At Natural High, we understand drug and alcohol prevention—and the science behind it.

“Adolescent substance abuse is America’s #1 public health problem” (Pre-Covid) – CASA, Columbia University1

The Problem

13 Iis the avg age of first-time drug use

13 is the average age of
first-time drug and
alcohol use.

9 out of 10
addictions start in
the teen years.

There is no national programming
in schools to teach youth about
drug and alcohol abuse.

Our Solution

Our evidence-based program is used in all 50 states and makes use of current scientific findings on youth behavior, brain development, social norming, and substance abuse prevention. The latest scientific research speaks to the power of positive example, of engaging influencers to create change in culture, and of course — the power of the natural high. This research shows that when young people find their true passions — those activities that uplift, motivate, and inspire them — and are supported in these choices by family, friends, school, and community, they are more likely to avoid drugs and alcohol.

Here’s what we know after 25 years of doing this work —

Protective Measures That Work

We all want our youth to thrive. At Natural High, we do this by protecting them on the outside and igniting their passions on the inside. The way to protect them is to delay or prevent drug use. There is no single formula. We have identified a series of preventative factors, what we call the six principles of Natural High. We teach these in a language our youth understand, through the art of storytelling.

These protective measures include tools for the family, school programs, and community.

Natural High offers easy, effective and fun ways for a community of educators, mentors and parents to deliver these protective measures in a relevant way for today.

Positivity Works

Positivity Works

We know — and science shows — that kids don’t respond to simply being told what not to do. The fact is, changing behavior in youth is not just about presenting the ‘risk’ and then threatening consequences. Youth respond best to a positive message delivered by peers and role models they admire. We have to give them a choice that is not just about avoiding a negative but choosing a positive.

Storytelling Changes Lives

Storytelling Changes Lives

At Natural High we believe in the power of storytelling to change lives.

Each day more research is coming out about the power of stories to impact the human brain. Why does this matter so much to us? Consider this — research shows that a fact delivered in a story is 22 times as likely to stick than a fact delivered by itself or among a list of facts. For a kid, faced with a choice of whether or not to try drugs, that moment of recall can mean the difference between death and life. You bet we’re going to try to get our stories in front of as many kids as we can!

When your child hears a story and relates to it, it means that they are better equipped to choose the right path when faced with difficult decisions themselves.

The Power of One Good Role Model

The Power of One Good Role Model

All of us remember those key individuals who made a difference in our lives when we were growing up. These role models are the backbone of a kid’s protective measures when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse. A kid presented with the choice to use drugs will often find themselves asking — ‘what would my role model do?’

This is why at Natural High we engage the role models that kids look up to the most. Our storytellers are cultural icons, heroes — the people that kids aspire to be like. They range from Olympians and sports champions to fashion designers to the musicians that are at the top of young people’s playlists. When these storytellers talk about their own experience avoiding drugs and alcohol, their own passions and how they found the courage to pursue them, you can bet that kids listen.

To Change Minds, You’ve Got To Change Culture

To Change Minds, You’ve Got To Change Culture

Kids look to each other and to their heroes to understand what’s cool. The culture that kids are immersed in determines a large part of how they live their lives and the choices that they make. Ask any good educator, advertiser, marketing guru, psychologist — culture is key.

So at Natural High we know that if you want to change youth behavior, you have to change culture. How do you do this?

You give kids something to aspire to. You engage their heroes. You make it cool to make positive choices. Access kids through their passions — reach them on the ballfield, or at the concert, or through their favorite apps. Deliver the message through the people in those spaces that they look up to the most.

It’s Never Too Early To Start The Conversation

It’s Never Too Early To Start The Conversation

Let’s face it — talking to your kids about drug and alcohol abuse is hard to do. However, it’s vital that you start the conversation early. Why? Because according to Columbia University teen drug use is the number one public health problem in America, and 13 is the average age that kids try an illegal substance for the first time. Not only that, youth that start drinking or using drugs at an early age are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction.

It’s important that parents and educators know the facts about teen use. 1 in 6 high school teens binge drink, or about 16 percent. But only 1 percent of parents believe that their kids binge drink.

So the time to start is sooner than you think. Our recommendation — parents in America should introduce drug and alcohol prevention education no later than 6th grade.

Delaying First Time Use Makes All The Difference

Delaying First Time Use Makes All The Difference

There’s a chance that even with all the education and support you offer them, your child may try drugs or alcohol.

One of the keys is to delay that first time use for as long as possible. Research shows that if first time use in youth is delayed by 12-24 months, the likelihood of addiction drops dramatically. Youth are seven times more likely to become addicted if they try drugs before age 21.

Layering Protective Measures Builds a Stronger Defense

Layering Protective Measures Builds a Stronger Defense

As a drug abuse prevention non-profit organization, at Natural High we know that it is not any one thing but rather a combination of factors that ultimately leads young people to have the courage to avoid drug and alcohol abuse.

Our curriculum focuses on these protective factors, giving young people a well-rounded skill set that is rooted in the latest research on drug prevention.

Our activities and discussions focus on helping young people find their natural high, surround themselves with positive peer influence, believe in themselves, set goals, cultivate strong mentor relationships, and develop resilience.

