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Middlesex-London Health Unit

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School Health - Substance Use, Addictions and Related Behaviours

A healthy school can help to prevent substance use and misuse by providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to make healthy choices and a supportive environment.

Alcohol and substance misuse prevention programs that only target attitudes and knowledge are ineffective. The most promising alcohol and substance misuse prevention programs are comprehensive; they target the attitudes and knowledge of individuals as well creating supportive environments.

Both, a supportive social and physical environment are needed to help promote healthy choices among students. Providing students with consistent messages about substance use is important to help them develop the skills and knowledge needed to prevent substance misuse. Parents/caregivers and teachers/school staff, as well as students are all responsible for creating a supportive environment.

When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more.1


Students can:

  • Organize or participate in school-wide awareness events or assemblies related to preventing substance misuse.
  • Create a school club where students are able to safely discuss substance use issues in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
  • Display posters at school dances explaining where students can receive help.
  • Talk to your Public Health Nurse or other school staff as needed about substance use issues.

Teachers/school staff can:

  • Complete training in substance use and misuse as needed to feel comfortable providing support to students.
  • Participate in school clubs related to preventing substance use and misuse.
  • Organize or participate in school-wide awareness events or assemblies related to substance use. 
  • Enforce school policies related to substance use.
  • Establish an action plan/protocol to monitor school areas for signs of drug use.
  • Use resources and learning materials that depict healthy choices.
  • Put up posters in the school to promote the advantages of substance-free living.
  • Identifying resources available for students to enable them to seek help for themselves and others.
  • Implementing discipline strategies that provide support for students with addictive behaviours.
  • For more resources: Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Resources- Middlesex-London Health Unit.

Parents can:

  •  Talk to your children and keep the conversation going. To assist families in starting or keeping conversations going about E-cigarettes, see the following parent resources on vaping: 

1st Edition

    • What vaping devices look like
    • Signs of vaping behaviour
    • How children and youth access devices

2nd Edition 

    • Smoke Free Ontario Act, 2017
    • Fines under the SFOA, 2017

3rd Edition 

    • What is in a vape
    • Potential health effects

4th Edition 

    • What parents/guardians can do if your teen is vaping
    • Ways to support your teen 
    • Resources to reduce or quit

  • Act as role models and promote positive behaviours.
  • Be open with and willing to talk to your children about alcohol and drugs. Share your expectations about alcohol and drug use with your child.
  • Participate in school activities that help to prevent substance misuse.
  • Learn how alcohol and other drugs affect growth and development of your children. It is also important to be aware of the different drugs available that teens may try.
  • Support positive friendships. Reinforce what qualities to look for in a friend. Encourage a balance between friendships, family time and school time.
  • Help my teen think about and practice ways to refuse drugs.

Community can:

Provide access to resources, information and support initiatives to prevent alcohol and drug use

Community Partnerships may include:

Policy can:

  • Define rules about prohibited substances on school property and the consequences of violating the rules.
  • Clarify the school’s expectations to school staff, students, parents and community members.
  • Support staff by providing clear procedures to follow when incidents of substance use occur.
  • Identifies resources that are available for students who are experiencing problems with substance use.
  • Outline a planned and coordinated response to substance use, which helps to ensure proper use of community resources.

Substance Use Policy in Your School:

School substance use policies should focus on encouraging student involvement in and connection with the school, which has been shown to help decrease risk of substance use.1 Policies that take a zero‐tolerance or tough‐on‐drugs approach aren’t effective.1 These kinds of policies may cause students to feel disconnected from the school and stop them from asking for help with alcohol and drug issues.1

A substance use policy should include the following components: 3

  •  Intervention, which includes information for staff about identifying potential alcohol and drug issues in students, and for students about substance use and availability of community resources and supports.
  • Prevention, which includes information from the curriculum to address substance use and provide education and skill building for students, teachers and other school staff.
  • Discipline, which provides clear and fair guidelines for disciplining individuals who don’t follow the policy.

School substance use policies should be individualized to each school and respond to the needs of individual students.2 Clear and fair responses to non‐compliance are an important part of the policy.1 The policies should also be consistent with other messages about substance use provided in the school community.1 This will help to create a supportive school environment that promotes health and learning.

Steps for Creating a School Substance Use Policy: 2

Gain commitment and support from the school community.

  1. Complete a needs assessment to identify the experiences and needs of students as well as the needs and wants of people in the school community.
  2. Understand legal obligations (e.g., what needs to be reported to the police).
  3. Ensure that intervention strategies are in place, which includes making links to community resources and programs.
  4. Agree on the content of the school policy, which includes how violations will be reported, investigated and punished.
  5. Write the school policy with input from members of the school community and school board.
  6. Create a communication plan for the school policy. This helps to ensure that everyone in the school community is aware of what is expected of them and what they can expect from others.
  7. Evaluate the school policy and ensure it is updated regularly.

Other Helpful Resources:

    Resource that teachers, parents and students can use to learn more about vaping
Date of creation: February 6, 2013
Last modified on: October 17, 2023


1Joint Consortium for School Health. (2009). Addressing Substance Use in Canadian Schools: School-Family-Community Partnerships. Retrieved from
2Alberta Health Services. (2009). Developing substance use and gambling policies for Alberta schools. Retrieved from
3Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2012). Educating Students about Drug Use and Mental Health – Drug and Alcohol Policies in Ontario Schools. Retrieved from