Prevention Programs & Policies


Prevention interventions can include programs and policies. Programs typically provide education and training directly to students, parents, caregivers, teachers, health care providers or other community members.

The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health provides a comprehensive overview of evidence-based prevention programs, some of which include:

Policies include laws and regulations that influence access to and use of substances. For example, policies can:

  • Impose taxes on and raise the cost of alcohol and/or tobacco

  • Restrict access by adolescents

  • Limit who can sell alcohol, tobacco or marijuana (if legal)

  • Limit when and where alcohol, tobacco or marijuana (if legal) can be sold

  • Enforce fines and other penalties for violating the law

  • Limit potency (e.g. amount of nicotine per cigarette)

  • Limit advertising

  • Require warning labels on substances

Robust prevention interventions address risk factors in an individual’s immediate environment, including his or her home, school, workplace, and community. The importance of each environment varies with age, as exposure to substance use and effective messaging changes across development stages from childhood through early adulthood. The most effective prevention interventions coordinate the efforts of stakeholders throughout a community to promote clear and consistent messaging.

Prevention interventions can be directed towards individuals (indicated prevention), groups (selective prevention), or the entire community (universal prevention). For example:



Prevention interventions can also be focused on different stages of substance use or SUDs. Primary prevention aims to prevent people from developing a SUD. Secondary prevention aims to identify people with a SUD early and intervene before the disease progresses. Tertiary prevention aims to prevent people in recovery from having a recurrence of their SUD by providing long-term support and ongoing monitoring.


Each community is unique, and those responsible for selecting prevention programs and policies should choose interventions that are most likely to meet local needs. Community leaders should be reminded to keep the “Prevention Paradox” in mind as they develop prevention strategies. There is a tendency to believe that limited resources should be directed towards those who are already using substances or most at risk of using substances. But research shows that a narrow focus on those at high risk is less effective as it stands to benefit fewer people. Universal approaches that focus on more people who are at lower risk of developing a SUD tend to have a bigger impact on society than selective approaches that focus on those who are at the greatest risk.