Children playing outside
print header


Drugs and Alcohol


Substance misuse refers to the harmful use of any substance, such as alcohol, a street drug, an over-the-counter drug, or a prescribed drug. Youth identify that they use drugs and alcohol for the same reasons that adults do; to enhance their social experience, and to cope with stress and mental health issues.

Educating students on why they should delay the onset of substance use is imperative for the developing teen brain. The teen brain is being ‘rewired’ and as a result is more vulnerable to the negative effects of drugs and alcohol. Teenagers are more likely to act impulsively and with gut instinct when faced with stressful or emotional decisions resulting in inexplicable behaviour and poor decision-making. Teens may not fully appreciate the immediate consequences of their actions. Educators play a key role in healthy student development.

For stats and details on Ontario Student Drug Use – Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS)

Lesson Plans

  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) – Suggested for Grades 9 and 10. CAMH provides free downloadable lesson plans related to substance use. These lesson plans meet the expectations of the substance use and abuse component of The Ontario Curriculum, H&PE. Lesson plans provide background information, student worksheets, teacher answer sheets, learning expectations, assessment tools, "Hot Tips for Teachers", tips on gender differences, tips for arranging a guest speaker, and teaching/learning strategies. This link also provides current information and resources on drug, alcohol and mental health issues. CAMH conducts the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey every two years with Grade 7 to12 students. Available in English and French. (CAMH).
  • iTHINK – A Critical Thinking & Media Literacy Manual (PDF) – Suggested for Grades 1 to 12. This free manual was created by student leaders, with the support of adult allies, to provide educators with methods to engage students to critically think about the world around them in order to support healthy decision-making, and mitigate the influence of media marketing related to a number of health-related topics, e.g. drugs and alcohol. This manual focuses on the explicit media literacy and critical thinking curriculum mandates in the subjects of the Arts, Language, and H&PE, and links them to activities in the manual based on grade.  Each activity contains learning outcomes, grade level, specific step by step guidelines to run the activity, and materials needed. Links to YouTube, quizzes, case studies and many other resources are provided to support critical learning. (Central East Tobacco Control Area Network (TCAN) and Peterborough County City Health Unit).
  • Ophea: H&PE Curriculum Lesson Plans – Suggested for Grades 9 to 12. These curriculum resources are available to subscribing School Boards across Ontario through a password protected website. The resources are organized into two main sections that are consistent with the 2015 H&PE Curriculum: Movement Competence & Active Living, and Healthy Living. Talk to your school Health and Physical Education Lead or Curriculum Consultant to find out if your School Board subscribes. (Ophea).

Curriculum Support

  • Truth & Consequences – Now available as individual lesson plans for Grades 9 - 12. These interactive and innovative lesson plans address substance use and abuse expectations in the Healthy Living strand of the 2015 H&PE Curriculum. The lesson plans include:  speaker notes and backgrounder information, student worksheet, curriculum links and rubrics. 
  • Cycles – Developed by researchers at the UBC School of Nursing, Cycles is a film-based resource that encourages teens to talk openly and honestly about decision-making and marijuana use. The resource features a 28-minute film about fictional high school students and their relationships with cannabis. It also has a facilitator’s guide with lesson plans, teaching tips, student handouts and quick facts about cannabis use. While the facilitator’s guide is currently available in English only, the video is available with French subtitles.
  • Braking Point – Suggested for Grades 9 to 12. This online educational package contains links to video clips and the facilitator's guide that can support educators with teaching the risks of alcohol and drugs, and how to initiate alternative solutions. The tool dramatizes real situations of alcohol and marijuana use among youth, as well as the risks and consequences of heavy use. The resource is available in English, French, or Aboriginal versions. (MADD Canada).
  • iMinds - A Health Literacy Resource – For Grades 9-10. This free health education resource aims to help students maximize their drug literacy, by building knowledge and skills needed to survive and thrive in a world where drug use is common. It was designed to support BC Ministry of Education curricula, but is adaptable and available for use in Canadian schools. (Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, CARBC).

  • Talking About Mental Illness (TAMI) – Suggested for Grades 9 to 12. This program aims to increase awareness about mental illness and the stigma surrounding it. The program can be delivered by a classroom teacher or in partnership with service providers/community volunteers. A Teacher’s Resource Guide is available for download, containing information, support, and tools needed to implement talking about mental illness in the classroom. (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health).

SMDHU Programs

  • Truth & Consequences – Drug and Alcohol Awareness Conference – This interactive and innovative conference supports the substance use and abuse expectations in the Healthy Living strand of the 2015 H&PE Curriculum. A step-by-step planning guide is available online to support organizers with planning, implementing and evaluating the program. Public health nurses are also available to provide support and consultation. The cost to deliver the conference is minimal.

The health unit also offers a variety of programs and services for secondary schools (PDF), covering a wide range of health-related topics.

Additional Resources

  • The Art of Motivation is a tool that teachers can use to communicate with students about challenging issues, to help students explore making positive changes to their behaviour, including their use of alcohol, drugs, and substance abuse. (Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia).
  • Online Learning for the Effects of Cannabis Use during Adolescence (Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse) – This online learning module brings together the best, most current research and identifies what we know, what we don’t know and what is emerging on the issue of youth cannabis use. 
  • What’s With Weed - Interactive Website for Youth – Uses a harm reduction approach to help youth recognize and reduce problematic marijuana use. While the content does include and support abstinence in the range of strategies, it does not demand it. Instead the site is designed following a stages-of-change model that encourages users who haven’t previously thought about, or are starting to think about, quitting their use of marijuana to move towards action to avoid, reduce or prevent problematic marijuana use. This site is a Canadian educational resource developed with young people in Ontario who are both marijuana users and non-users, in partnership with drug education specialists, drug treatment counselors and researchers with funding from Health Canada.
  • Exchange Works Program – the Exchange Works Program provides clean needles and supplies to people who use drugs and encourages the return of used needles and equipment for safe disposal. Services are provided with an anonymous and non-judgmental approach.

Also, be sure to visit the Drugs and Alcohol section of the health unit’s website for more information related to alcohol, marijuana, prescription and other drugs.

Are you concerned about a student and/or would like additional information related to counselling or community supports? Find out where to get help.

Staff at the health unit are currently reviewing recommended lesson plans and curriculum supports for educators to align with Ontario’s 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum. Please use your discretion in determining which lesson plans and curriculum supports to use in your classroom. Updated and new resources will be posted online as available. 


Did you find what you were looking for?
What did you like about this page?
How can we improve this page?

If you have any questions or concerns that require a response, please contact Health Connection directly.

Thanks for your feedback.
Failed to submit comment. Please try submitting again or contact us at the Health Unit.
Comment already submitted ...