How Young Peers in Recovery Are Amplifying Prevention and Early Intervention

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paquette_kristen_headshot_C4_2013-03-18What do young adults in recovery have to contribute to substance use prevention efforts?

So much, as it turns out.

For the past year, the Center for Social Innovation (C4) has collaborated with Young People in Recovery (YPR) and other partners, including Youth to Youth International; the Institute for Research, Education, and Training in Addictions; and Faces and Voices of Recovery to explore this question. We set out to design a prevention and early intervention model that draws upon the lived experience of young peers in recovery.

As the result of an intensive learning and design process, we created Project Amp: Amplifying Our Futures. Project Amp is a four-session, brief mentorship intervention that will be delivered in health care and school-based settings. Designed for adolescents identified as low to moderate risk of substance use through universal screening at their school of health clinic, Project Amp sessions cover goal setting, wellness, stress management, mindfulness and social influences. Ultimately, Project Amp seeks to connect adolescents to longer-term supports in their community to help establish positive activities and build self-esteem.

The key ingredient that brings Project Amp to life is that it is delivered by young adults (ages 18 to 28), called mentors, in recovery from substance use disorders. Mentors will look for opportunities to share their personal wellness and resiliency strategies, and to connect with adolescents about shared experiences and challenges. The brief intervention is less about a mentor’s personal experiences using alcohol and other drugs, and more about their personal strategies for wellness and their ability to relate to teens.

When young adults pursue recovery, they develop and enhance strategies to support wellness over the long term. For many, recovery is a process that encourages balance, and resiliency becomes a way of life. Young people in recovery also understand that in an adolescent’s life, there are critical moments where intervention and support can make a world of difference. More importantly, they understand the kinds of messages that teens need to hear in these circumstances.

[Related: An Alternative to ‘Just Say No’]

In a recent training, we asked Project Amp mentors how they thought their recovery experiences will translate to effective prevention. We think their answers speak for themselves.

“Learning that reaching out was not a sign of weakness was a pivotal moment, and one that I wish I knew as a kid,” shared one Project AMP mentor. Another said, “having people who are able to listen to you is a huge deal.”

Others pointed to the valuable resources and skills that they have gained during their recovery journeys — things we all need to sustain ourselves. These include: establishing supportive peer and community networks, pursuing goals and interests, maintaining boundaries and finding healthy outlets for stress. Project Amp mentors are eager to share these insights with young people, with the hopes of not only preventing substance use, but also introducing what it means to be and stay well.

Project Amp is being pilot tested in six communities this year to determine feasibility and potential effectiveness. Pilot sites include a clinical screening location, such as a primary care clinic, community health center or supportive school-based setting.

Mentors are recruited from local Young People in Recovery chapters, collegiate recovery programs, and recovery community organizations. Mentors receive training on recovery and prevention messaging, motivational interviewing, trauma-informed care and cultural competency, in addition to the Project Amp extended brief intervention.

Project Amp offers a fresh take on adolescent substance use prevention by integrating young adults in recovery.

Kristen Paquette, MPH, is chief program officer at the Center for Social Innovation, and Project Amp Director. Robert Ashford, PRS, is a peer recovery support specialist contributed to this column.  To learn more or get involved, visit center4si.com/project-amp/. Here you can sign up for our e-newsletter, contact the team, and find out more about Project Amp.

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How to Talk to Kids about Drugs — and How Not to

Howie’s Story

Playing Offense: Behavioral Health Interventions During Adolescence Is Our Best Shot