Substance misuse

Substance misuse

Definition of a "substance" and "substance misuse"

A substance here will be defined as that when administered (e.g. ingested, inhaled, or injected) into the body, will affect the central nervous system (i.e. has psychoactive properties). This often results in variable changes to cognition, and thereby affects the behaviour, mood and consciousness of the individual consuming (sometimes with unpredictable consequences).

A definitive list of such substances can never be complete but for purposes here will be broadly taken to include:

  • alcohol
  • any psychoactive substance (controlled by legislation e.g. Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) and or Medicines Act (1968)) including prescription and non-prescription (e.g. “over the counter”) medications
  • any psychoactive substance (uncontrolled by legislation) and referred to as “new psychoactive substances” (NPS), but often given the term “legal highs” by media sources
  • volatile substances (solvents, gases and other domestic/commercial products)

Published by the government a recent report Drugs Strategy 2017 highlights the importance of Public Health England supporting local areas to take action to improve health and wellbeing across the life-course, including:

  • providing professional guidance for midwives, health visitors and school nurses under the Healthy Child Programme;
  • providing support and guidance to local authorities, including systems to support integrated commissioning and service delivery, from conception to the age of five;
  • providing support to school nurses, teachers and wider community services including youth workers to work together to promote health and wellbeing; and
  • providing information and intelligence to improve decision-making, enabling high quality and cost effective services, through the National Child and Maternal Health Intelligence Network, including child health profiles.

Teaching about substance misuse through the PSHE curriculum as a preventative approach

The Drugs strategy describes high-quality PSHE education as ‘at the heart of supporting young people to leave school prepared for life in modern Britain’ and warns against approaches such as scare tactics, mass media campaigns or knowledge-only approaches, which it describes as ‘least effective’ in preventing substance misuse. The report also encourages schools to avoid contribution from external classroom visitors where their input is not part of a wider evidence based prevention programme.

Current offer to schools

The Risk-Avert programme is a new approach to identifying and working intensively with young people vulnerable to multiple risk-taking behaviour.

Jointly developed by The Training Effect and Essex County Council, the approach is aimed at young people in year 8 in secondary school and is delivered by trained teachers that young people know and trust. The Risk-Avert approach explores different ways of helping young people understand and manage risk to reduce risk-taking behaviour.

Resources for schools


Drinkaware For Education

Curriculum-linked education resources aimed at teaching 9 to 14-year-olds about the harms and risks associated with alcohol.

PHE Alcohol Lesson Pack

Helps students identify the reasons why some young people choose to drink alcohol and the impact it can have on them

Drug and Alcohol Education

This resource provides a set of lessons for each year group at key stages 3 and 4 to support the teaching of a variety of issues within Drug and Alcohol education.

Alcohol Teacher Workbook

With guidance, lesson plans and hand-outs for 11- 18 year olds


Planning Effective Alcohol and Drug Education

The provision of alcohol and drug education is an essential prerequisite for allowing children and young people to enter adulthood healthy and avoiding harms.

Prevention Resources for Schools

The Children’s Society Substance Misuse Resources

A collection of substance misuse resources to use in schools

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