Drug Research Assignment Ideas

Students can learn about the prevention and impact of addiction or alcoholism (sometimes referred to as “chemical dependency” or “substance use disorder”) in their health, science, government or history classes. Consider these ideas for class projects, homework, extra credit or semester-long student-led projects:

  1. A project that will interest students, personalize the problem and send a strong message to 9th to 12th graders: Research celebrities who died from drug or alcohol use or abuse. Find out what substance killed them and how it killed them. Consider Jimmy Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Curt Cobain, John Belushi, Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cory Monteith or Michael Jackson.
  2. This project could be included in foundational curriculum regarding use of resistance skills in decision-making: Research “positive youth development.” A big piece of the prevention puzzle involves changing the youth culture and offering ways for kids to feel powerful, capable and excited about life without drugs or alcohol.” Check out groups like NaturalHigh and Friday Night Live to see what they are doing to support positive youth development in schools and communities. What are some ways that your school or community could offer positive youth development opportunities?
  3. An evidence-based approach that lets students design their own prevention programs: Research the basic principles of prevention here and then design your own prevention program, integrating as many prevention principles as possible.  
  4. A good project for a Civics or Government class: What is a social host ordinance, and how does a community pass a social host ordinance? Is there a social host ordinance somewhere in your region?  Who does it impact – and how?  Who was involved in getting it passed?
  5. Engaging and relevant homework assignment: Locate the drug and alcohol use and abuse statistics for your region. Put a face on the statistics by researching the story of a local teen who died from drug or alcohol use or abuse including overdose, car accident or suicide.
  6. An ambitious project for advanced students or government classes: Coalition work is very time-consuming, and complex prevention work that takes place on many fronts:  schools, businesses, law enforcement, policy work, etc.  Check out CADCA.org to see if there is a CADCA coalition in your area. If not, research the successes of other CADCA coalitions in the nation and find one that would be a good “fit” for your area. Explain why you selected that coalition.
  7. A project that lends itself to all kinds of learners: Listen to a classroom presentation made by a young person in recovery from chemical dependency. Note the key “bad choices” that were made along the way.  Rewrite his or her story or create a visual storyboard or have a classroom discussion about making different, positive choices instead of bad choices at those critical points in time. For example, instead of choosing to hang out with friends smoking pot, he or she went to the gym with friends. What impact would that have on the story’s ending?
  8. A good project to help students explore advocacy for better community health: What are other national organizations doing about chemical dependency? Select one of these organizations and develop a poster or PowerPoint graphic that depicts their audience, their mission, their tools, and their messages.  org and https://www.facingaddiction.org/ and http://www.transformingyouthrecovery.org/ and http://youngpeopleinrecovery.org/
  9. A good fit for Government or World History classes: What kind of work is going on in the international world of prevention? Which countries are active in prevention work, and which countries are not? Find a country that has programs you consider innovative or unusual.  http://preventionhub.org/en/who-is-who
  10. A potentially big project designed to change school culture: Check out resources from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) including their National Drug Facts Week in January. The NIDA website offers lots of resources and ideas about ways to engage students in prevention activities. Develop a plan to use some of those resources at your school. http://teens.drugabuse.gov/national-drug-facts-week

Education about substance abuse is an important part of helping individuals understand the many aspects of this topic. This information can include factual data about what substance abuse is; warning signs of addiction; information about how alcohol and specific drugs affect the mind and body; the consequences that addiction can have on one’s physical and mental health, family, relationships, and other areas of functioning; and how and why substances are abused.

Education may also include information on how to deal with a family member or friend who is struggling with a substance use disorder, and how to be supportive during the detoxification and rehabilitation process.

This could also include counseling education, which helps everyone involved—from the person abusing substances to family and friends. It is important that people who abuse substances are aware of how a drug can affect their minds, bodies, relationships, and functioning. This awareness can help them realize the potential damage that could occur, or the damage that has already occurred. Substance abuse education may also include information about what treatment entails to prepare everyone involved for the potential outcomes.

Substance Abuse Education and Kids

The main focus of substance abuse education is teaching individuals about drug and alcohol abuse and how to avoid, stop, or get help for substance use disorders—and this can begin at a young age. Education can start with parents educating their children, and in primary school programming designed to increase knowledge about substance abuse and the associated risks. For teenagers, substance abuse education is generally incorporated into school curriculum as well. Adults who want to learn more about substance abuse (that they can then share with their kids) can attend classes, group meetings, and research information online in order to learn more about the topic.

Substance abuse education is important for children, teenagers, and adults alike; there are many misconceptions about commonly used legal and illegal substances, such as alcohol and marijuana. Ensuring that children are educated about drugs can help prevent them from using them, especially ones that are made to sound harmless, but are in reality very addictive or dangerous to the body. Helping adults understand the repercussions of drug use can prevent a problem from forming and can provide information they can share with their children to prevent future issues.

Dig into more drug and alcohol abuse information every week with the ProjectKnow.com podcast, Let’s Talk Drugs.

Knowledge is power, and with accurate information about the topic, a person will be more likely to make a fact-based and informed decision. When educating people, all drugs should be covered, regardless of the strength or perceived risk of harm. While opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine are viewed as “hard drugs,” and therefore have serious consequences, “minor drugs,” such as marijuana and alcohol can still be addictive and are frequently abused. People of all ages should be aware of the damage that all drugs and alcohol have the potential to do to the body, mind, and relationships.

