What is good drug and alcohol education?

Why doing drug education - and doing it well - matters

Why good drug education is vital for all young people

Alcohol and other drugs (including vaping) are an increasingly unavoidable part of the world most young people inhabit, whether online, in real life or both, and schools are key players in enabling them to gain the knowledge and skills they need to inhabit that world safely. Most recent government data shows that 59% of 15-year-olds in England (47% in Scotland) have been offered illegal drugs, and 38% (21% in Scotland) have tried them at least once,[1] and by the time they reach the end of their teens a majority will have had to make a decision about drugs. Most young people, whatever their age, don’t use drugs or drink to excess, but some do, and some that do will come to harm, and any harm is avoidable.

Evidence shows that universal, evidence-based drug education, embedded within a whole-school programme of PSHE/PSE, can prevent or reduce harm from drugs to young people, and the school community, environment, policies and wider practices can also all play a protective role.[2]


Drug education is also now mandatory in state-funded schools in England and Wales as part of Health Education, along with Relationships Education in primary schools, and Relationships and Sex Education in secondary schools. DfE guidelines published in June 2019 outline what this should cover. However, it is essential that this is done following evidence-based practice, in order not only to maximise the benefits, but also avoid increasing risk to students.


All DSM Foundation drug education delivery and resources follow evidence-based practice, as well as enabling schools in England and Wales to meet the requirements of the Relationships, Sex and Health Education curriculum.


Drug education - the evidence of what works (and what doesn't)

There is a considerable international body of research evaluating school-based intervention programmes aiming to prevent or delay onset of substance use, or to reduce use and/or harm. This identifies common characteristics of effective programmes, and also what has been shown to be ineffective, and in some cases these programmes have increased risk for young people.

Drug Education Forum

The DSM Foundation has led on the formation of the Drugs Education Forum, which brings together providers and practitioners from across the sector to uphold evidence-based standards, share best practice and advocate for all young people to have access to high quality drugs education. For more information, click here

For more information:

For an introduction to what good drug education looks like, and the DSM Foundation approach, you can listen to Director Fiona Spargo-Mabbs, and drugs educator Sarah Birkett, speaking in a podcast recorded with Dr Suzi Gage in her ‘Say Why to Drugs’ series: 

[1] Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England 2018 (NHS Digital) https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2018

Scottish Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) 2018 (Scottish Government) https://www.gov.scot/collections/scottish-schools-adolescent-lifestyle-and-substance-use-survey-salsus/

[2] European Prevention Curriculum (EMCDDA, 2019) https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/manuals/european-prevention-curriculum_en

International Standards on Drug Use Prevention (UNODC, 2018) https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/prevention/prevention-standards.html

‘What works’ in drug education and prevention? (Scottish Government, 2016) https://www.gov.scot/publications/works-drug-education-prevention/

European Drug Prevention Quality Standards (EMCDDA, 2011) https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/manuals/prevention-standards_en