• Text Resize A A A
  • Print Print
  • Share Share Share Share

May 2019: Promote Mental Health and Prevent Substance Use in Teens

Adolescents most often use substances for the first time in June or JulyMay 12-18, 2019 is National Prevention Week (NPW), hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It is a time for youth-serving professionals, parents, and other caring adults to raise awareness about the importance of substance use prevention and positive mental health. 

Positive connections with adults can help adolescents stay drug-free. Talk with teens about alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and other drugs, including opioids. That way, they understand the risks and feel empowered to make healthy choices. Investing in adolescent health yields a “triple dividend” of healthy adolescents now, future healthy adults, and healthy children in the next generation. 

National Prevention Week

This year, National Prevention Week will focus on “Inspiring Action. Changing Lives.” Everyone can take small actions every day to change adolescent lives for the better. Each day of NPW has a theme focusing on major substance use and mental health topics.

  • Monday, May 13, 2019: Preventing Prescription and Opioid Drug Misuse
  • Tuesday, May 14, 2019: Preventing Underage Drinking and Alcohol Misuse
  • Wednesday, May 15, 2019: Preventing Illicit Drug Use and Youth Marijuana Use
  • Thursday, May 16, 2019: Preventing Youth Tobacco Use
  • Friday, May 17, 2019: Preventing Suicide

The OAH Adolescent Health Library has resources on substance use and mental health for youth-serving professionals, parents, and other caring adults to participate in NPW’s daily themes.

Substance Use in Adolescence

The 2018 Monitoring the Future results contain promising trends in adolescent substance use. Past-year use of illicit drugs other than marijuana has held steady at the lowest levels in more than two decades; however, there is still more work to be done:

  • Adolescents use alcohol more than any other drug. One in three high school seniors reported having had a drink in the past month. 
  • Marijuana is the second most commonly used substance among adolescents. 
  • While tobacco use by adolescents has declined in the past 40 years, 13.2 percent of high school students in 2017 reported vaping nicotine at least once in the past month. 
  • Any adolescent can be at risk of misusing opioids.

Developing adolescent brains are more susceptible to addiction than adult brains. Although alcohol and/or drug experimentation does not always lead to addiction, most adults who have a substance use disorder started using before age 18 and developed their disorder by age 20. 

The TAG Talk video titled, "Adolescent Substance Use, Addiction, and Treatment," features Sarah Bagley, M.D., and explores why adolescents and young adults use substances, what risks they face from doing so, and how early intervention can help prevent the short- and long-term risks of substance use. Dr. Bagley describes components of youth-specific treatments in this TAG Talk video. When looking for a treatment program, it is important to consider programs with professional staff trained to work with adolescents, services that address both physical and mental health needs, and services that support both the young person and their family.

While most adolescents experience positive mental health, one in five has had a serious mental health disorder at some point in their life. When someone has a mental health and substance use disorder at the same time, they have co-occurring disorders. Youth who have experienced a major depressive episode are twice as likely to start using alcohol or an illicit drug. According to SAMHSA, the number of adolescents ages 12-17 who experienced a major depressive episode was higher in 2016 than in any year in the previous decade. Prevention efforts and early treatment are beneficial for people who are at risk for both substance use and mental health disorders. Access these resources to support adolescent mental health.

Spread the Word with These Posts

May 12-18, 2019 is National Prevention Week! Positive connections with adults can help adolescents stay drug-free. Celebrate this week by taking small actions every day to improve the lives of adolescents. https://www.samhsa.gov/prevention-week @TeenHealthGov

Teen brains are more susceptible to addiction than adult brains. Learn about the most effective approaches to treating addiction from Dr. Sarah Bagley’s TAG Talk: https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/tag/resources/multimedia/index.html#bagley #TAG42Mil @TeenHealthGov

Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on June 17, 2019