With the availability of internet resources, there is unlimited access to knowledge about drugs and alcohol, but not every site provides reliable information. If you are preparing to teach a substance abuse education course to adults or deliver a school presentation for children or teenagers, make sure that you know your information well, and verify it as accurate. This website has a number of excellent, reliable, and well-researched resources that can be used to educate yourself about drugs, so read them thoroughly. Having accurate and reliable information is the best way to identify yourself as a knowledgeable teacher who students will listen to, regardless of their age.

Do Drug Education Campaigns Work?

Studies have shown that substance abuse prevention programs are effective if they are research-based and implemented properly.1 Research-based education programs are rooted in scientific evidence and tested thoroughly, and have been shown to significantly reduce substance abuse behaviors, including use of nicotine, alcohol, and drugs.1

These programs boost protective factors, which decrease the likelihood of substance abuse issues, while reducing the impact of risk factors that make individuals more susceptible to substance abuse.1 It is especially important to include substance abuse education and prevention in schools, because they can help students avoid trying substances and reduce the risk of developing a substance use disorder later in life. Substance abuse education can begin as early as preschool to help reduce the impact of risk factors on later decision-making—especially during the turbulent adolescent years—where substance use disorders often begin.2 Of course, it is important to adjust the material to be age-appropriate.

Recent surveys show drops in alcohol, tobacco, and substance use in American teenagers in grades 8, 10, and 12.3 Use of alcohol and cigarettes were at a record low in 2015, and are currently at the lowest rate they have reached since 1975.3 Drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy or Molly), heroin, prescription drugs, bath salts, hallucinogens, crack cocaine, synthetic marijuana (K2 or spice), and amphetamines have all declined in use among American students in grades 8, 10, and 12.3 And binge drinking rates in American students have also dropped significantly.3 Marijuana use rates in American students have remained fairly stable since 2010.3

This universal drop is attributed to increased prevention programming that is incorporated into school curriculums, which seems to deter students from trying illicit substances, alcohol, and tobacco. Education is especially important for newer, “designer” drugs, such as synthetic marijuana (e.g., Spice and K2) and bath salts (e.g., synthetic cathinones), which can be marketed as harmless, but are incredibly dangerous drugs that often have unpredictable results when taken.

Effective drug education campaigns should be ongoing, with recurring programming to fortify the original prevention message.2 Studies show that lack of follow-up programming can reduce the benefits of prevention campaigns.2 In addition, interactive prevention programming has better outcomes, allowing participants to play an active role in drug abuse education and the development of prevention skills, especially when role-playing and discussion groups with peers are included.2

When research-based drug abuse education campaigns are implemented, they are not only effective, they can also reduce the cost of future substance use disorders.2 Studies show that for every dollar allocated toward prevention campaigns, there is a ten-fold savings in treatment for substance use disorder treatment.2

Helpful Resources

There are manyreliable, informative substance abuse education sources available on the internet. The following is a list of some of the sources that can be accessed to learn more about substance use and prevention.

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. This site provides information on substance use prevention for all ages, and also offers a family checkup, a questionnaire that helps parents learn about parenting skills that help prevent future substance use in children or teens.
  • NIDA for Teens. This site is an offshoot of the National Institute on Drug Abuse website that provides information aimed at teens in an interactive, interesting, and easy-to-understand format that appeals to young people.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This link contains a wealth of knowledge about prevention, substance use disorders, and treatment. It addresses prevention programming at several different levels, including school, family, and community settings, as well as providing information about risk and protective factors and evidence-based practices.
  • Monitoring the Future survey. This website surveys American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders to provide current statistics on teen alcohol, drug, and tobacco use. The results are analyzed to determine trends based on the results from previous years.
  • Youth.gov. This is a government site that offers information about substance use prevention, as well as links to all areas of prevention, including articles, programs, publications, research, training resources, and websites.
  • Above the Influence. This is the website for a popular nationwide substance use prevention campaign. This program was developed as part of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, and works to encourage teenagers to resist peer pressure and negative influences that promote substance use.
  • AWARxE Prescription Drug Safety Program. This site provides information about proper use, storage, disposal, and prevention for prescription drugs. Prescription drug awareness events occurring throughout the United States are also listed on this site.
  • Too Smart To Start. This is an educational program funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Its aim is to spark conversations between adults and adolescents about the risks and harm of underage alcohol consumption, and to increase awareness of underage drinking as a detrimental thing. This website offers different areas for children, teenagers, families, teachers, and leaders in the community, providing different information and resources for each group.
  • Preventing Drug Use Among Children and Adolescents: A Research-Based Guide for Parents, Educators, and Community Leaders. This is a publication from the National Institute on Drug Abuse that provides comprehensive information on substance use prevention. It addresses risk and protective factors, community-based drug prevention, incorporating the principles of prevention into programs, and even provides examples of evidence-based prevention programs.
  • Drug Enforcement Administration. This is a government website that offers community outreach information, and provides links to helpful publications and websites regarding prevention of substance use.

There are many other prevention resources available online, but be aware that not all of the information is reliable. Look for community, state, or government resources for the most up-to-date, effective, research-based prevention information.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2003). Preventing drug abuse among children and adolescents (in brief).
  3. University of Michigan. (2015). Use of ecstasy, heroin, synthetic marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes declined among US teens in 2015.

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