Substance use and abuse is one of the four components of the healthy living strand of the Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8,
Health and Physical Education. The other sections are:
- healthy eating
- growth and development
- personal safety and injury prevention.
In grades 9 and 10, the other strands are:
Substance abuse is an issue that touches the lives of many individuals and families in Ontario. It is estimated that four
out of every 10 people in Ontario have or have had a family member or a friend who has experienced a problem related to substance
As many as one of every five adults in Ontario may have personal experience of these problems as well (Ontario Substance Abuse
Bureau, 1999). Research shows that prevention needs to start early. Schools have a unique prevention opportunity to provide
ongoing school-based drug education that teaches children the necessary substance use/abuse knowledge and skills to make healthy
What is particularly clear is that the "Just Say No" approach to drug education does not work, since there are many variables
at play when someone decides to use a substance. Educators are also clear that the term "psychoactive drug" encompasses all
substances, other than food, that, when taken, change the way a person thinks, acts or feels. Therefore, the "Just Say No
To Drugs" approach is too simplistic and not helpful for young people or others who might be trying to decide whether or not
drug use would be a problem for them. Keep in mind that one program can't address all the issues. Making lasting changes in
behaviour and attitudes takes a comprehensive approach, a continued effort, and a variety of committed partnerships in your
community that are sustained over time.
The Ontario Curriculum states that, "Education is critical to the prevention of drug abuse. Parents, guardians, educators
and society in general all have key roles to play in educating students about drug use and abuse."
Alcohol and tobacco are the drugs most readily available to Ontario students, and smoking is the primary cause of preventable
illnesses, disabilities and premature deaths in Canada. Learning expectations for substance use and abuse respond to these
facts by focussing on understanding the effects of drugs - prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, illicit drugs, tobacco,
alcohol - and the consequences of using them. Students can make and maintain healthy choices if they integrate this knowledge
while developing a variety of living skills.
"By using problem-solving, decision-making, refusal and assertiveness skills effectively, learners can select healthy drug-free
behaviours based on accurate information." (The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8, Health and Physical Education, Ontario Ministry
of Education, 1998)
Substance use is but one of many "adult behaviours" adopted by youth. As youth generally use substances to express their independence
and autonomy, this use should not be automatically equated with "substance abuse". Most adolescents who use substances do
not progress to problem use or dependency. But for those youth who do develop a substance use problem, it is common to also
find a mental health problem. The combination of problem substance use and a mental health concern is referred to as a concurrent
disorder. What comes first - the substance use problem or the mental health concern - varies and may be difficult to determine.
The two are often intertwined and related. Accordingly, the treatment of both problems must be integrated. If one problem
is present, investigate the possibility of the another also being present.
Research has indicated that students who feel attached to their schools are less likely to engage in anti-social behaviour
or drug use practices. On the other hand a feeling of alienation or not belonging can lead to behaviour problems, substance
use and anti-social activities. The quality of the students' relationships with teachers and their peers influences their
sense of belonging. A protective effect is provided by:
warm relationships of mutual respect
teachers who recognize that children contribute to finding solutions which balance justice, care and truthfulness and conduct
their classes based on this philosophy
teachers who model positive interpersonal behaviour
teacher styles that stimulate active student participation
classes that promote democratic attitudes and values
classes that foster the normative value of helping
Most teachers already have the necessary skills to teach drug education effectively. However, as in any sensitive subject,
developing comfort and confidence with the materials requires ongoing learning. Building a knowledge base on substance use
and abuse requires:
reviewing relevant information related to substance use and abuse from the perspective of the individual, family, culture
participating in training opportunities
classroom practice and evaluation
examining personal values and beliefs related to substance use and abuse
reflecting on personal or familial experiences with alcohol and other drugs
bringing enthusiasm and commitment to the material
awareness of themselves as individual role models.
Classroom teachers have an opportunity, through their own role modelling, knowledge, and teaching of the substance use and
abuse curriculum, to make a positive difference in the lifestyle choices of their students.
Silverman, G., Coston, N. & Hershfield, L. (1991). Teacher Training in Prevention: Meeting the Challenge of Alcohol and Other Drugs. Toronto, ON, Addiction Research Foundation.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (1999). Alcohol and Drug Prevention Programs for Youth: What Works? (Best Advice). Toronto, ON, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2001). Youth Scoop #1. Programs that Work with Youth: Is there a secret formula? Toronto, ON, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2002). Youth Scoop #4. Substance Use and Mental Health Concerns in Youth. Toronto, ON, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.