Addressing Youth Substance Use and Addiction

Why substance use needs our attention

90 percent of people with addiction started using substances in their teen years, a period when massive changes are underway in the brain that are related to impulse control, managing emotions, problem-solving and anticipating consequences. Substance use during this time can make youth more susceptible to addiction and other mental health disorders over time. According to the CDC’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, substance use among Illinois high school students is common:

  • 1 in 4 students drink alcohol (and 1 in 10 report binge drinking)
  • 1 in 5 use e-cigarettes
  • 1 in 5 use marijuana
  • 1 in 7 use opioids without a doctor’s prescription

Clinical care and resources related to substance use are always available through Lurie Children’s Substance Use and Prevention Program (SUPP).

What Lurie Children's is doing to address substance use

Lurie Children's Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine leads an evidence-informed youth substance use prevention curriculum that details the health effects of substances that most commonly impact Chicago youth: nicotine, marijuana or cannabis and alcohol. These lessons, approved by Chicago Public Schools for use in the classroom, also focus on alternative coping mechanisms, what to do in case of a medical emergency related to substance use, and advice about how to talk to friends about substance use. Workshops are also available for parents, guardians and school staff.

Our Adolescent Medicine team also provides trainings on how to use naloxone, a prescription medication that can temporarily stop the life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose, and provides free naloxone. These trainings are offered in partnership with community nonprofit organizations and are facilitated through our Mobile Health program or onsite at a community agency.

Lurie Children’s leads the Youth Substance Use Prevention Coalition (SUPC), a city-wide collaboration of community-based organizations, government agencies and stakeholders working on substance use prevention and treatment. SUPC facilitates training and professional development opportunities to build capacity among coalition members and the larger Chicago community. SUPC also convenes a Youth Advisory Board (YAB) in collaboration with Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) to ensure that the work of the coalition remains centered on the needs and experiences of young people in Chicago—a resource that is developed by youth for youth.

Our impact on substance use

  • Each year, 100+ Naloxone Kits are distributed to community members in greater Chicago.
  • In 2021, the Substance Use Prevention Program conducted 90 trainings reaching 1,928 youth across 12 schools and organizations.
  • In late 2020, Connect 4 Youth (C4Y), a SAMHSA-funded early intervention program, was launched with the goal of expanding access to integrated substance use and HIV screening, rapid testing, and linkage to care in high-need Chicago communities. Within a trauma-informed and culturally responsive framework, C4Y seeks to remove barriers to care for ethnic/racial minority youth aged 16-25 through provision of mobile services while promoting healthy behavior change through implementation of evidence-based interventions and prevention education.
  • Between 2017 and 2020, the I Got This! alcohol use prevention campaign was featured throughout Chicago on the CTA bus and train lines, libraries and Chicago Park District locations, schools, community-based organizations and federally qualified health centers. It was also shared via social media, reaching an average of 159,000 8th-10th graders and 268,000 of their parents annually.