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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Moving Upstream with Substance Use Prevention: What Works?

02/23/16 04:25 PM | Laura Winn | Youth, Substance Use, Prevention


After many years working on substance use recovery issues, my work has shifted to substance use prevention and early intervention. With a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, a team at the Center for Social Innovation is developing and testing Project Amp, a substance use prevention model. Project Amp seeks to delay or prevent substance use among teenagers by enhancing protective factors through brief mentorship with a young adult in recovery.

This innovative program applies recovery assets within a prevention framework; explores the effect that brief peer-based relationships have on behavior change; and enhances an integrated health care approach: Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment (SBIRT).Although this new approach is based on evidence from various fields, I’m attracted to age-old questions: Why do some kids thrive while other struggle? What makes one child more likely to abstain while others are drawn to alcohol and other drugs? What do kids need to cope with the pressures of adolescence? Can anything really make a difference?

Prevention research can help with some of these questions. Individual risk factors--such as genetic vulnerability, mental health disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder), traumatic experiences, struggles with sexual identity, physical injury, and stress--certainly play a role. Environmental factors--including substance use among family members and peers, family conflict, and neighborhood dynamics--have also been linked to an increased likelihood of use. The good news is that positive relationships with adults, peer groups that do not use substances, social competence and emotional regulation skills, involvement in positive activities, and future plans are all linked to healthier decision making.

But, I know we still have nagging questions in the back of our minds. Some kids with all the benefits in the world get wrapped up in addiction, while others seemingly beat all the odds. And, we don’t really know why.

It’s hard not to ask these questions as a daughter who lost her father to alcoholism and as a mother sending her children into a world where they will face the same temptations. What, if anything, will make their experience different than their grandfather’s? What tools do they need to make healthier choices?

I’m hoping we can learn more with Project Amp. I’m hoping we can shed some light on these nagging questions and build on the knowledge we have about what makes a difference in a young person’s life. I’m hoping that by trying something new, we can make a difference in as many communities as we can.

Image by EladeManu (CC BY 2.0).

Laura Winn

Written by Laura Winn

Laura Pannella Winn is an applied social scientist interested in health care policy and its intersection with substance use, mental health, and homeless services. As an Associate at the Center for Social Innovation, she has led the implementation of many related federally funded research and training grants. She currently serves as the Deputy Project Director of Project Amp, an intervention research project aimed at preventing substance use disorders in adolescents though a brief mentorship with young adults in recovery. Laura received her master’s in social sciences from the University of Chicago. She lives in Chapel Hill, NC with her husband and two children. Her work is informed by a family history of addiction.