Officials and professionals continue to devote resources toward preventing substance abuse in Pennsylvania. The prevention of substance use disorder is a major component of health and wellness efforts made by city, county, and state officials, as well as medical and other wellness professionals. Through the use of prevention and early intervention measures, these professionals aim to significantly reduce the effects of substance use disorders (and their impact on any mental health disorders, if they are also present) across America.
Advocating and Preventing Substance Use in Pennsylvania
SUD can make it difficult for people to perform even simple, everyday tasks and severely impair their ability to interact with loved ones, maintain employment, and fulfill other necessary duties. Once a person has fallen into a pattern of coping through substance use, it can feel impossible to escape the cycle. Most can only do so with treatment and the right support system in place.
It is critical to the physical and mental well-being of Pennsylvania residents to prevent substance use disorder, including addressing any other mental health disorders. Prevention and early intervention measures are being implemented throughout the state to help individuals in all stages of substance use disorder. While prevention is the focus, please know that it is never too late to reach out for professional help and gain the skills you need to prevent relapse of substance use disorders.
Defining Substance Use Disorder
Simply put, a substance use disorder occurs when an individual struggles with the recurrent use of drugs and/or alcohol, and this use causes impairment that is clinically diagnosable by a healthcare professional.
Impairments from substance use disorders can include, but are not limited to:
- Physical and mental health issues
- Drastic behavioral changes
- Failure to fulfill responsibilities at home, work, or school
Facts About Substance Use Disorder
The nation’s use of illegal substances and the misuse of legal substances leading to substance use disorder are prevalent across the US. It affects individuals across age groups, races, and economic classes.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), recent findings about substance use show that:
- In 2017, 19.7 million people aged 12 and over had issues related to substance use disorders.
- 74% of the adults who reported having a substance use disorder were struggling with alcohol use disorder.
- 8.5 million American adults suffer from co-occurring disorders, battling both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder.
- Substance use disorders cost the American government at least $468 billion annually in healthcare expenses, workplace productivity, and expenses related to crimes.
- 90% of people with a substance use disorder began drinking, smoking, or exploring other addictive substances before they were 18 years old.
- About 46% of minors live in households with someone who smokes, drinks excessively, or misuses prescription or illegal drugs.
Health professionals stress the importance of prevention strategies to help communities impacted by substance use disorders. Each day in recovery centers across America, professionals use education, advocacy, and support to help individuals overcome substance use disorders. As more data is collected, both nationwide and in Pennsylvania, new and increasingly innovative ways to engage in SUD prevention continue to emerge.
The Consequences of Substance Use Disorder
There are many consequences to substance use disorder. Issues with drugs or alcohol severely impact personal relationships, academic performance, employment status, social standing, and mental and physical well-being.
Individuals battling substance use disorder often experience:
- Dependency and withdrawal. Misusing drugs or alcoholic beverages puts individuals at increased risk of substance dependency, which can cause unpleasant or even dangerous withdrawals once the substance is removed.
- Damaged interpersonal relationships. Substance use disorder can tear apart families, friendships, and marriages if SUD and the accompanying issues go untreated.
- Questionable judgment. Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol highly correlates with impaired judgment in both social and personal situations.
- Risky behaviors or increase in impulsive behaviors including high risk sexual activity, criminal behaviors/activity, poor decision making, etc
- Car accidents. Serious injury, damage, or death can occur when someone with a substance use disorder gets behind the wheel of a vehicle. These incidents often have devastating consequences.
- Changes in performance in work or school. Substance use often negatively impacts academic performance in young people. In adults, it can lead to workplace accidents, injuries, or other mishaps with serious consequences.
Preventing Substance Abuse in Pennsylvania Via Programs
Programs that focus on the prevention of substance use disorders target at-risk populations because these individuals are more likely to misuse drugs or alcohol. These programs help communities build educational resources and work to change environmental factors that affect local residents. Introducing adaptive strategies can help people build resiliency, develop healthy coping skills, and receive support from peers.
Many local programs focus on children and adolescents and are targeted to reach individuals before they begin substance use. Children who have early exposure to substance use have an increased chance of developing substance use disorder.
Several different intervention methods are used to prevent the onset of substance use disorders:
- Universal preventive interventions are prevention efforts that target entire populations to lessen substance misuse.
- Selective preventive interventions are prevention efforts that target population subgroups, particularly at-risk groups.
- Indicated preventive interventions are prevention efforts for undiagnosed individuals who are already showing early signs of a substance use disorder.
These preventive measures aim at communities at different levels to influence how people in the community view drug and alcohol use and to encourage anyone with substance use issues to understand that help is available at all stages.
Pennsylvania Youth Substance Prevention
Adolescence is an especially critical time for parents, educators, and community leaders to implement SUD prevention strategies. In adolescence, many young people find themselves in brand new situations, simultaneously dealing with everything from bodily development to trying to fit in with their peers. This time is stressful for many young people, who may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress.
