Management of substance abuse

Prevention and young people

Prevention and reduction of the negative health and social consequences of psychoactive substance use is important given the public health significance of psychoactive substance use in the world. Psychoactive substance use is affected by a variety of factors with multiple levels of influence. Prevention activities have the potential to tackle risk factors of substance use as well as preventing onset, halting progression or reducing further health and social harm of substance use disorders. Evidence-based prevention strategies can be population-based or aimed at high risk groups or individuals, but need to be tailored to the specific population and the cultural context in order to be efficient.

Many countries face an increase in alcohol consumption among young people. For young people 15-29 years of age alcohol consumption is the most important risk factor for years of productive life lost due to premature death and disability in the world. While chronic health consequences resulting from the harmful use of alcohol may not cause death or disability until late in life, acute health consequences like unintentional or intentional injuries take their biggest toll on youth putting an immense health and social burden on this population group.

An array of interventions exists to prevent psychoactive substance use among young people. Primary prevention measures can be directed towards health promotion activities involving educational and psychosocial interventions in different settings. Screening and brief interventions in primary health care, and activities intending to reduce further disease-related conditions and harm for the individual and the society are other measures to be used for secondary and tertiary prevention of psychoactive substance use. Generally, prevention activities are more successful when different interventions are coordinated and sustained over a number of years and if different stakeholders are mobilized and involved.


WHO engages in different activities related to the prevention of psychoactive substance use and young people. Publications and initiatives related to prevention and young people can be accessed through the following links below.