SOURCE: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

June 25, 2014 13:00 ET

CCSA Report Sheds Light on Early Signs to Help Protect Children and Adolescents From Substance Abuse Harms

VANCOUVER, BC--(Marketwired - June 25, 2014) - The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) today released the 2014 Substance Abuse in Canada report, Childhood and Adolescent Pathways to Substance Use Disorders, to coincide with the 29th CINP World Congress of Neuropsychopharmacology in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Substance abuse costs the Canadian economy upwards of $40 billion per year and causes significant harm to individuals, families and communities. Today's national report release brings to the forefront some of these early behavioural markers of risk for later substance use disorders, as well as protective factors such as parental nurturing and school connectedness that promote resilience in a child and help prevent poor outcomes, including substance use and abuse.

This information is vital because a recent Health Canada study indicates that one in five students in grades 7 to 12 are at high risk of abusing substances, representing almost a half million Canadian children. The percentage increases when examining older youth -- a third of those in grades 10 to 12 were identified as high risk for abusing drugs and alcohol. However, detection of potential problems provides early warning signs to predict later-life substance use disorders, opening the door to developing effective interventions for Canada's youth.

The report findings clearly illustrate how the path to substance abuse is complex, involving genetics, brain chemistry, behaviour, personality styles and the environment.

People with substance use disorders commonly have other problems and these issues typically began early in life. Substance use disorders are considered developmental disorders with clear roots in childhood; thus the need to target childhood and adolescence, when prevention can have a major impact on long-term health outcomes.

The report findings aim to raise awareness amongst parents, peers, educators, community members, caregivers and the medical profession about early screening to identify stressors such as physical or emotional child abuse, behavioural signals such as exceptional difficulty regulating impulse-control, anger and other negative mood states, and neglect and maltreatment early in life. Early detection of potential problems opens a window of opportunity for more effective prevention programs and early interventions that can address risks for potential substance abuse problems before they start.

Report Recommendations

In the Call to Action for this report, CCSA lays out a number of recommendations:

  • The elementary school years can be an optimal timeframe during which to provide age-based prevention and early intervention programs. Timely prevention and intervention efforts are critical. The earlier children start to show externalizing behaviours, the more negative the consequences can be. These behaviours are risk factors for a wide variety of mental illness problems, including substance abuse. The outcomes can be worse if not effectively addressed. Conversely, the earlier protective interventions are introduced, the better the possible results.

  • School environments provide an opportunity to address a broad range of social and academic difficulties that impact susceptibility to substance use disorders later in life.

  • A classification system of specific biological and behavioural early warning signs that go beyond the reporting of abuse, neglect and maltreatment is needed. This system would help inform people working with children and youth of relevant risk factors and focus their efforts on promoting resilience. These risk markers could help identify those in need of intervention and suggest the specific components of interventions that would be most successful.

  • A greater understanding and awareness of factors related to resiliency is needed. Not only the presence of risk factors, but also the absence of protective factors, play a role in the development of substance abuse.

  • The medical profession also plays a vital role in early detection and intervention as part of a broader multi-disciplinary approach that is needed to effectively identify and treat youth who might be at risk.

  • More research is needed into recent findings from the neurobiological sciences, which have demonstrated how early life experiences can change the brain and, in turn, either predict poor outcomes or build resiliency to protect against later-life substance use and addiction.

An immediate step is for parents, peers, educators, health professionals, community members and caregivers to recognize the role they play in promoting resiliency to protect against later-life substance use disorders, by helping to identify the early warning signs and taking the steps to address them. A long-term, collective commitment to multi-faceted, evidence-based interventions will result in long-term improvement in the well-being of youth.

About the CCSA's Substance Abuse in Canada Series

Every two years, CCSA brings together researchers and clinical experts to produce a new report in the Substance Abuse in Canada series, with each edition shedding much-needed light on an important drug- and alcohol-related issue. Childhood and Adolescent Pathways to Substance Use Disorders builds on the release of the November 2013 report on neonatal and infant concerns to examine a wide variety of issues related to experiences and other factors during childhood and adolescence that can play a role in later-life substance use disorders. The next report, scheduled to be released in 2015, will examine the effects of cannabis use on the adolescent brain.


"Substance abuse is a complex problem -- too significant and too deeply rooted to be solved by one group or approach. Despite this, substance abuse is preventable and treatable, and recovery is a reality for many. Today's report presents opportunities for intervention at the earliest stages, and these investments in our young people can yield long-term improvement in health and socio-economic factors, as well as youth and family outcomes."

Rita Notarandrea
Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

"Today's report highlights the importance of developmental considerations in understanding substance use disorders. Knowledge of the developmental trajectories linked to youth and later life substance use disorders is key to making progress on treatment and prevention strategies."

Dr. Franco Vaccarino
Chair, CCSA Scientific Advisory Council and Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Toronto.

"Only some people who try drugs and alcohol develop addiction problems. The most recent research indicates that these susceptible youth can be identified before they develop problems and taught the tools that they need to cope."

Dr. Marco Leyton
Professor, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University; Past-President, Canadian College of Neuropsychopharmacology, McGill University.

"The research presented in this report reflects a multidimensional, interdisciplinary approach to prevention. This approach requires a strong level of support to develop, test and implement the kinds of personalized interventions that will help delay or prevent substance abuse. The results will not be quick, but the payoffs could be dramatic in the long term, leading to significant improvements across multiple health, family and socio-economic outcomes."

Dr. Rajita Sinha
Professor of Psychiatry and Professor in the Child Study Center and of Neurobiology at Yale University; Director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Stress Center; Chief of the Psychology Section in Psychiatry; and Deputy Director of the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation.

View the full report and the report in short on the Substance Abuse in Canada section of CCSA's website.

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The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse changes lives by bringing people and knowledge together to reduce the harm of alcohol and other drugs on society. We partner with public, private and non-governmental organizations to improve the health and safety of Canadians.

CCSA activities and products are made possible through a financial contribution from Health Canada. The views of CCSA do not necessarily represent the views of the Government of Canada.

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