Addiction is a preventable disease. Prevention programs involving families, schools and communities have been effective at reducing alcohol and drug misuse or abuse. Because it takes such a heavy toll in our society, all people – whether susceptible to addiction or not – have a personal responsibility to help those who are harmed by dependencies on substances.

Personal responsibility

SAIR believes everyone in our society should be knowledgeable about substance misuse and abuse.

It is rare now to find someone who doesn’t personally know at least one person who hasn’t had problems with drugs or alcohol or someone who isn’t suffering because of another’s substance misuse. Addiction costs hundreds of billions of dollars in the United States, kills more than 100,000 Americans a year and causes human suffering and apprehension beyond calculation.

Overcoming addiction is not something most people can do alone. Research, in fact, shows that solitary attempts at recovery usually do not work. For most of those with drug and alcohol problems, it takes a community of sympathetic, knowledgeable people to support successful recovery efforts.

The same is true for the spouses, children, friends, neighbors, colleagues and employers who are trying to help drug- and alcohol-dependent people. They also need a network of people to give them hope and support as they aid in the recovery process.

Personal responsibility is at the core of substance abuse prevention and recovery.

Those with potential drug or alcohol problems need to be responsible for their own personal well-being. They have to want to recover. By the same token, they are also responsible for the negative consequences for their misuse of substances, if it continues.

Adults have a personal responsibility to educate their children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, to monitor their behavior and, if necessary, to confront young people if they see problems developing.

People trying to support those in recovery may also have to examine their own lives and, if appropriate, to stop enabling a loved one’s destructive behavior.

In a more general sense, SAIR believes that all people have an obligation toward those who misuse drugs and alcohol and to the people around them. Just as the biblical Good Samaritan lent a hand to an injured stranger, we all have a personal responsibility not to turn our backs on our fellow travelers through life in their times of need due to this public health problem.

Why prevention is the key

If we can stop the progression of dependence on a substance, we eliminate the need for treatment and recovery in the first place. The vast majority of resources related to substance misuse and abuse are expended in areas that arise once drug or alcohol problems have occurred: treatment, recovery and the criminal justice system (police, prosecutions and prisons). Relatively little goes to education and prevention.

Research shows that the earlier a person starts using drugs or alcohol improperly, the better their chances of developing problems over the course of their lives. Similarly, the sooner a person begins to deal with drug or alcohol problems, if they develop, the better their chances of avoiding the negative consequences of their misuse and of recovering from dependencies.

SAIR believes the best way to fight problems with substance misuse is to prevent them from happening, and that the best way to prevent them from happening is through education. The more people understand about why addictions occur, the better they can recognize the signs of misuse and dependence in themselves and in others.

“Preventing” alcohol and drug misuse can entail many things. On its most basic level, it means keeping drugs or alcohol away from those who are predisposed to misusing substances. It also can mean parents telling children at early ages about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and of any family histories of addictions that can indicate their children are higher risk of developing problems themselves. It can mean adhering to zero-tolerance policies toward drugs or alcohol established by employers.

But at every level, prevention starts with education about substance abuse and addictions.

More on prevention

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids presents complete, accurate and thorough information about alcohol and drug misuse by young people and ways to prevent it. In addition to science-based data about the unique ways substances affect young brains and bodies, the non-profit group also provides practical advice on how parents can talk to children and teens about alcohol and drugs and a helpline -- 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373 -- offering one-on-one guidance to parents whose children are struggling with substance misuse. In 2019, the Partnership announced a merger with the Center on Addiction with the new entity called "Center on Addiction."

The U.S. Surgeon General’s report “Facing Addiction in America” has a detailed discussion on prevention of substance misuse, including programs tailored to high-risk populations such as young people.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) believes substance abuse and mental health disorders often go hand-in-hand. It projects that by 2020, mental health and substance use disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide.

The independent on-line website Psych Central has a number of useful and concise reports about substance abuse and mental health, including “5 Steps to Stop Drug Addiction Before it Starts” and “5 Didn’t-See-It-Coming Relapse Triggers (and How to Avoid Them)”.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention periodically produces a state-by-state survey of alcohol and drug abuse and of the effectiveness of prevention programs.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains why prevention is especially important to protecting the vulnerable brains of youngsters.

NIDA devotes a site to information about substance use and teens, and maintains a “Sara Bellum blog” to provide updated information about teen addictions. For drugs and their effects on even younger children, see NIDA’s “Principles of Substance Abuse Prevention for Early Childhood”. The institute also provides useful pointers on what adults should tell children about the adults’ own past use of drugs.

The New York state Office of Addiction Services and Supports has a current “Talk2Prevent” website designed to give parents information on how to discuss the risks of underage drinking with their children and how to prevent it.