Preventing Problematic Substance Use

Preventing Problematic Substance Use

Substance use prevention aims to eliminate problems before they begin, rather than waiting until problems are present. The table below illustrates a range of risk and protective factors from individual traits to societal structures. These factors have an impact on an individual throughout the lifespan. The goal of prevention is to build protective factors and reduce risk factors.

Risk and Protective Factors associated with problematic substance in youth




Resilience is the ability to overcome challenges and move forward. Higher resilience is linked with lower levels of problematic substance use in youth.

You can foster resilience in your family by:

  • Taking care of your health. Parents and caregivers are more likely to be responsive to their children and youth’s needs and to foster loving relationships with them when they are feeling well.
  • Ensuring your children and youth have at least one strong, positive relationship with a loving and supportive adult. Other adults can fill this role if a parent is unable to (e.g., grandparent, teacher, family friend, neighbour).
  • Adopting a parenting approach that promotes resilience. This approach includes:
    • Being responsive to children and youth’s needs
    • Being loving and showing emotional warmth
    • Providing comfort and support when children and youth are upset
    • Having developmentally appropriate expectations
    • Providing clear rules and reasons for these rules, while also being flexible when needed
    • Using persuasion and reason, instead of physical or verbal abuse
  • Talking regularly about feelings and concerns. This will help children and youth learn to identify their own feelings and express them to others.
  • Teaching your children and youth to have positive thoughts about themselves. When children and youth feel appreciated and accepted for who they are by those around them, they are more likely to feel good about themselves.  Acknowledge their efforts and accomplishments, help them set realistic goals and persevere to attain them, and learn from setbacks.
  • Modeling healthy relationships with an open display of caring and good communication between parents or caregivers.
  • Providing opportunities for your children and youth to develop social skills and make friends.
  • Encouraging sharing and cooperation among siblings and discouraging competition.
  • Building a social network that you and your family can turn to for connection and support.
  • Exposing children and youth to different activities and learning environments to help them develop imagination, awareness, and problem-solving and decision-making skills.


Raising Resilient Children and Youth | CAMH

7 Protective Factors That Promote Children’s Resilience (


Mental Health Status is linked with substance use. People living with mental illness may use substances as a way to cope. Individuals who use substances frequently and/or at an early age are at greater risk of developing substance use disorders. 


Genetics play a role in problematic substance use, but no single gene is responsible. Some individuals may be more likely to develop a substance use disorder due to genetics.  People can lower the likelihood of developing substance use disorder for themselves and their family, whether genetically predisposed or not, by increasing their protective factors and addressing their risk factors for substance use.


Positive experiences and relationships during Early Childhood Development (ages zero to five years) lead to better future physical health, mental health, and social health.  When we respond to our child’s needs and spend quality time playing, communicating, and connecting, we help our child feel loved and secure.

Adolescence can be a particularly challenging time and it is important to understand how to have conversations with children about opioid use.


Children who experience Physical and Sexual Abuse and Other Types of Violence are more likely to engage in problematic substance use. 

  • Protect your child’s health now and for the future; if you need help, connect with Bruce Grey Child and Family Services (toll free at 1-855-322-4453).
  • The Brain Story shows how experiences and human relationships shape our brains.  We can change how the story unfolds by supporting children in the course of development, regardless of background and life circumstances, so that everyone has the chance to lead happier, healthier lives, build stronger communities, and reduce the risk for mental health problems, including addiction.


Having a Family Member with Problematic Substance Use can lead to a greater chance of a youth developing problematic substance use.

  • Help is available in your community; contact ConnexOntario at 1-866-531-2600 for mental health and addiction services.


A sense of School Connectedness (feeling accepted, respected, included, and supported by others at school) helps prevent early initiation of substance use. Parents have an important role and responsibility in school connectedness by:

  • being engaged in their children’s education,
  • maintaining regular contact with children’s teachers and school staff,
  • helping with school functions and trips, and
  • seeking out opportunities for children to engage in extracurricular opportunities and positive peer networks.


