Action steps you can take

Substance use affects many children, families, and communities.  No one or area of Maine is immune to its tolls.  It is going to take all of us, working together, to combat the perils caused by substance use and abuse.  Below are some things YOU can do, regardless of who you are, how old you are, and where you are in Maine.  The time to ACT is now. 

Secure and Dispose
Keep all substances out of sight and out of reach.
  1. Keep track of alcohol and other substances in your home.  Keep them locked up out of sight.
  2. Put medicines Up and Away.
  3. Don’t provide tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana to people under 21. 
  4. Do not share prescription drugs. 
  5. Safely dispose of substances that are not being used.

Individuals cannot use what they cannot get their hands on.  Refuse to provide substances to people illegally, knowingly or unknowingly.  To reduce access, always ensure tobacco, alcohol, other substances, and paraphernalia are out of the reach of children. Count and lock-up substances, even in your home.   Do not help someone who is having a hard time access or use substances to cope.  Help them find a non-substance tool to deal with life challenges.  Dispose of unneeded/unwanted prescriptions or other drugs before someone else accesses them.  Enforcement agencies in the state of Maine participate in Drug Take Back programs and many have drug disposal boxes in their lobbies.

Set Boundaries
Give clear rules that use is not allowed. Follow through.
  1. Talk about your rules, expectations, as well as the consequences for breaking them.
  2. Monitor closely.
  3. Enforce rules when broken.
  4. Share concerns if someone is letting a young person use.
  5. Support school and enforcement officials who enforce drug and alcohol policies.

People thrive when they know what is expected of them and when they are held to those expectations.  Trust, but monitor.  Clear boundaries and consequences go a long way to holding young people accountable.  It works for adults too.  It is a powerful deterrent knowing there is someone in one’s life who does not want them using substances.  And that the person is paying attention.  You can:

  • Support each other by sharing what you see and hear.
  • Make your rules known to family, friends, and others whom children you care about interact with.
  • Express concerns with adults and youth whom may be letting a young person use substances.
  • Report illegal alcohol and drug activity.  (You can do so anonymously).
  • Back each other up, including law enforcement, and school officials when they enforce laws and policies.

If you and other adults share responsibilities for a young person in your lives, you can work together to help them be safe, healthy, and successful.  Monitoring and ensuring boundaries and consequences are successful methods. 

Send positive messages that do not encourage substance use.
  1. Never drive after using alcohol or marijuana
  2. Do not use illicit drugs
  3. Use prescriptions as directed
  4. If you drink, do so in moderation.
  5. Never ask a child to bring you alcohol or any other substance
  6. Do not make jokes or tell stories about use

Teenagers through adults have an imperative job to be a good role model.  There is always someone watching.  This may be a sibling, neighborhood child, kid on the school bus, your child, or grandchild.    Send positive messages that do not encourage substance use.  Youth want to exhibit the same behavior as those they admire. Kids need clear and consistent messages both told and shown to them.  What you say, and what you do matters, more than you know.   Learn some ways to communicate with young people of different ages about substance use.

Be Aware
Everyone is at risk for substance use impacting their lives.
  1. Learn the signs and symptoms of someone using substances.
  2. Keep your eyes and ears open.
  3. Remain observant for signs of trouble in your community.
  4. Report suspicious activity to law enforcement.
  5. Attend local events that give information about substance use.
  6. Share what you learn to help spread awareness.

Know what to look for.  Signs and symptoms that someone is struggling with substance use include:

  • Changes in behavior such as mood, sleep, fatigue, interests that are unexplained or sudden.
  • Changes in who they spend their time with
  • Carelessness with appearance
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Blood shot eyes, frequent hand washing or gum chewing.
  • Trouble at school/work with attendance, grades/performance, and behavior.
  • Declining relationships with family and social withdrawal.

Keep your eyes and ears open in your neighborhood as well.  Signs of substance use may include:

  • Frequently unattended children
  • Lots of unusual traffic in and out of a home and at odd times
  • Frequent parties
  • Noxious odors
  • Blacked out windows, or lights that are always on

REPORT suspicious activity to law enforcement.

Find current information about substance use.
  1. Find reliable sources of data.
  2. Get up-to-date information about substances and substance use.
  3. Learn about trends and new products.
  4. Seek and shares facts rather than opinions. 
  5. Ask others questions that encourage critical thinking on the issue. 

