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Substance Use/Addictions

Substance Use, Addictions, and Related Behaviours

Schools have a unique opportunity to positively influence students through educating, role modeling, and creating healthy and supportive learning environments.

What Works?

Alcohol and substance use prevention efforts in schools are best achieved by:

  • Providing opportunities for students to practice decision-making and assertion skills.
    • Providing knowledge and skills prior to the behaviour occurs and at transition periods.
    • Teaching in the context of developmentally appropriate information (for example, abstinence vs. harm reduction)
    • Providing booster sessions over a number of years that reinforce the knowledge and skills.
    • Practicing skills that are relevant to their experience, in a low risk situation, and using “real-world” situations.
  • Presenting honest and factual information while avoiding scare tactics.
  • Providing opportunities for active learning and engaging students in planning and delivering programs and initiatives.
  • Providing substance use awareness activities that consider the following:
    • Guest presentations and/or “lived experience” presentations can work well when the message is clear, known ahead of time, and when there are supporting activities that go beyond the actual presentation to reinforce the messages with students.
    • Messages should be evidence based and consistent with your school board approach.
    • Particular attention should be focused on vulnerable students that may be triggered by the presentation content. Informing parents of the presentation goals and messages prior will help decide whether these students should be allowed to the choice to miss the presentation.
  • Being a positive role model and avoiding modelling positive views about the pleasures of substance use.
  • Creating a school environment where students feel like they belong.
  • Encouraging recreational and extracurricular activities where adult role models help students develop a positive sense of self.
  • Establishing positive relationships with students.
  • Supporting positive peer relationships.
  • Including families in prevention efforts, when possible.
  • Becoming familiar with the general signs and symptoms associated with substance use.
  • Connecting students and families to community supports, when appropriate.


Resources to support implementation can be found in the sections below. Educators may also contact their School’s Public Health Nurse for additional support and consultation.

Be. Do. Lead.

History has taught us that young people are the ones who ignite change. They question the status quo and imagine how things could be done differently. Help turn their passion into action with these 4 youth self-directed E-modules for youth advocacy (15–30 minutes each).

The Ontario Lung Association has also provided these helpful toolkits to support youth advocacy:

What the Vape?!

This interactive e-module on vaping and e-cigarettes, for grades 7–12, can be done as a class or individually. The module is 15–30 minutes long and comes with accompanying ‘PDF notes’ that students can complete to support learning. Students can access a certificate of completion at the end of the e-module. *Note: Although the module states that the legal age to purchase vaping products is 18 in Canada, the legal age in Ontario is 19.

Not An Experiment

Evidence based resource for vaping education appropriate for grades 7–12.  Includes an introductory PowerPoint presentation (complete with speaking notes) and an “Escape Room” activity that can be done all at once or broken up into several classes.

Vaping Teacher Resources

These resources from Niagara Public Health provide a PowerPoint (complete with speaking notes) and a menu of activities to choose from. This one is for grades 4–8 and includes curriculum links.

Tobacco Use and The Industry

Interactive e-module on tobacco use and the tobacco industry. Explores aspects of targeting marketing and how youth can push back. The module is 15–30 minutes long and comes with accompanying ‘pdf notes’ that students can complete to support learning. Students can access a certificate of completion at the end of the e-module.


CYCLES will engage grade 8–12 students in open and interactive dialogue on cannabis use and decision making. The resource includes an evidence informed video accompanied by a facilitator’s guide and an insert from the Health Unit.

Level Up from OPHEA (Substance Use and Well-Being Section) (Grades 1–12)

The Level Up Substance Use and Well-being resource supports educators and program leaders with materials to increase their knowledge and ability to address sensitive topics relating to substance use, within the context of well-being. It uses a proactive approach to create a positive and supportive environment in order to promote healthy living, positive mental health, and emotional well-being. Level Up includes easy-to-use activity cards that are linked to the Health and Physical Education Curriculum Living Skills expectations, as well as, engaging videos and posters. Available free of charge, in English and French.

Lungs Are For Life (K–Grade 10)

This school based resource is designed to develop the skills needed to prevent smoking and the use of drugs. It includes teaching modules, posters and brochures.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) (Grade 1–10)

CAMH offers an integrated set of web based resources for teachers, schools and allied partners to utilize in their prevention/health promotion work with youth.

Parent Action on Drugs (PAD) (Grade 9–12)

PAD develops and disseminates a range of programs and resources for parents, youth, educators, health promoters and communities. We aim to reduce the harms associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs and increase informed decision-making and build resiliency among youth.

Fentanyl Discussion Sheet for Teachers and Fentanyl – Student Fact Sheet (Grades 9–12)

The teenage brain continues to develop throughout the early part of adulthood – especially the areas in charge of impulse control. A student may find themselves in a risky situation where alcohol and drugs may be available. Deciding to use alcohol or other drugs is a personal choice; it is important that students are informed of all the risks and benefits. These fact sheets can help to guide the discussion in the classroom. The student fact sheet may be used as a handout to take home.

The Fourth R (Grades 7–9)

Contact the Health Unit for a consultation on this program.

The Fourth R is a comprehensive school-based prevention program based on extensive research. It applies best-practice approaches to building skills and reducing harm among adolescents. The contention of the Fourth R is that relationship skills can be taught in the same way as reading, writing and arithmetic. During the course of the lessons, students will engage in extensive skill development and role-play activities to help develop effective and healthy responses to situations of conflict and violence. Adolescents require opportunities to learn new skills (e.g., assertiveness, communication, and problem-solving), and practice applying them in a range or realistic situations within a safe environment.

