Did We Crack the Code on Youth Substance Use Prevention? We think so.
Talking with youth about substance use has never been easy, but these new strategies will help providers.
The National Council for Mental Wellbeing has completed a year-long effort to create a new guide for youth-serving providers to help with their conversations with young people about substance use.
The guide, Getting Candid: Framing the Conversation Around Youth Substance Use Prevention, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was developed with the help of hundreds of young people to gather new data and insights into effective messaging tactics.
We Let Young People Do the Talking
Researchers asked young people to explain what they want to know about substance use and who they feel comfortable speaking with about the issue.
Young people said providers and people with lived experience are the two resources they trust more than any other on the topic of substance use. Nearly seven out of 10 youth surveyed in a national assessment – 68% – identified providers as the most trusted messenger for sensitive conversations on alcohol and other drug prevention. That includes therapists or counselors, primary care doctors or nurses, across school, community or behavioral healthcare settings.
The credibility providers have with young people means that it’s critical to supply them with the best information and strategies available so their conversations with young people are as meaningful as possible.
“We all know how important it is to provide young people with good information about substance use, and we know how important it is to do that early so young people avoid life-long issues with substance use,” National Council President and CEO Chuck Ingoglia said. “Providers need good information, too, and this new guide gives youth-serving providers – the people youths trust most on the topic of substance use – the resources and strategies to have meaningful conversations.”
We Know it isn’t Easy
Even though young people are thirsting for information from credible sources, engaging young people in conversations about substance use represents a significant challenge, even for youth-serving providers who communicate with and treat young people regularly.
But information is power, and Getting Candid: Framing the Conversation Around Youth Substance Use Prevention provides the information to help with those difficult conversations.
“The strength of this new communications resources is a result of the information the National Council received directly from the young people it is intended to benefit,” Ingoglia said. “The messages and strategies are built on a foundation of information provided by youth.”
The new resource provides a messaging framework, to clearly illustrate potential messages that positively resonate with youth. For instance, researchers spoke with young people about substance use to understand why they start using substances and why they stop. When it comes to abstaining or stopping, young people indicated they are most receptive to messages built around their future and the risk of addiction. When asked about substance use:
- 85% of middle schoolers and 82% of high schoolers said they “strongly agree” that they should not “let drug and alcohol use change or control” their plans for the future.
- 64% said potential negative impact on plans for the future was a convincing reason to stop using drugs or alcohol.
Communications strategies are presented step-by-step to help providers with efforts to:
- Establish trust
- Gather insights
- Frame the conversation
- Make the case
- Suggest action
Knowing what to say is important. Knowing how to say it is a separate challenge.
That’s why Getting Candid: Framing the Conversation Around Youth Substance Use Prevention is intended to help providers understand the impact of subtle differences in language. The document includes tips on what NOT to say and messages that are less likely to succeed, based on the feedback from the young people who provided feedback throughout the extensive research efforts.
Changing the Conversation
Conversations with young people are more important than ever.
The CDC said on November 17 that more than 100,000 Americans died of an overdose during the 12-month period ending in April 2021. That represents a 30 percent increase compared to a year ago, and there’s no end in sight. It is never too early to start a conversation with young people about substance use. The earlier prevention conversations happen with youth the greater the opportunity is to prevent substance use disorder – and reverse the trend.
Meaningful early identification and effective prevention minimizes the likelihood that youth develop a more serious substance use disorder in the future.
“An incredible amount of work went into this guide, and we’re so happy to make these communications strategies available to providers,” Ingoglia said. “We have developed what we believe is a very effective guide to communicate with young people on the subject of substance use, and we’ve done that clearly and concisely.”
FINANCIAL DISCLAIMER: This project is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $2,000,000 with 100% funded by CDC/HHS. The content is that of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS or the U.S. Government.