Everyone has their own truth and opinions about the use of substances.  Many views and much misinformation exist.  Seek out the most up-to-date and researched information from trusted sources.  These sources provide the ability to assess the issue(s) and learn about substances.  Research comes from many studies and years of study, not just from one experience or group.  Ask questions, learn more, and be armed with factual information to engage in knowledgeable conversations.  Reach out to local partners in prevention, for help with finding the most current and researched information. 

Speak up about the harms of substance use.
  1. Have age appropriate conversations.
  2. Use everyday moments to talk about the dangers.
  3. Talk often.
  4. Respond to misinformation.
  5. Share tips to prevent use with others.
  6. Connect with local prevention providers to get involved in your community.

Knowledge is power. Communication is key. If youth don’t learn the facts of substance use from adults they trust, they’ll learn through the media and friends. Open dialogue is a vital ingredient in the recipe to preventing use. Be mindful of opportunities to have age-appropriate conversations with those you care about. Speak with members of your community too. Rally others to prevent substance use. Many are concerned about the issue but don’t know what to do or worry they are alone in their concerns. There is strength, and power, in numbers. Communicate with your local prevention providers to see how you can be more involved.

Promote substance-free living.
  1. Learn more about what influences people to try substances.
  2. Be mindful of the messages that come through the radio, television, and social media in your home.
  3. Pay attention to the messages you send.
  4. Host alcohol free gatherings.
  5. Support others who promote drug free lifestyles.

Positive views upon substance use increase someone’s chances for using substances.  It can be an indicator they are already using.  Signs a person is favorable toward substance use include:

  • Frequent attendance at parties and functions where alcohol is served and drugs may be present.
  • Jokes and positive references about the use of substances.
  • Displays of paraphernalia or clothing representing tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs.

Pay attention to messages from family, friends, and the media that may be mistakenly promoting substances.  Studies show that laws and attitudes increases use in young people also.  Your own perceptions and beliefs matter a great deal as well.  Young people who perceive community acceptance of alcohol and drugs, are at greater risk to use substances.  Learn more about the perceptions of Maine teens.

Encourage others to be their best self.
  1. Create a happy and healthy home.
  2. Engage in fun activities.
  3. Have daily positive interactions.
  4. Spend time together.
  5. Help others identify their goals and dreams.
  6. Promote the positive things others do and have in their life.
  7. Help loved ones prepare for substance related situations and how to say no.

Protective factors are things in someone’s life that help prevent substance use.  This includes being involved in an active and supportive community, and feeling like there are people that care about them.  You can help build protective factors for people in your life or community by:

  • Motivating them to be their best self
  • Promoting the positive things they do and that they have in their life. 
  • Discussing their goals and dreams.
  • Helping them see how substances can affect their brain and decisions. 
  • Talking about how substances can impact their goals for school/work/life today and in the future. 
  • Empowering them to make good choices by:
    • Building skills and language for refusing substances.
    • Safely removing themselves from risky or unsafe situations.
    • Seeking support for self or others who need it.

To learn more about the assets needed to help young people thrive, visit the Search Institute’s webpage.

Show that you care
  1. Be there through life’s challenges.
  2. Don’t turn your back on a substance user.
  3. Offer to find assistance.
  4. Never provide substances for them to cope with stressors or challenges.
  5. Give people hope for a better future.
  6. Participate in substance abuse prevention events in your community.

People need to know you are there and care about them and the community.  Don’t turn your back on a substance user.  Substance use is not a sign of weakness; it is a choice in response to a situation facing someone. Think about what might be behind their choices.   Support them in addressing those root causes to reduce the chances that they will continue to turn to substances to cope. Perhaps it is:

  • In response to wanting to fit in or connect with people and thought use to be the best way to do that.
  • Perceived as a way to push boundaries, seek thrills, or exert independence.
  • Seen as a way to cope with stress, trauma, troubles, or emotions.

Whichever the case, offer information to help them determine if use is the best solution and what alternatives exist.   Give people hope for the future.  Help them see that while the past cannot be changed, they can learn and grow from it.  Help them make choices to get to the life they want.   Connect them with Maine 2-1-1 to learn about what support services are available in their community.  People, Maine, and our communities are worth fighting for.

Learn more about communicating with young people about substance use across the ages and stages of growing up. Talking before a child is faced with difficult decision-making increases the chance they will avoid use.  Talk early.  Talk often.  Say much.  Do more.