Natural High Principles &
The Research Behind Them

1. PURSUE YOUR NATURAL HIGH

Research has shown one of the single most effective protective factors for helping youth thrive and lowering addiction risk is to inspire them to identify and pursue their Natural High. Inspire them to find their passion, get involved, and show them it’s a better choice.


Iceland Study5, Search Institute4

2. EMBRACE POSITIVE PEER INFLUENCE

Peer influence and the power of social cultural influencers dramatically influences youth behavior. At Natural High, we speak to youth through powerful storytellers who they can relate to. We empower youth through social norming to understand that many cultural icons, as well as their peers, choose their Natural High over drug and alcohol abuse.

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

3. CULTIVATE MENTOR RELATIONSHIPS

Natural High taps into the power of mentors to reach millions of youth and helps to accelerate and strengthen the mentor/youth relationship. We know that youth who have caring, supportive relationships with adults and mentors are more likely to develop perseverance and motivation.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

4. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

Our storytellers convey that abilities and talents can be developed through effort and persistence, and they motivate youth to learn and improve their skills. Youth who believe that they can achieve their goals through hard work are inspired to work harder. Natural High’s videos and supporting curriculum help teachers move youth towards a positive mindset.


Growth Mindset works, Carol Dweck9 • Grit – Angela Lee Duckworth, Psychologist At the University of Pennsylvania10

5. SET GOALS

Youth who set goals learn to avoid taking poorly thought out short-term actions and develop a more positive and motivated outlook in life. Natural High arms teachers with science-based content to support the teaching of goal-setting strategies.


International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health • Grit – Angela Lee Duckworth, Psychologist At the University of Pennsylvania10

6. DEVELOP RESILIENCE

The ability to rebound from a challenge or obstacle is key to a young person’s ability to thrive. Natural High’s storytellers share their personal stories of challenge and triumph that demonstrate the power of resiliency8.


Brene Brown

It’s All About The Natural High

Research shows that when young people find their true passions — those activities that uplift, motivate, and inspire them —and are supported in these choices by family, friends, school, and community, they are more likely to avoid drugs and alcohol.

We’ve been saying this for 25 years. It’s all about the natural high. And research supports us —

Peter Benson of the SEARCH institute interviewed thousands of kids and tracked them over early childhood to adulthood. He found that the single most important factor for thriving was what he calls the SPARK. Kids that find their spark — another word for Natural High — are far more likely to lead happy, successful lives.

In Iceland, Dr. Harvey Milkman set out with this hypothesis: “Orchestrate a social movement around natural highs: around people getting high on their own brain chemistry – without the deleterious effects of drugs.”

He researched the chemistry of behavioral addiction for years before concluding that substituting a natural high for drug and alcohol abuse wasn’t just a nice idea — it could actually work. As he said: “We didn’t say to them, you’re coming in for treatment. We said, ‘we’ll teach you anything you want to learn: music, dance, hip hop, art, martial arts.’ The idea was that these different classes could provide a variety of alterations in the kids’ brain chemistry, and give them what they needed to cope better with life.”

In this case study, the results were incredible—between 1997 and 2012, Iceland went from the highest drug and alcohol abuse rate in Europe to the lowest. Alcohol abuse rates among teens fell from 43% to 6%. Some called this country-wide revolution the single most significant social milestone in drug and alcohol prevention ever. All through the power of the Natural High.

Delayed Usage Matters

We know that a youth’s brain is still significantly developing in the adolescent years. To be more specific, the part of the brain that controls judgment (the frontal lobe) is not fully connected yet. They cannot access areas that equip them to make life-changing decisions like whether to experiment with drugs and alcohol as quickly as adults can.

Youth are seven times more likely to become addicted if they try drugs before age 216,7. Most importantly, we know that if we can delay the first time usage of addictive substances, until after age 21, a youth’s chance of becoming addicted drops significantly.

Start Saving Lives With Natural High

References

  1. Adolescent Substance Use: America’s #1 Public Health Problem.” The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 14 Apr. 2017.
  2. Guide for Policymakers: Prevention, Early Intervention and Treatment of Risky Substance Use and Addiction.” The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 4 Apr. 2017.
  3. Suggested Citation U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Surgeon General, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington, DC: HHS, November 2016.
  4. Peter C. Scales, Finding the Student Spark, Search Institute Insights & Evidence Nov. Vol. 5 No. 1. 2010.
  5. Young, Author: Emma, et al. “Iceland Knows How to Stop Teen Substance Abuse but the Rest of the World Isn’t Listening.” Mosaic, 17, Jan. 2017.
  6. “Changes in Brain Increase Teen Risk of Drug Addiction.” Hazelden. (Website)
  7. “Guide for Policymakers: Prevention, Early Intervention and Treatment of Risky Substance Use and Addiction.” The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 4 Apr. 2017. (page 37)
  8. “Research.” Brené Brown,
  9. Decades of Scientific Research That Started a Growth Mindset Revolution.” The Growth Mindset – What Is Growth Mindset – Mindset Works
  10. Psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania Angela Duckworth
  11. Natural High Impact Assessment 2014 – Harder + Company
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