The Evolution of Substance Misuse Prevention Among Teens

Dr. Lori Holleran Steiker presents research on how culturally grounded social work can aid in youth substance misuse prevention
By John Carranza

How have efforts to curb substance misuse among teens evolved over the past several decades?

High rates of adolescent drug use in the United States has posed a problem to researchers of human development for decades. In the 1960’s, the epidemic of teen drug use began to sky rocket, causing researchers who study human development to begin seeing drug use as a social norm. In an effort to curb widespread drug use, programs such as D.A.R.E began sprouting up to educate youth on the risks associated with drug misuse and to teach students how to resist peer pressure. Although these programs ameliorated the issue of widespread drug misuse among teens, the research has shown that these successes were not, in fact, due to these programs’ attempts to educate youth, but rather due to the sustained and long-term interaction that these programs fostered between teachers and students. The more successful programs additionally accounted for the maturation process of adolescents and the cultural environments that adolescents negotiate daily.

Dr. Lori Holleran Steiker, Professor of Social Work, specializes in substance misuse prevention, culturally grounded social work, and addiction recovery mechanisms for youth. Her work on initiatives designed to assist adolescents in overcoming addiction is characterized by her acknowledgment of adolescents’ cultural background as a salient factor in substance use disorders. Grounding much of Dr. Holleran Steiker’s work is the underlying belief that a general drug prevention program with methods grounded in one culture will not necessarily be effective in another culture.

To assist adolescents who have chosen recovery, Dr. Holleran Steiker has advocated on behalf of the University High School, a non-profit sober University of Texas charter school for students in recovery from substance abuse disorder. The purpose of University High School is to provide students the opportunity to thrive in a supportive environment alongside peers who are also going through the recovery process. It provides an alternative to students’ returning to an environment that will also likely enable their return to drug use. Instead, youths in recovery can transition from acute care intervention, in which they receive initial treatment, to a community that offers wrap-around services, ongoing treatment and education.

Dr. Holleran Steiker has also been able to secure funding for the Youth Substance Misuse and Addiction Pop-Up Institute. This Pop-Up Institute will be a collaboration between scholars and agencies and organizations “who focus on youth substance misuse, research, intervention, and recovery initiatives.”  It is comprised of four basic projects: (1) an interdisciplinary mechanism for discussion and data sharing, (2) an opportunity to produce a special edition of a journal related to the interdisciplinary solutions for youth substance misuse, (3) a conference to disseminate the findings, and (4) a chance for the experts and the community to recommend ways to infuse undergraduate education with protective resources and wellness components.

While the opioid epidemic is raging, it is important for adolescents and young adults to have access to information about recovery and prevention services. The Pop-Up Institute will benefit the University of Texas community by asking community members take an active role in the program and utilize the resources available. The Pop-Up Institute, in conjunction with Operation Naloxone, which provides prevention and response education to members of the UT community, are invaluable initiatives meant to combat the persistent opioid epidemic. Providing education about overdose prevention and training UT community members to administer naloxone, a medication used to treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency situation, will reduce the loss of life due to drug overdose and ensure that the university campus remains a place for academic excellence.

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