services. Many addiction prevention efforts focus on decreasing risk factors and protecting people from drug abuse and addiction. These efforts can be successful for both children and adults.

Anti-Drug Awareness and Prevention

Bringing awareness to the realities of addiction is one form of prevention. Unfortunately, there is a stigma surrounding drug use, so many people are ashamed to talk about it. During National Substance Abuse Prevention Month in October, people are encouraged to come forward and share their experiences with addiction to reduce the stigma associated with this disease. By raising awareness and reducing stigma, people will be less ashamed to talk about addiction and more willing to participate in prevention efforts or seek treatment. 

Creating awareness and talking about prevention are critical so that addictions do not develop. This is important because treating an addiction is much more challenging than preventing drug use in the first place. Because addiction is a brain disease, it disrupts the brain’s natural reward system, which causes a person to compulsively seek drugs in order to continue to experience pleasure. Addiction also changes the structure of the brain in ways that can interfere with learning, memory, and rational decision-making. These brain changes can understandably make quitting a challenge. It is easier to simply never use drugs than it is to recover from an addiction. 

Trends and Statistics

Statistics show that drug prevention is necessary, as roughly 2.8 million people in the United States began using illicit drugs in 2013 alone, which is equal to 7,800 people trying drugs for the first time each day. Among those beginning to use drugs,  just over half were younger than 18. 

Drug trends also show that the rates of illegal drug use are highest in the Western United States and lowest in the South. There also tends to be more drug use in big cities and less use in rural areas. 

Drug use also varies among races, so prevention efforts may need to address specific cultural factors. In 2013, the rates of illegal drug use varied among people from different backgrounds:

  • Asian: 3.1 %
  • White: 9.5 %
  • Hispanic: 8.8 %
  • Black: 10.5 %
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native: 12.3 %
  • Hawaiians and Pacific Islander: 14 %
  • People reporting multiple races: 17.4 %

Know the Risk Factors

Being aware of and controlling risk situations or circumstances that lead to addiction is a key part of prevention. The risk of drug use is increased by many factors, including:

  • Having a parent who is dependent upon drugs or alcohol
  • A history of behavioral problems during the teenage years
  • Beginning drug use during adolescence 
  • Having positive attitudes toward drugs
  • Spending time with peers who use drugs
  • Being uncommitted to school 

Additional risk factors for substance abuse include:

  • Deviant/antisocial behavior
  • Life stressors
  • Family issues like divorce
  • Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and ADHD
  • Living in a community with high crime rates
  • Drug and alcohol depictions in the media

Being aware of these risk factors can help with prevention efforts. For example, a community with high crime rates may organize community events to find solutions to high crime rates and reduce drug use. In addition, being aware of risk factors such as family issues, life stressors and mental health issues can encourage people to seek help for these conditions instead of turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. 

Promote the Protective Factors

In addition to managing risk factors and providing support to those who are at risk, making use of protective factors can serve as an effective drug abuse prevention strategy. Protective factors include high academic achievement, employment, marriage and a strong social support system, including family. Additional research has arrived at a similar conclusion, finding that completing college, having a job, and being married or in a committed relationship reduces the risk of drug use. 

Supportive friendships and relationships are another safeguard against substance use and addiction. Making use of these protective factors can prevent people from turning to drugs and alcohol to cope. Prevention efforts should teach about the importance of education, healthy relationships and career. 

Relapse and Prevention Planning

For some people, prevention may mean more than not using drugs in the first place; it can mean preventing a return to drug use. For people in recovery from addiction, prevention means creating a relapse prevention plan to reduce the risk of sliding back into substance abuse. A relapse prevention plan can teach a person in recovery how to cope with stressors, drug cravings and triggers for drug use. For example, the plan may include strategies a person can use, such as going for a walk, exercising or reading a book when stressed. It might also involve developing a list of triggers and how a person can avoid them. 

A relapse prevention plan could also involve attending support groups on an ongoing basis to discuss stressors and triggers in a supportive, drug-free setting. Some people may continue to attend counseling from time-to-time to help them process difficult emotions or devise strategies for managing triggers.


Aftercare can be a formal part of the recovery process, and it also serves as a form of prevention. In aftercare, some people may live in sober living homes, whereas others may live in their own homes but continue to attend outpatient therapy in the community. The main goal of aftercare is to help a person continue to cope with the challenges of recovery without returning to drug or alcohol use.

Other Ways to Get Involved

Being aware of the realities of drug addiction and being educated about the risk and protective factors associated with substance abuse are key components of prevention. By targeting risk factors and building upon protective factors, drug abuse can be prevented.

You can become involved in local prevention efforts to raise awareness. For example, many communities host events such as parades or 5K races to bring awareness to the issue of drug addiction and to raise funds for prevention efforts. You can also participate in national events such as drug take-back days to keep potentially addictive prescription drugs out of the hands of people who may be tempted to abuse them. 

If you or a loved one is living with an addiction, The Recovery Village offers comprehensive services that can meet your needs. Reach out to a caring admissions representative today to learn more about services can help you find lasting recovery.

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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Lessons from prevention research.” March 2014. Accessed September 20, 2019.

The White House. “Presidential Proclamation on National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, 2018.” September 28, 2018. Accessed September 20, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The science of drug use and addiction: The basics.” July 2018. Accessed September 20, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Nationwide trends.” June 2015. Accessed September 21, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “ Results from the 2013 National Surve[…]ational findings.” 2014. Accessed September 21, 2019.

Stone, Andrea; et al. “Review of risk and protective factors of substance use and problem use in emerging adulthood.” Addictive Behaviors, July 2012. Accessed September 21, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.