Currently our agency recommends the sections that address Personal Safety and Injury, and Substance Use, Addictions and Related Behaviors. Please see the section on Healthy Eating and Sexual Health for resources supporting those themes.

10 Questions about Cannabis Use and Teens (for Students)

This is a resource for youth with answers to common questions about cannabis use.

Drugs/Alcohol Clever Catch Balls (Grades 5–8)

Contact the Health Unit to obtain a copy of this resource.

Provides an interactive way for students to learn about drugs and alcohol. “Beach Ball” with 31 questions that gives students a thorough introduction to the topic. An answer sheet accompanies the resource.

Student Leadership Starts with You! Facilitator’s Workbook (Grades 5–12)

Contact your School’s Public Health Nurse for local resources.

This tool is a practical guide to engaging students in authentic leadership opportunities. It offers a simple to follow 6 step process and provides template activities, resources and evaluation tools.

*Please note that this resource was designed by Peel Public Health and some of the referenced resources may not be applicable to our area.

10 Questions about Cannabis Use and Teens (for Teachers)

This is a resource for educators with answers to common questions about cannabis use and teens.

Talking to Children and Youth about Substances

This resource is intended for parents, guardians, and adult allies. It provides key strategies to help prevent or delay children and youth from using substances, like alcohol, e-cigarettes, tobacco and cannabis.

Talking Pot with Youth

Youth allies can use this resource to inform and guide their discussions with youth about cannabis. This resource was designed by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction with input from youth and youth allies.

Party Smart (Grades 10–12)

Contact the Health Unit for more information. Party Smart is an interactive half-day event that addresses Safe Partying principles. A Safe Party theme is identified (e.g. distracted driving, binge drinking) by a “Party Smart Team” that includes school staff, a Public Health Nurse, students and community partners. Students and community partners are invited to participate in the planning and implementation of interactive stations that cover 1–2 key messages related to the identified safe party theme. The Health Unit can support school implementation of Party Smart by:

  • Helping to establish and facilitate the “Party Smart Team”
  • Identifying appropriate community partners for the event
  • Engaging and training students in safe partying principles and messages
  • Facilitating a Party Smart station

Love My Life (LML)… Tobacco Free (Grades 6–12)

Contact the Health Unit to request the program in your school. LML is a creative approach to tobacco prevention that engages and empowers youth in positive self-expression. It focuses on resiliency, mental health and coping skills to increase positive well-being with the goal of normalizing tobacco free environments through role-modeling and policy.

Student Engagement/Leadership (JK–Grade 12)

Contact the Health Unit for more information. Student/youth engagement is meaningful and sustained participation by youth in an activity with a focus outside of themselves. When young people are engaged in decision-making, they feel connected to their school environment and community, they build relationships with their peers and adults, and they learn new skills. The Health Unit can support school implementation by:

  • Providing resources to support student engagement
  • Supporting the establishment of student groups/clubs (e.g. Gay-Straight Alliances, OSAID, Student Health Clubs)

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

This website provides evidence-informed information on substance use and addiction that affect the health and safety of Canadians.

School Mental Health Decision Support Tool

This tool will help to support the school decision-making process related to particular mental health awareness products or services, and aims to ensure alignment with the board/school mental health strategy and action plan.

Quash – an online quit program specifically for youth

Feel better. Save money. Take back control. Quash is a made by-youth, for-youth, free quit program that works for vaping or smoking. It helps you create a plan that works for you.

Triple P Parenting

A positive parenting program that gives parents simple tips to help manage the big and small problems of family life. Triple P Parenting can help with parenting questions from 0–16 years of age around topics such as sleep, self-esteem, not listening, aggression, family conflict – and many more! For support in Lanark, Leeds and Grenville, call 1-800-660-5853 and ask about Triple P or visit

Strategies for Parents to Prevent Underage Drinking

There is a good chance youth will be exposed to alcohol during their school years. Parents or guardians can help to prevent or delay their teens’ use of alcohol. This resource has helpful tips for families of students ages 10–18. Contact the Health Unit to obtain hard copies.

You, Your Teen, and Substance Use

This is a guide to help families, of students ages 12–18, to talk about alcohol, marijuana, and prescription pain medications. Contact the Health Unit to obtain hard copies.

10 Questions about Cannabis Use and Teens (for Caregivers)

This is a resource for parents/caregivers with answers to common questions about cannabis use and teens. Contact the Health Unit to obtain hard copies.

Cannabis Talk Kit, Know How to Talk with Your Teen

This resource gives information on cannabis and provides suggestions on how to talk to youth about cannabis. For families of students ages 10–18. Contact the Health Unit to obtain hard copies.

Cannabis: What Parents/Guardians and Caregivers Need to Know

This Info-Sheet on recreational cannabis is for parents/guardians and caregivers of youth in grades 6–12. It provides information about cannabis, cannabis legalization, risks, signs of a problem, how to help your child, and where to get more information and support.

Talking with your Teen about Vaping: A Tip Sheet for Parents

This resource provides parents/caregivers with information and tips to start conversations with youth about vaping.

Stats, Facts & Talking Points about Alcohol and Other Drugs

This booklet helps families support their teens with making good decisions. It focuses on Alcohol, High Caffeine Energy Drinks, Marijuana, and Prescription and Over-the-counter drugs. For families of students ages 10–18. Contact the Health Unit to obtain hard copies.

Fentanyl – Parent Fact Sheet

This fact sheet provides information on fentanyl and offers ways to reduce the risk and start the conversation with youth.

For more information, visit our Alcohol & Substance Use webpage.