Rise Together: New research empowers youth well-being: Strategies to tackle substance use and misuse

Appleton, WI – As students nationwide prepare to head back to school, a groundbreaking initiative takes the forefront, illuminating the path to enhanced youth well-being. Pioneering research by RISE TOGETHER in partnership with Penn State Medicine of College research team sheds light on the paramount importance of youth education, awareness, and prevention to counter harms from substance misuse and mental health problems.

Key Findings:

  • Empowering Youth: A comprehensive survey involving 10,379 middle and high school students tackled substance use and mental health issues head-on.
  • Substance Misuse Exposed: A staggering 27% (2,853 students) admitted to engaging in alcohol or other substance use.
  • Demand for Help: A mere 241 students sought assistance for their substance use, exposing a critical support gap.
  • The Road to Recovery: Encouragingly, 110 students shared their triumphant journey of seeking and receiving help, paving the way for long-term recovery.
  • A Disturbing Trend: Alarming findings revealed that 331 students initiated substance use as early as elementary school, some before age 8.

Uplifting Impact of RISE TOGETHER Programs:
The study identifies three transformative aspects:

  • Illuminating Insights: RISE TOGETHER prevention efforts instigate a profound understanding of the scope and consequences of – often unaddressed – substance use.
  • Courage to Seek Help: After program participation, students displayed newfound confidence in seeking or extending help to peers grappling with substance use and mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. 
  • Power of Dialogue: Authentic storytelling and relatable presenters with lived experience of addiction recovery amplify the delivery and receipt of harm reduction and recovery messages, dismantling stigma, nurturing dialogue, and promoting help-seeking/offering.

Unveiling the Spectrum of Substance Use:

  • Dominant Trends: The survey unravels the dominance of alcohol (85.6%), marijuana (41.3%), and tobacco (37.7%) in student substance use.
  • Beyond the Norm: Emerging substances include prescription pills (15.3%), stimulants (5.8%), ecstasy (3.5%), and even heroin (1.3%).

Elevating Positivity:
Quantitative insights from the students on RISE TOGETHER programs shine!

  • 51.2% felt a reduced inclination toward drug use after program participation.
  • 71.3% reported a profoundly positive experience with the RISE TOGETHER. 
  • 44.8% commended the enlightenment and knowledge about drug use, its impacts and prevention.
  • 57.7% celebrated the relatability of presenters.
  • 76.3% resonated deeply with the personal stories shared.

From the Upcoming Paper:
The study, titled “I started using everything,” led by Kenneth W. Verbos II, MD, MPH, MSc, underscores the gravity of adolescent substance use. This research accentuates the imperative of addressing substance use within educational settings and provides invaluable insights into potent prevention strategies.

Culmination of Change:
The soaring concern of adolescent substance use meets its match. RISE TOGETHER’s trailblazing peer-led recovery program, in partnership with Penn State College of Medicine team, led by Aleksandra Zgierska, MD, PhD, a family medicine and addiction medicine physician and researcher, delivers resounding success in empowering youth, educators, and youth workers with the courage to ask for help and fostering open discussions, delivers resounding success in dismantling stigma, championing holistic well-being, and instilling the hope that addiction is treatable.