After years of research, it has become clear that there are specific risk factors that contribute to the development of youth SUD. Learning more about these factors can help educators, parents, and community leaders tackle SUD at an individual, family, school, or community level.
Understanding the circumstances that put youth at risk for substance use disorder can make it easier to identify potential issues and implement interventions before misuse occurs. And, understanding the support necessary to help prevent substance misuse in youth helps all involved provide that support for all children at risk.
SUD Risk Factors in Children and Adolescents
According to the CDC, the following risk factors have been linked to substance use disorders in youth:
- Having relatives who struggled with substance use disorder
- Poor modeling from parents or other caregivers
- Associating with peers who engage in delinquent behavior or who use substances
- Lack of connection to school and extracurricular activities
- Low academic performance
- Existing mental health issues
- Having one’s sexual orientation or gender identity rejected by family members
- Parents who engage in substance use or show favorable attitudes about substance use.
These risk factors put young people at increased risk of developing a substance use disorder to cope with stressful experiences. Youth substance misuse lowers overall health and leads to many adolescents becoming dependent on these substances well into adulthood.
Protective Factors Against Youth Substance Misuse
Early intervention is the best way to engage young people and provide them with safe and healthy ways to navigate issues with peers, family members, and in their communities.
The following are protective factors that can prevent youth substance use disorders:
- Having active parents or caregivers
- Support from the family system as a whole
- Parents who disapprove of substance use and who monitor activities
- Connections to school, academic achievement, and positive engagement with peers
Tips for Preventing Substance Use in Pennsylvania and Beyond
When it comes to substance use disorder, prevention is always preferred over treatment. This is why many healthcare organizations offer essential tips for substance use prevention. In addition, their research has identified some useful insights into prevention and early intervention for SUD. Fortunately for parents, this has resulted in many practical ways to help keep children and adolescents on track to reach adulthood without developing a substance use disorder.
Perhaps most importantly, parents are encouraged to talk to their children about drugs and alcohol and use these conversations both to educate and allow for questions. Setting aside time to have important conversations can make a huge impact on a young person’s views about substance use. Frank conversation can also make them feel comfortable opening up about issues that may lead to trying drugs and alcohol.
In addition to talking about substance use, parents and other adults can help children and adolescents by:
- Being consistent and present in a child’s daily activities.
- Establishing rules and enforcing consequences for behavior.
- Keeping track of any prescription drugs or alcohol in the home.
- Providing emotional support.
- Setting a good example by modeling responsible behavior regarding drugs and alcohol.
- Helping them develop a plan to deal with peer pressure.
- Assisting them in developing coping skills to deal with the pressures of everyday life.
- Watching for the signs of mental health issues and providing support for dealing with any that arise.
- Generally helping them lead a balanced, healthy life.
Signs of SUD
In addition to these tips, adults should educate themselves about the signs of substance use in children and teens. Of course, some changes in behavior and generally moody disposition can be attributed to the significant hormone shifts that occur in the teen years.
However, be wary if one or more of these signs of substance use occurs alongside mood swings:
- A change in friend groups
- Increase in rule-breaking or risk-seeking behavior
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Increased/Decreased sleep
- Physical differences, including weight loss, watery or bloodshot eyes, shakiness, or nosebleeds
- Sadness, anger, or aggressiveness beyond the typical mood swing
If a young person begins to show the above signs of a substance use disorder, it is important to seek professional help right away. Accessing treatment in the early stages gives young people the best chance to avoid developing long-term substance use issues.
Youths and Substance Use Disorder
The use of substances to cope with life events can have negative physical, psychological, and social consequences, some of which are difficult to impossible to reverse. Prevention is essential to help children and adolescents avoid making choices in their youth that have the potential to follow them into adulthood and stunt major areas of development. Since most adults with substance use disorders report having exposure to substances as minors, reaching young people before they start using substances is of the utmost importance.
Early intervention efforts can be effective with youth who are in the early stages of a substance use disorder. When the intervention draws on empowerment, resiliency, and making use of an individual’s intrinsic resources, youth with a SUD can effectively win the battle against substance use and use those tools to continue making healthy decisions throughout life. Parents, schools, and community partners must all help to ensure Pennsylvania youth have access to these resources.
Help with Preventing Substance Abuse in Pennsylvania
For those already experiencing SUD, a successful recovery journey requires a combination of resources and support. When people try to stop alcohol or drugs, they can experience withdrawal symptoms. Medication-assisted treatment programs help reduce withdrawal symptoms, minimize cravings, and provide the support. If you or a loved one is struggling to overcome issues related to substance use disorder, it is vital to know that help is available in Pennsylvania. By creating a safe space for program participants to engage in the inner work necessary to heal, we can ensure they move forward in life with a positive mindset and resilience-based coping skills.
Christine Todd is a Licensed Professional Counselor and an Advanced Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor who enjoys working directly with a population that struggles with addiction and mental health disorders. Christine brings many years of clinical experience to the team at Recovery Cove, where she is currently the Clinical Director. In her role, she oversees the clinical department as a leader, educator and mentor, designing programming and protocols for a diverse client population.