Likewise, Social and Community Connectedness prevents problematic substance use by creating a sense of belonging.  When people from different walks of life come together, they can help build community resilience by sharing skills, knowledge, and experiences. 

  • Check out community groups and events based on your location and interests.
  • The Grey Bruce ‘We CARE’ Project is an initiative of community agencies and school boards who recognize the importance of working together toward the common goal of increasing and enhancing community promotion of youth mental health and prevention of youth suicide.  Their vision is that all members of the Grey Bruce community will make a commitment to CARE (Connect – Ask – Reach Out – Encourage).


Availability of and Access to Health and Social Services is a factor in receiving timely and individualized treatment.  Early intervention leads to more positive outcomes.

  • Call or text 211 for support accessing community supports and services.


Increased Availability of and Access to Substances can lead to increased substance use.  National guidelines help prescribers keep their patients within safe limits for their pain medication. Follow these recommendations to keep your household safe:

  • Keep medication in its original packaging, stored safely in a dark and dry area and in a locked cabinet, out of children’s reach.
  • Take unneeded or expired medication to a local pharmacy for disposal as soon as possible.
  • Read all medication instructions thoroughly and if unsure, ask your healthcare professional.
  • Only take the prescribed dose to prevent adverse reactions and complications. Taking too much of any medication can put one at risk for negative side effects.
  • Recognize the side effects of the medication that you are prescribed.
  • Tell your healthcare provider all the drugs you are taking to prevent negative interactions between medications.
  • If anyone in the household has a prescription that include opioids, make sure to get a naloxone kit and training on how to use it. 


Marketing Practices influence Social Norms by framing substance use in a positive way. Studies show a link between more marketing and media exposure and a greater likelihood of using legal and illegal substances. Talk with your teen about substance use early and regularly, so they know how to keep themselves safe.  Drug Free Kids Canada also has helpful tips about how to make your conversations age-appropriate, what to say about drugs if you’ve used drugs, and how to approach the conversation if you think your child is using drugs.


The Canadian Residential School System, Colonization and Intergenerational Trauma continue to have damaging effects on many Indigenous communities and individuals, including greater risk of harmful substance use. Research shows that for Indigenous youth, connection with traditional Indigenous teachings, culture, and ceremony is a protective factor related to substance use.  

  • Learn about community-based programs that have been shown to prevent and reduce problematic substance use among Indigenous youth.
  • The We Matter Campaign is an Indigenous youth-led and nationally registered organization dedicated to Indigenous youth support, hope and life promotion. We Matter has resources and toolkits for Indigenous Youth, teachers and other community members to help support Indigenous youth and create spaces of support for those going through hard times while fostering unity and resiliency.
  • In Grey Bruce, M’Wikwedong Indigenous Friendship Centre and Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre have many programs and services to support social, spiritual, mental and physical needs.


The risk of problematic substance use is greater for populations who experience Discrimination or Stigma based on mental health status, disability, ethnicity/race, and/or 2SLGBTQ+ identity. People who use substances experience stigma, leading to reduced confidence and feelings of shame, making them less likely to seek help. Many organisations are making internal changes to address cultural safety and addressing institutional barriers. Help reduce stigma by changing how you talk about substance use.


Income and Housing Policies, and other inequalities related to the social determinants of health, are associated with harmful substance use. People who lack access to safe, stable, affordable housing often turn to substances to cope. There are a number of examples of current major policy reform in Canada that have the potential to significantly impact the housing crisis: Poverty Reduction Strategy, Housing First, National Housing Strategy. Call or text 211 to find out what community supports and services are available to you and your family.


Government Policies

There are factors that affect problematic substance use that are out of a family’s control.  Federal and provincial policy/legislation/programs help to provide population-level protection for problematic substance use.

Proactive guidance, education and prevention on cannabis use is important to reduce harms related to the use of cannabis products.  The Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines (LRCUG) provide recommendations to individuals to help reduce health risks associated with cannabis use.

Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health provides support to help individuals make informed decisions surrounding their alcohol use and health. This updated guidance is based in harm reduction strategies by providing Canadians with the knowledge that any and all alcohol use comes with health related risks.

National guidelines help prescribers keep their patients within safe limits for their pain medication.



Policy Action

Below is a table of policy actions that can be taken to prevent problematic substance use in youth, along with examples of local strategies in Grey and Bruce counties.








School health policies

Combination of positive youth development and education, depending on province or territory.

  • School Board Mental Health Teams in Schools with education and supports
  • School board policies about substance use on property, with Public Health enforcement where necessary.
  • Mental Health Champions partnership project
  • School Health Centres (GBPH) for secondary students.
  • Resources, training and support for Vaping Prevention conversations and classroom lessons (ie; Not an Experiment, Catch My Breath).
  • CMHA Choices Substance Counsellors, GBPH Quit groups for secondary students.


Health warnings




Guidelines instructing lower-risk use (or minimal to no use).












Substance content control


  • Federal legislative and regulatory measures for cannabis to limit and control access, inform consumers, protect against accidental consumption, and reduce the appeal of cannabis to youth
  • Intention to restrict the alcohol concentration of highly-sweetened alcoholic beverages
  • Limit on nicotine levels in vaping liquids - 20 mg – current level but the Chief Medical Officers of Health of Canada recommend a ban on nicotine salts (found in many pod type and disposal products used by youth).
  • Proposed ban on most e-cigarette flavours (except for tobacco, mint/menthol)



  • Municipalities have powers to implement bylaws:

The responsibilities and powers of Ontario municipalities to address tobacco use.




Legal age of use


  • Enforcing legal age for cannabis possession, sale and distribution within each jurisdiction
  • Legal age enforcement for alcohol consumption 


  • Some provinces such as Prince Edward Island have raised the minimum age for purchase of vaping products and commercial tobacco products to 21.  This is a recommended strategy from the Chief Medical Officers of Canada.


Private versus public sales

  • Minimum federal legislative conditions for cannabis retailers regardless of P/T retail model, including federal legislative restrictions at points-of-sale
  • Spectrum of approaches in Canada for selling of alcohol, including government monopoly and private sales
  • Spectrum of availability for both commercial tobacco products and vaping products through private sales avenues including physical premises such as convenience stores, speciality vape stores in Ontario, as well as online sales.


Control of supply

  • Federal oversight of the cannabis supply chain, including: licensing of cannabis producers, product safety and quality control requirements, and mandatory reporting of the movement of cannabis through the supply chain
  • Prescription monitoring systems for opioids to promote appropriate prescribing
  • The Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA) regulates the manufacture, sale, labelling and promotion of (commercial) tobacco products and vaping products sold in Canada  (also in Ontario, certain vaping liquids must be sold only in Specialty Vape Stores.



Minimum pricing and taxation

  • Federal excise taxes for cannabis products, and recovery of regulatory costs from licensed producers
  • Higher alcohol beverage prices and taxes
  • Federal excise taxes for commercial tobacco products, and recovery of regulatory costs from licensed producers
  • Federal excise taxes for vaping products




Helpful Resources

See below for a list of resources and supports available with contact information:

Call or text 211 to access community supports and services.

Contact ConnexOntario at 1-866-531-2600 for mental health and addiction services.

Contact CMHA Ontario or call 1-800-875-6213 to speak with a Canadian Mental Health Associate

Bruce Grey Child and Family Services ( or toll free at 1-855-322-4453

Victim Services Bruce Grey Perth and 519-832-2500 for all non-urgent police matters

Victim/Witness Assistance Program

If you are in crisis, call the 24/7 Mental Health Crisis Line of Grey Bruce at 1-877-470-5200.

Anti-Human Trafficking Resource Manuals NOW AVAILABLE | Violence Prevention Grey Bruce

Relevant GBPH pages:



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