Substance Use Disorder Information for Parents/Caregivers

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Help is available. Call the SUD Access Line at 1 800-654-3937

What is the best prevention???  You.


Substance Use Amidst COVID-19



What is Prevention? Introduction

90% of people who have a substance use disorder started using alcohol or drugs before they turned 18. By practicing prevention and delaying the onset of first use, you can help to protect the brain during this important period of development.

Addiction Policy Forum 2019
(see additional videos below)

Anyone that has children knows how fast they grow up. As parents (caregivers) we all wish the best for them and try to protect them from making decisions that could damage their future.

Substance abuse in adolescence and young adulthood can lead to tragic immediate consequences (e.g., accidents, overdoses) but it can also lead to the development of Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) which most people know as "addiction."

Adolescent Graph MP 1

When a SUD develops and continues into adulthood it has the potential to destroy healthy relationships, impact educational and employment opportunities, cause long-term health problems (physical and mental) and can be fatal.  

Nearly all SUDs in adulthood begin before the age of 25. This is due to the large number of "risk factors" that contribute to early drug/alcohol use and because the human brain is still developing until the age of 25.

Adolescent Graph MP 2

Young brains have a high capacity for learning but what makes a young developing brain able to learn and retain vast amounts of information also makes it vulnerable to the toxic effects of drugs/alcohol. Adolescents and young adults under the age of 25 are most vulnerable.

In Fresno County, just under 40% of the population is under the age of 25. The average age of first-time reported drug/alcohol use in Fresno County is between the ages of 12-14 (7th-9th grade) and the primary substances abused by people under the age of 25 is marijuana and alcohol.
(see graphs below).

Risk Factors

A “risk factor” is anything that contributes to the development of a problem. Risk factors for SUDs fall in three broad categories; environmental, individual, and genetic (see examples below): 


  • Access to drugs/alcohol
  • Parental substance abuse
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Favorable familial, cultural, and community views on substance use.
  • High levels of stress in environment (e.g., poverty, domestic violence, abuse, negelct)
  • Peer pressure


  • Mental Illness
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) (e.g., sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, parental absence)
  • Early aggressive behavior; poor social skills
  • Need for acceptance


  • Using drugs/alcohol while unknowingly carrying any combination of the 89 inheritable genes that science has demonstrated contribute to the development of a SUD.

Knowing the common risk factors that contribute to SUDs is the first step in reducing the likelihood that a SUD will develop and it gives parents and caregivers an advantage when it comes to preventing the problem.

Working to help reduce risk factors is the first and best line of defense. Due to brain changes that happen through repeated toxic exposure to drugs/alcohol, SUDs are much harder to treat once they develop. SUDs can be brought into remission but there is no cure.

SUDs are medical problem. Like many medical problems there are warning signs and early indicators that a problem may be developing. Both SUDs and mental health issues involve the brain and therefore result in thinking and behavior changes that are often observable to others (see examples below).


  • Change from healthy to unhealthy friends or isolation from friends & family
  • Uncharacteristic risk-taking behavior (reckless driving, risky sexual behavior)
  • Decline in work/academic performance
  • Absenteeism at work/truancy at school
  • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities
  • Dramatic, frequent mood shifts; emotional instability
  • Sudden weight loss/gain
  • Changes in sleeping eating patterns
  • Unsteady gate, clumsiness, poor coordination
  • Chronic flu like symptoms/Chronic Illness
  • Repeated medical appointments with multiple doctors to obtain mood altering drugs
  • Avoids eye contact, sunglasses/hoodies indoors
  • Lying, deceitfulness
  • Disappearance of prescription medication, money, valuables
  • Needle marks on arms, or warm clothing in hot whether to needle track marks
  • Stashes of drugs or paraphernalia (lighters, foil, straws, prescription bottles)

Significant, sudden, long-term, and uncharacteristic changes in the behavior of an adolescent or young adult should be taken seriously and help should be sought, particularly when there are identifiable risk factors in the young person’s life.

This is where parents and caregivers come in. Just as there are risk factors that contribute to the development of SUDs, there are also protective factors that make the development of SUDs less likely to develop.

Protective Factors

A “protective factor” is anything that reduces the likelihood that a problem with occur. Just as risk factors contribute to potential harm in three broad categories (environmental, individual, and genetic), strengthening protective factors helps reduce the likelihood that a SUD will develop, thus reducing harm (see examples of protective factors below).


  • Setting a no substance use policy in the home
  • Locking up alcohol and prescription drugs
  • Limiting easy access to and monitoring entertainment that romanticizes substance abuse
  • SUD/Domestic Violence/Mental Health treatment services for parents/caregivers that need it
  • Parenting classes for those that need it
  • Mentorship for at risk kids; regular contact with at least one healthy adult.
  • Parent/caregiver monitoring of child’s friends and activities.
  • Parent/caregiver involvement in the child's academic development.
  • Family involvement in healthy extra-curricular and community activities.
  • Working to change familial, cultural, and community views on substance use through policy.


  • Early detection and intervention of anti-social behavior displayed by a child/adolescent.
  • Counseling for any adverse childhood experiences in a child's life (e.g., sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, parental divorce, parental death or incarceration).


  • Having a discussion with the child, adolescent or young adult about the possibility of inheriting a genetic predisposing for a SUD especially if there is known family history of SUDs.

Many parents and caregivers do not think of themselves as a “protective factor” but they are the most potent and effective form of SUD prevention that there is. Even when children, adolescents, and young adults appear not be listening or paying attention they are.

Most of the protective factors listed above require involvement from at least one health parent/caregiver. Our youth look to us for direction and this requires that we understand the risks our youth face and how to insulate them through the use of protective measures.

This requires parents/caregivers to be knowledgeable about the issue, set boundaries in the home and outside the home, monitor activities and associates, maintain continuous dialogue with those under your care, and be willing to seek help yourself if you think you may be struggling with a SUD or Mental Health problem.

Help is available. If you feel that your child may be at risk, may need treatment, or as a parent you need help please contact the SUD Access Line at 1 800-654-3937 for a confidential screening.


Screenings may also be conducted through any of the three resources listed below.

Local Resources/Treatment Links

Urgent Care Wellness Center
4441 E. Kings Canyon Rd. Fresno CA
(559) 600-9171

Youth Wellness Center
4411 E. Kings Canyon Rd. Fresno CA
(559) 512-8700

DBH Contracted Providers
SUD Provider Directory

SUD Prevention

SUD Treatment


Additional National SUD Resources

National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism


What is Prevention? The Role of Genetics

Genetics account for about half of a person's likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. Help young people reduce their risk of developing a substance use disorder by strengthening protective factors. 


What is Prevention? The Role of the Community

Communities play a key role in protecting adolescents from early substance use. Prevention efforts can be implemented by building coalitions and comprehensive strategies to reduce risk factors for substance use and addiction.


What is Addiction? 

Also called a substance use disorder. Over 20 million people nationwide suffer from addiction. 1 in 7 people will experience addiction at some point in their life.


Ep 1: The Hijacker

Learn about how substance use disorders affect tissue function in two main parts of the brain: the limbic system (responsible for basic survival instincts) and the prefrontal cortex (where decision-making and impulse control live). 


Ep 2: Whirlpools of Risk 

Not everyone who uses alcohol or drugs develops a substance use disorder - why is that? People have different risk factors that make them more vulnerable to developing substance use disorders. These can be environmental or individual factors.