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Terminology: About terminology used on this site

Many terms ("drug use prevention," "drug abuse prevention," "alcohol and other drug use/abuse prevention") are conventionally used in prevention-related materials. In some contexts, these terms have formal definitions (e.g., the American Psychiatric Association [1995] has a list of diagnostic criteria that define "substance abuse" as a clinical disorder). On this site and in the Handbook, we use many of these terms. However, more often than not, we refer to "substance abuse" because:
1) It conveys the abuse of substances that may not be thought of as "drugs" (e.g., inhalants).
2) It is the inappropriate use of substances (i.e., abuse rather than use) that we are trying to prevent—we are not trying to prevent the use of appropriately used prescribed and over the counter drugs.
3) Prevention leaders working with youth have told us they prefer "substance abuse" to other terms.
Still, ambiguity is impossible to avoid completely. It should be clear that we believe that underage use of even legal substances (e.g., alcohol and tobacco) is inappropriate and should therefore be an aim of substance abuse prevention. Likewise, there are times when it makes sense to distinguish between the use of a substance (e.g., a 17-year-old sharing a friend's beer) and the abuse of a substance (e.g., regular binge drinking), even though both behaviors are illegal and thus are perceived by many to constitute "abuse."

Finally, if and when we refer to "drug" use and/or abuse, "drug" is meant to refer to illicit drugs as well as alcohol, tobacco, and other substances used for the purpose of intoxication.


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