Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

Reducing Youth Substance Abuse

Reducing Youth Substance Abuse

While substance use affects people of all ages, it has its roots in adolescence: 90 percent of people who are addicted began to smoke, drink, or use other drugs before the age of 18. The chances of developing an addiction are 6 times higher for teens who begin using before age 15 than for those who delay use until 21 or older.

The use of many illicit substances has leveled off or declined slightly in recent years, but marijuana use and binge drinking are on the rise, especially among youth. Substance use is a leading cause of preventable death and disability, a key contributing factor to all leading causes of teen death, a cause of violent and risky behavior, and a barrier to successful academic performance and career advancement.

FSG worked closely with foundation staff to design a strategy to prevent, detect, and address youth substance use. FSG’s work included a landscape assessment to understand the main actors, issues, gaps, and successful interventions in this field; in-depth research on the systems influencing youth substance use, prevention, and early detection; and interviews, focus groups, and meetings with field experts, public sector leaders, funders, and service providers.

The research revealed that Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), the most widely used early intervention approach for adults, held promise in helping identify at-risk youth, but had not been widely implemented and evaluated across the country. FSG helped foundation staff members identify strategic opportunities to expand access to SBIRT, increase funding streams, and support providers to embed and deliver SBIRT in their practice.

A critical step to expanding access to this program is testing innovative approaches to implementing SBIRT for youth and developing new knowledge about SBIRT education and implementation across various healthcare and youth service disciplines. Today, the foundation works with national medical and professional associations, health educators, advocacy organizations, technical assistance providers, and research institutions to advance the initiative’s goals.

  • To ensure that health and youth service providers have the knowledge and skills to provide SBIRT.
  • To expand access to, increase funding for, and strengthen implementation of SBIRT.
  • To strengthen the evidence base and foster learning to improve prevention and early intervention.

Through this strategy based on prevention and early intervention programs and systems, the foundation is working to achieve its vision of advancing innovative approaches to reduce youth substance use and promote health and wellbeing.

About the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation was created in 1944 by international business pioneer Conrad N. Hilton, who founded Hilton Hotels and left his fortune to help the world’s disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The Foundation currently conducts strategic initiatives in six priority areas: providing safe water, ending chronic homelessness, preventing substance use, helping children affected by HIV and AIDS, supporting transition-age youth in foster care, and extending Conrad Hilton’s support for the work of Catholic Sisters.


  • Landscape Assessment
  • Strategy

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