Does Putting Your Kids in Youth Sport deter them from Substance Use?

More than 80% of youth ages 3-17 participate in some form of sport

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Putting your kids in sports keeps them busy, healthy and out of trouble with drugs and alcohol, right?  Well… maybe, maybe not.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) recently concluded in their report, Youth Sport Programs that Address Substance Use—An Environmental Scan, there is very little evidence, particularly in Canada, as to the whether or not participation in sport is an effective tool in fostering youth substance use prevention. This is not to say sport doesn’t promote positive behaviour, it’s just that we can’t say for sure one way or the other because the relationship hasn’t been adequately studied. Some research points to a positive effect of participation in sport on reducing use of certain drugs, like marijuana, while other research found that participation increased the use of alcohol.

CCSA recommends that more research be done to help answer how participation in youth sport in Canada can be best used to prevent youth substance use and promote harm reduction. Using youth sport seems like a good idea since,

1)    More than 80% of youth ages 3-17 participate in some form of sport, and

2)    Youth sport teams in the adolescent years, where peer influence is particularly strong, could be used to de-normalize youth substance use.

Youth sport participation in Canada doesn’t have to just be about physical fitness and athletic performance, but building on that and recognizing its role in healthy social development, mental health and promoting resiliency skills makes it an logical place to involve youth substance use education.  Using your kids’ values about performing well, doing their best for their team and being competitive could be excellent factors to use to motivate healthy choices around substance use. If you are a parent of an adolescent involved in a team sport in Canada, think about talking to the coach or the sport organization’s leadership about adopting a program to educate youth about substance use. A great example to check out is Parent Action on Drug’s own CBC Program (Challenges, Beliefs and Changes).


Jane McCarthy, MSc, MPH
Manager, Program Development
Parent Action on Drugs

To direct coaches or sport administrators to the CCSA report go to

For more information on youth substance use prevention tips and tools visit

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