Bold Step 1: Partner
People sitting on couches having a conversationYoung people’s substance abuse is an issue that connects schools, parents, law enforcement, and mental health providers. Prevention and intervention efforts can benefit greatly from the involvement of a broad coalition of community members, including not only these essential stakeholders but also municipal agencies, health care providers, students, and families.
Substance abuse in our youth population is a complex problem, causing damage to young people in many areas of their lives. Students who use alcohol or other drugs are at heightened risk for absenteeism and poor school achievement. Mental health is often a factor, as young people may be using substances to self-medicate for emotional, behavioral, or mental health disorders, or to mask the stress of family, environmental, or personal problems. And because the consumption of alcohol as well as drugs is illegal for minors, these children are likely to become involved with police and juvenile justice systems, bringing serious challenges to their chances at future success.
To combat substance abuse at all levels, it is essential to plan comprehensive, cross-sector efforts to change the environment in which students make choices about alcohol and other drugs. Combining school and community programming is more effective than delivering either in isolation, and can create lasting environmental change so that substance abuse is neither fostered nor accepted.
  • When considering potential partners to work with on this issue, remember that it will be important to bring together a continuum of substance abuse approaches, beginning with prevention and including intervention and treatment. The “Where Does Our Work Intersect?” tool may be helpful even before you assemble your team, as you plan strategically for a good balance. Significant cultural groups and other constituencies should be represented too, so that your programs can reach young people throughout your community. Here are a few ideas of partners to include — use your own network to tailor the list to your situation.
    • Local businesses may make good partners, and liquor stores in particular are often willing to be involved in prevention strategies targeting the sale of alcohol to minors.
    • School administrators may have data on youth substance abuse, and are in many cases already charged with reducing alcohol and drug use among their students.
    • Parents may want to connect with other parents, and with schools, to prevent teen drug use.
    • Public health departments may have expertise in social norms marketing and other environmental approaches to substance abuse prevention.
    • Many communities have funded substance abuse prevention coalitions that may already target youth substance abuse.
    Both the “Who Cares as Much as You Do?” tool and the “Think Broadly” activity may help you expand your list further to think of partners you may not have worked with in the past but who can bring key strengths to your coalition. Once you have identified a promising list of potential collaborators, take the time to prepare your invitation to each one so that the power of your initiative will come through loud and clear. Use the “Share Your Message” activity” and the "How Do We Make Our Case?” tool to make the most of each opportunity for contact.


  • Partnering on substance abuse prevention efforts brings together leaders from four key domains—law enforcement, schools, mental health, and parents---who may struggle with finding common ground, as each is charged with a different mission.  That’s okay – this range will become an asset as you design comprehensive programming. Make the effort up front to articulate the vision that unites you:  a community where youth are not harming themselves or others through the use of drugs or alcohol.  The “Where Does Our Work Intersect?” tool can help you map resources and familiarize yourselves with each other’s areas of focus, while the “Connect the Dots” activity will give you techniques for the important task of creating a shared vision. Acknowledge the importance of the role each partner plays; work to identify how each partner can contribute to prevention and to intervention and treatment programs and services.
    There are some challenging issues you may want to address early on:
    • Legal or professional obligations: What kind of action is each partner required to take regarding a youth caught using substances—under the law, by professional standards, or by the agency’s or school district’s policies?
    • Sharing student information: Federal laws protecting student privacy are particularly stringent regarding substance use, and may be difficult to negotiate even between school-based counselors, and school-based substance abuse providers. See Information Sharing for useful explanations and tips.
    • Sharing data:  Law enforcement professionals and parents may want data on student drug and alcohol use to be made public, while schools may wish to keep this kind of data out of the public eye.
    Use the “How Do We Create an Agreement for Working Together?” tool to create a document that describes how you will address such issues.
    How Do We Work Together? Building the capacity of your partnership
    How Do We Create an Agreement for Working Together? Memorandum of Agreement/Understanding Components and Template
    How Do We Make Decisions?
    Addressing Letters to Policymakers
    Where Does Our Work Intersect? Systems Integration Tool
Bold Step 2: Plan
A group of people sitting together and planningTo get started, partners will need a full understanding of your community’s particular needs and resources in substance abuse prevention.  A plan based on this information will help you identify your desired outcomes and line up resources and supports to achieve them. Your plan should also include strategies for handling unanticipated challenges.
An excellent resource is the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The SPF provides an overarching model and series of steps to develop a data-driven plan for substance abuse prevention that incorporates a sustainable, culturally competent, capacity-building approach.  It is meant to be used by a coalition, not a single agency or school district.
Bold Step 3: Act
A middle aged lady talks to two teenage girls at a community event

The third step is where the rubber meets the road!  It’s time for you and your partners to implement your plan.  Strive for excellence in implementation.  

Monitor what’s happening and use your data to adjust programming if necessary.  Be sure to communicate regularly with your partners and engage them to promote your success.