As drug abuse rates rise across the U.S., many see prevention as the best solution. Stopping an individual from using drugs or abusing a prescription, in the first place, is likely easier and less costly than the process of treating addiction.
When it comes to addiction prevention, there are many possibilities, and research is ongoing. Just as with addiction treatment, each person is different, and not every prevention method will work for everyone. Many prevention methods have shown real promise in helping individuals make better choices for their lives and avoiding addiction altogether.
The Most Successful Prevention Methods
The best substance abuse prevention methods include:
Educating individuals about substance use and addiction empowers them to make better choices. By teaching vulnerable populations about the dangers and reality of addiction, particularly as the country faces an unprecedented epidemic of opioid addiction and overdoses, people can avoid many of the common entryways into addiction.
People may not be aware of the dangers of prescription painkillers, seeing them as less dangerous than illicit street drugs like heroin or methamphetamine. Education about these pills is paramount as drug cartels, and other illegal drug manufacturers are now making pills that look like prescription medications but are cut with fentanyl, an incredibly potent and dangerous opioid analog responsible for many drug overdose deaths in the country.
Monitoring Prescription Use
Anyone beginning a prescription to a habit-forming substance should discuss the possibility of dependency with their prescribing doctor and ask important questions about the risk of abuse and addiction. Do users develop tolerance? Is this a long-term or short-term treatment plan? What are the symptoms of dependency forming? Are there other, non-habit-forming alternatives available?
Many individuals turn to drugs and substances as a form of self-medication. Some may use the substances to subdue or numb unresolved feelings of pain, shame, or confusion from past trauma or abuse. Individuals may have untreated mental health issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and use substances to deal with the frustration they experience as they struggle with a condition they don’t understand. Others may deal with depression and anxiety daily and feel they need substances just to function normally.
Therapy can help to resolve the underlying issues that can push someone into addiction. By getting to the root of the problem and helping to relieve deep feelings of pain, frustration, and anxiety, therapy can prevent someone from seeking destructive comfort in drugs and alcohol.
Exercise and Positive Habits
The introduction of exercise and other positive habits, such as a healthy sleeping and eating schedule, creative hobbies, and positive thinking, can help individuals to develop a stronger sense of self. Many people fall into addiction because they feel stuck and unhappy with themselves. Exercise helps individuals feel an enhanced sense of well-being, and it also provides them with an outlet to let out pent-up energy that could otherwise result in frustration or depression.
Methods That Don't Work
While there are many ways to approach addiction prevention, some attempts may do more harm than good. Shaming an individual isn’t an effective way to prevent addiction. This can create more confusion and feelings of worthlessness, which ultimately may make them more likely to try addictive substances.
Fear-based methods may also be ineffective, especially when overly dramatic or hysterical messaging is used. For example, simply telling an individual about the number of drug-related deaths to induce fear may have little effect. But showing that individual a story about a real person who became dependent on a drug, struggled with addiction, and died of an overdose puts a human face on addiction. The individual is then more likely to feel empathy and understand the impact of drug abuse.
A Growing Problem
With drug abuse and fatal overdoses reaching epidemic levels across the country in rural, urban, and suburban areas alike, more people in the U.S. are feeling the wide-reaching effects of addiction than ever before.
Fatal drug overdoses continue to rise. In 2017, health officials reported it was the only aspect of American health that is getting significantly worse. According to a U.S. Surgeon General report on drug addiction and substance use, one in seven U.S. adults will struggle with a substance dependency problem in their lifetime.
One of the few benefits of this drug crisis has been an increased awareness of substance abuse and addiction. More people have watched their friends, neighbors, and family members get drawn into the world of addiction. This has brought about an increased understanding of addiction as a disease that can affect anyone.
Another harsh realization for many has been just how hard it is to break an addiction, especially to some of the most commonly used substances and drugs. The withdrawal process from heroin and opioid prescription pills can be incredibly difficult and even dangerous.
Many users continue with medication-assisted treatment after detox, continuing to get opioid or opioid-like prescriptions from their doctor after treatment.
Methamphetamine, another commonly abused and highly addictive substance, may have long-term effects on a user’s brain chemistry, adding further challenges to an already arduous detox process.
Addiction may be more dangerous and harder to break than ever as stronger and more potent drugs continue to hit the market.
For opioid users, the common use of fentanyl — a highly potent synthetic opioid — in illicit drug manufacturing has increased the risk of addiction and overdose. As for methamphetamine, drug cartels have dominated the market with purer and more addictive versions than previously available.
Issues That Influence Addiction
Prevention options will vary depending upon an individual’s age, life situation, and family history.
Younger people, especially teens, are often considered one of the most important groups to target with addiction prevention. This is due to several factors. Teens are likely to be offered or introduced to drugs or substances during these formative years, during which many may feel isolated or experience mental health issues.
The frontal regions of a teen’s brain are usually not fully formed. These parts of the brain play an essential role in impulse control and risk assessment. There is also research indicating that the earlier someone tries drugs or substances, the more likely they are to develop serious addiction problems.
In addition to younger individuals, other vulnerable populations benefit from prevention efforts. Seniors, for example, are at higher risk for drug dependency and overdose than many realize.
They have been often prescribed pills by several doctors who may not be aware of all prescriptions the person is taking, increasing the risk of overdose.
Many seniors are prescribed habit-forming sleeping medications or anti-anxiety pills, such as benzodiazepines. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 63 benzodiazepine-related deaths in 1999; by 2015, that number had risen to 431. Other vulnerable groups include individuals with mental problems, including depression and anxiety, as well as those who have experienced trauma or abuse at any point in their life.
People with a family history of substance abuse are at a higher risk of addiction and can significantly benefit from substance abuse prevention methods.
Growing rates of drug addiction and overdose, along with more potent drugs on the market, have emphasized the need for addiction prevention.
While teens and adolescents remain a primary target group for addiction prevention, other vulnerable groups, such as the older generations and those with risk factors for addiction, benefit from effective prevention methods like education, therapy, and prescription monitoring practices.