This supplement distinguishes between three levels of influence: internal, interpersonal, and environmental.

  1. Personal or internal influences (e.g., curiosity, emotional stresses, mental health problems, beliefs concerning risk and norms). This category of influences is referred to as “how I influence myself” in the grade-specific activities.

    Curiosity is natural in young people, and is most often a positive trait. There are few days when drug issues are not in the news, and they are frequently a topic of conversation, so it is not surprising that some young people are curious enough to experiment with alcohol or another drug.

    Every day emotional stress

    Because they hold promise in elevating mood and enhancing positive feelings, substances (both legal and illegal) may appeal to some persons—young or old—who are stressed, anxious, or just bored.

    Lack of perceived risk
    Decisions around substance use are also linked to a sense of how much risk is associated with a particular drug. In cases where new information leads to an understanding that there is greater risk linked to a drug, fewer young people will use the drug. The reverse is also true: an emerging drug may experience a “honeymoon period” when there is little information available about risks or harms.

    Because alcohol is legally available, some may underestimate the harms or negative consequences resulting from hazardous alcohol use. However, in the
    Nova Scotia Drug Use Survey (2007), students reported experiencing a range of harms as a result of their use of alcohol: damaged things when drinking; injury to oneself; caused tensions or disagreement with family or friends; cost of alcohol prevented buying other things; trouble with the police; school work or exams affected; and being in a motor vehicle accident as a driver after drinking in the previous two hours (See Table 5 in Section One for details).

    To a greater degree than adults, youth tend to minimize the risks posed by their own substance use, with young men tending to do so more than young women. It has long been understood that young people tend to give less attention to long-term risks linked with substance use than they do to the more immediate consequences.

    Mental health problems
    It is estimated that, at any point, 15 percent of Canadian children and adolescents are experiencing clinical mental health problems, such as anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression or schizophrenia, that make it difficult for them to function. Individuals with mental health problems are at risk for substance-use problems because they may look to various drugs to “medicate” the distress they feel.

  2. Social or interpersonal influences (e.g., peer and family influences). This category of influences is referred to as “how others influence me” in the grade-specific activities.

    Social acceptance
    Some young people are strongly influenced by their belief that substance use is common. For example, if one’s friends smoke, drink, or use other substances or if there is a sense that others in his or her network do, a young person may feel some influence to use. Some young people may use substances in the same way they use clothes and music, to establish an identity or image for themselves.

    Celebrations and religious observances
    Alcohol and other drugs are often a part of family, community, or religious celebrations or services. On these occasions, substances are often valued more for their symbolic importance than their drug effect.

    Difficult life experiences
    Some youth experience very difficult living situations that may include physical and sexual abuse and other forms of violence. Some young people leave home and live on or close to the streets, experiencing a range of difficulties. Although situations vary greatly within gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) populations, some GLBT youth may experience great stigma and personal uncertainty. All of these young people may be attracted to substance use to cope with their situations and, as a result, find themselves at risk for substance-use harms.


  3. Cultural or Environmental influences (e.g., media, culture). This category of influences is referred to as “How I am influenced by the world around me” in the grade-specific activities.

    Culture and media
    Today’s young people are growing up in a world that tolerates more forms of substance use, both medical and non-medical, than at any other time in history. In addition to their contributions to health, a side-effect of the huge presence of the pharmaceutical and alternative medicine industries is a climate of “solution by ingestion.” An unprecedented ease of access to various media has meant that more young people than ever are “consuming” a pop culture that tends to tolerate, and at times promote, substance use. The powerful marketing capacities of the alcohol and tobacco industries, and their focus on the youth market, add to this environment. Even these capacities however are dwarfed by the scale of the illicit drug industry.