The Science Behind Natural High

The Problem

Adolescent substance abuse is America’s #1 health problem.
– CASA, Columbia University

13 is the average age of first time Drug and Alcohol use. 9 out of 10 addictions start in the teen years.1, 2 There is no national programming in schools to teach youth about drug and alcohol abuse.

At Natural High, we understand drug and alcohol prevention. We use a multi faceted approach based on science and common sense. We teach youth essential life skills and apply the most effective protective factors through powerful storytellers and well-designed content.

Natural High Principles & The Research Behind Them



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



Peer influence and the power of social cultural influencers dramatically influences youth behavior. At NH, 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



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)



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



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



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 resiliency.

Brene Brown8

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Protective Measures That Work

kids playing in a green grass field

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. Instead, 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.

kids playing in a green grass field

Why Teaching Natural High Is So Important

teacher showing student a toy car sailing science project


The Search Institute discovered that youth who have a Spark (what they describe as a specific interest and what we call a natural high) and the support to develop them, do far better than those who don’t discover Sparks at all.4

iceland highest drugs and alcohol use in europe in the 90s
graph showing Iceland substance abuse decrease amongst 15 to 16 year old adolescents


In one of the largest drug prevention programs ever implemented, Iceland achieved the most dramatic drop in drug abuse across a large population. American psychology professor, Dr. Harvey Milkman, applied his research on the use of drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms to help Iceland solve its teen substance abuse problem.

He found that giving kids a better alternative to using, such as playing sports or music, dancing, or martial arts, coupled with teaching valuable life skills, resulted in success. The program also provided education and resources for parents, as well as encouraged positive peer-to-peer interaction and support.

Natural High incorporates Milkman’s 3 basic principles – finding a natural high, parental involvement, and peer interaction – in all of the free resources that it provides to schools, youth support organizations, and families.

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Why Storytelling?

Through stories, we learn and become inspired. We create a connection with the storytellers and obtain purpose and meaning for our lives. Youth are profoundly influenced for good or bad by those they look up to and the stories they tell. Natural High has chosen over 50 storytellers to share their incredible experiences about growing up, choosing a substance-free life and how they discovered their Natural High. These stories save lives.8

Delayed Usage Matters

infographic showing the brain delay from drugs and alcohol

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.

Most importantly we know that if we can delay the first time usage of addictive substances until after age 21, a youths chance of becoming addicted drops significantly. Youth are seven times more likely to become addicted if they try drugs before age 21.6, 7