Does ‘just saying no’ to drugs and alcohol work for young people


Date: Tuesday, 17 August 2021
18:00 CAT
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Topic: Does ‘just saying no’ to drugs and alcohol work for young people ?

Join us for a 60-minute session with our panel experts. All stakeholders including healthcare workers, abstinent and the public etc. locally and globally are welcome. The public transcript will be recorded by Symplur.

T1: Is drug use morally wrong? Why?

T2: What are some of the reasons people take drugs or use substances?

T3: Do you think rehabs are the only solution for PWI/UD who wish to be healthy?

T4: What is Harm Reduction? Are there benefits to Harm Reduction over abstinence-based approaches?

T5: What are some of the barriers that prevent youth from accessing Harm Reduction services?
CT: What more can be done to keep youth who take drugs safer and healthier?


Start your answers with T1, T2, T3, T4 or CT for transcript purposes.
Answer only after the moderator prompts. Questions will be prompted every 10 minutes, but keep answers coming using the relevant T and number. Both panel experts and public attendees are encouraged to participate.
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Everyone is welcome to join locally and globally. Our transcript will be recorded on campaigns that urge young people to ‘just say no’ to drugs and substances an effective strategy to keep them healthy and alive? Some research suggests they aren’t[1]. An alternative approach, harm reduction, that focuses on safer usage rather than abstinence, may be more a realistic strategy.


Substance use (alcohol and illicit drugs) affects youth around the world. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states that surveys around the globe consistently show that levels of drug use are higher among younger rather than older people[2]. Episodes of heavy episodic drinking (binge drinking) were also found to much higher among youth aged 15-19 (11,2%) than the rest of the adult population (7,5%)[3].

Since alcohol is estimated to cause 3 million deaths a year worldwide and the use of illicit drugs can lead to overdose and death, many public health interventions have promoted abstinence as a way to promote health. An alternative approach that does not require that young people refuse any and all alcohol or illicit substances is called ‘harm reduction’.

Harm reduction can be defined as a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug use, it can also be defined as a movement for social and health justice built on a belief in respect for the rights of people who use drugs.

Harm reduction services, for example, might ask young adults to consider ways they can make their substance use safer – whether that is using with another person present so that they can call for help in the case of overdose, or being careful to use reliable suppliers of substances, or designating a sober driver in a group so that the risk of traffic accidents is minimised.

Harm reduction services focus on keeping young adults who use substances healthy and alive rather than preventing substance use itself.

Harm reduction services do not encourage substance use but allow young individuals to make their own choices with the support of the right strategies.

While often a challenging idea at first, harm reduction can lead to behaviour change among youth that keeps them alive, although not necessarily drug or alcohol-free.


[1] Jenkins, E. K., Slemon, A., Haines-Saah, R. J. 2017. Developing harm reduction in the context of youth substance use: insights from a multi-site qualitative analysis of young people’s harm minimization strategies. Harm reduction Journal, 14:53.

[2] World Drug Report. 2018. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

[3] Global status report on alcohol and health. 2014. World Health Organization