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Substance Use

Above the Influence

Substance use among youth can affect mental health, sexual health, dating relationships, and violence. Safety is most important. Some ways of using substances are safer than others. Many adolescents and teenagers try alcohol and drugs, but not all of them use substances frequently. For instance, 7 in 10 high school students have tried alcohol.

Some youth may not be as interested as others in experimenting with drugs and alcohol, but don’t want to “miss out” on what they think their friends are doing. Allow for a safe space for youth to ask questions about drugs and alcohol without fear of judgment or punishment. Be clear that you must report if youth are in danger of self-harm, but that your intention is to help, not police.

Substance use can influence mental and physical health in negative ways:

  • Anxious and depressed teens are twice as likely as their peers to try marijuana by age 16. These teens may be using drugs as a way to deal with sadness or stress.
  • 1 in 5 high school students have used prescription drugs without a doctor's prescription. Taking medicaton without a perscription can cause sickness, brain damage, and even death.

Being under the influence of alcohol or other substances can impair youths’ judgment, increasing the chances of having unprotected sex.

  • 22% of sexually active high school students reported using alcohol or drugs during their most recent sexual encounter.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 youth report having had sex without a condom because they were drinking alcohol our using drugs. Although youth are often aware of what constitutes a healthy sexual choice, the connection between choices and consequences can be impaired when influenced by drugs and alcohol.

Alcohol use is connected to 2/3 of sexual assaults among adolescents. Most often those who commit sexually violent acts plan ahead by identifying and isolating victims, and using only as much force as necessary to complete the attack. Alcohol is a common weapon used by perpetrators of sexual violence. Survivors of sexual assault may feel guilt and shame after an attack. We live in a culture that tends to blame victims, but rape is never the survivor’s fault. No one deserves to be assaulted, no matter if they drank to excess or used drugs before the attack.

Download the BE SAFE Substance Use Fact Sheet (PDF) to learn more.


Massachusetts Substance Abuse Information and Education Hotline:

Information and referrals for drug and alcohol problems including information on rehabilitation, counseling, and detox facilities in Massachusetts. Language Interpreters available for many languages.


  • Institute for Health and Recovery Adolescent Services
    Youth Central Intake Care Coordination (CICC) staff facilitates access to the range of publicly funded services offered by the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS) for Massachusetts youth with substance use issues. Through a process of screening, assessment and referral, the youth can establish and access appropriate care and receive support throughout the process.
  • Substance Abuse Program for Adolescents at Children's Hospital (ASAP) 
    ASAP offers diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, including abstinence challenges and toxicology screens, as well as referrals for substance-using teens.

Learn More

  • Free Vibe
    Web resource that offers advice on how to determine and talk to youth about their substance abuse and also provides free resources.
  • SADD Parent Resources
    Information for adults and parents on how to talk to young people about their drug or alcohol use.

Posters and Materials