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Substance Abuse

Understanding the warning signs, risk factors, and protective factors associated with substance abuse are key to providing effective prevention, intervention, and treatment.

Risk and protective factors are the environmental, experiential, or biological circumstances of a person or group that make it more (risk factors) or less (protective factors) likely that a person will develop a problem. Warning signs serve as signals that something may be wrong, that someone could be in danger, and that action may need to be taken.

If you or someone you know is in need of substance abuse treatment services, please visit:

The IHS treatment locator, Find Health Care, a searchable map for finding Indian Health Service, Tribal or Urban Indian Health Program facilities.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a useful Behavioral Health Treatment Services LocatorExit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

Warning Signs of Substance Abuse

from the Partnership for Drug-Free KidsExit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

  • Change in relationships with family, friends, others
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Mood changes or emotional instability
  • Periods of sleeplessness, increased activity
  • Hostile, angry, uncooperative, deceitful, or secretive behavior
  • Changes in speech, inability to speak intelligibly
  • Change in appearance, poor hygiene
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities, hobbies
  • Missing work or school
  • Complaints or comments from co-workers or teachers

Protective Factors Against Substance Abuse

American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) culture often provides protective factors in AI/AN communities, and culture serves as one of the quintessential pathways toward healing, health and wellness. Protective factors are elements in a person's life which make it easier to avoid hazard or risk. Protective factors can come from individuals, families, and communities. The following behavioral, social, familial, or environmental factors may help prevent or reduce the likelihood that an individual may use or become dependent on drugs:

  • Positive connections to family, friends, or community
  • Lack of access to lethal means for enacting suicide or drugs
  • Availability of and access to clinical services and medical treatment
  • Cultural or religious beliefs that value self-preservation
  • Willingness to get treatment
  • Self-control
  • High self-esteem
  • Strong coping and problem-solving skills
  • Resistance to negative peer pressure