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Why Academic Success Means More than Getting into College

Today marks the beginning of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). This national observance calls attention to the essential role substance use prevention plays in promoting safe and healthy communities.

The theme for this year’s observance is Prevent. Achieve. Succeed. We know that substance use can stand in the way of academic achievement and success. In addition, poor grades and disinterest in school increase the chances that a teen will use harmful substances. According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), youth ages 12 to 17 who have a “D” or lower grade average are two-to-three times more likely to use illicit drugs and cigarettes, compared to their peers who have a grade average better than “D.” [1]

On the other hand, there are many benefits of strong academic performance, including knowledge gained in class, competitive advantage for getting into college, and better job opportunities in the future. Youth who do well academically and have a sense of belonging in school are less likely to use substances.

In honor of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, we urge you to do something to encourage a young person’s positive growth and development, directly or indirectly. For example, you might decide to hold a potluck with neighbors to share resources on how to talk with children about alcohol use and discuss how to support each other in doing so. Or, you may focus on building your family’s resilience by spending time with your kids, listening to them, and encouraging their interest in constructive activities and hobbies. (Start early—see SAMHSA’s Building Blocks for a Healthy Future for resources and materials to help children ages 3-6 make decisions, gain confidence, and improve self-esteem.)

You can also start thinking ahead to SAMHSA's National Prevention Week—May 17-23, 2015—a time when people across the country come together to make a positive difference in the health and well-being of their community.

No matter how you choose to take part, know that you’re contributing to a positive, nationwide effort—an effort that will continue after October 31st. Prevention efforts never end, and with good reason. With each generation comes the collective responsibility to keep young people out of harm’s way; to educate them about healthy choices; and to build their decision-making skills so that when they come to a fork in the road, they choose the path to a healthy, happy, and successful life.

[1] SAMHSA, 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Detailed Tables, Table 3.25B (September 2014).

David Mineta is the Deputy Director for Demand Reduction, Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Frances M. Harding is the Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.