Mentor Training for Supporting Mentees During the Nationwide Addiction Crisis

Posted by eporter on January 17, 2024

Mentor Training for Supporting Mentees During the Nationwide Addiction Crisis

The national opioid crisis has grown exponentially since 2020, possibly due to reduced access to interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic and the mental health crisis that followed. During a 12-month period between 2022 and 2023, the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States reached a record-high of approximately 109,000.1 In addition, trends in substance use have evolved in recent years, making it increasingly difficult to thwart the addiction crisis. Polysubstance use has become increasingly common, with rates of cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl use rising alongside opioid use. Recent data has shown that 70-80% of people who are addicted to opioids also use other illicit substances.2

Polysubstance use is a slippery slope, and people who use multiple substances often do so unintentionally. Many receive substances that have been laced with other drugs without their knowledge, resulting in complex, unpredictable polysubstance use disorders that are difficult to treat. In addition, people who are pregnant have fewer treatment options to aid their recovery from substance misuse, and national prescription drug shortages (e.g., Adderall, a stimulant medication sometimes prescribed to curb urges for methamphetamine) affect patients’ abilities to receive treatment for substance misuse.

The evolution of the opioid crisis and difficulty in treating polysubstance use have raised important concerns about how youth and families can be protected from the negative impacts of substance misuse. In response to higher rates of youth drug overdoses, the White House urges school across the nation to stock naloxone, a medication used to treat opioid overdoses quickly.3 However, evidence-based substance use interventions and prevention programming are needed to protect youth from the impacts of the opioid crisis before emergency situations arise.

Youth who grow up in a household with others who misuse opioids are at an increased risk for substance misuse themselves, along with increased risk of mental health problems, abuse or neglect, accidental opioid poisoning, family dissolution, academic problems, and deficits in social skills.4 Mentoring is an effective approach to supporting youth who have been impacted by substance misuse, whether they are at-risk for substance use, are close to someone who is misusing drugs, or are in treatment or recovery from misusing. Mentoring may mitigate some of the harmful impacts of youth and family substance misuse because it allows youth to develop a meaningful relationship with a supportive, trustworthy adult. Research has shown that mentoring may reduce substance use, including illicit substance use, in youth and is positively correlated with social-emotional development and school engagement, among other benefits. More specifically, goal-oriented, individualized mentoring for youth impacted by substance misuse has been shown to reduce early substance use and increase youth motivation to stay involved in treatment for substance use disorders.5 This may be because this approach to mentoring considers mentees’ individual experiences and needs related to substance misuse and provides youth with opportunities to receive encouragement and strategies to meet their goals related to their health and wellbeing.

Before mentors can begin providing high-quality support to a mentee who has been impacted by substance misuse, they must be equipped with strategies to build a close, meaningful relationship with a mentee, learn about opioids and their impacts on youth, and develop skills to help their mentee avoid substance misuse. Mentoring Central developed Substance of Change: Building Assets in Mentees Affected by Substance Use to help mentors understand the pathways to addiction, learn how to support positive growth in their mentees, and learn key goals for their mentees who may be negatively impacted by exposure to opioids or other drugs.

Substance of Change (SOC) is a web-based, self-paced course consisting of five core lessons, as well as two optional lessons, which can be completed in approximately 1.5-2.5 hours (i.e., 1.5 hours for required lessons or 2.5 hours for full course). Mentors begin the course by learning about the importance of training for mentors meeting with youth impacted by substance use, what opioids are, and why people use opioids. Some goals for including these lessons are to teach mentors about the different pathways to addiction, to help mentors have greater empathy for people who have an addiction, and to develop some understanding about how addiction in the family and community can impact young people. SOC was designed specifically to address to the prevalence of opioid use during the national opioid crisis; however, the course is adaptable and applicable to mentoring programs serving youth impacted by a variety of substances.

SOC utilizes a goal-oriented, assets-building approach to mentoring by teaching mentors about several relevant desirable outcomes for their mentees, given their exposure to substance misuse, and providing mentors with actionable strategies to build their mentees’ strengths and abilities to avoid substance misuse. For example, mentors learn how to help their mentees build assets to cope with stress in a healthy way, be healthy and engaged in their community, and learn together about substance misuse. Mentors can watch engaging animations and interact with activities throughout the course by practicing making decisions in realistic scenarios, responding to questions in reinforcing quizzes to test their knowledge, and downloading tip sheets containing the key points from each lesson and strategies to remember for supporting their mentee.

SOC includes two additional, optional lessons designed to help mentors provide individualized mentoring experiences according to their mentees’ needs and experiences with substance misuse. One optional lesson outlines desired outcomes and strategies for supporting a mentee when someone close to them, such as a parent, is misusing substances. The other optional lesson provides guidelines for supporting a mentee who is in treatment or recovery for substance misuse.

If you are ready to start providing training to help mentors support mentees impacted by substance misuse, visit our website to get started.

If you want to read personal experiences from mentoring programs who have used the SOC course in communities deeply impacted by the opioid crisis, view our case studies featuring the Miami Valley Leadership Foundation or the Lexington Leadership Foundation.


  1. Ahmad, F. B., Cisewski, J. A., Rossen L.M., & Sutton, P. (2023). Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts. National Center for Health Statistics.
  2. Cowan, E., Perrone, J., Dziura, J., Edelman, E. J., Hawk, K., Herring, A., McCormack, R., Murphy, A., Phadke, M., Fiellin, D. A., & D’Onofrio, G. (2023). Urine Toxicology Profiles of Emergency Department Patients with Untreated Opioid Use Disorder: A Multi-Site View. The Journal of Emergency Medicine65(4), e357–e365.
  3. Tanz, L. J., Dinwiddie, A. T., Mattson, C. L., O’Donnell, J., & Davis, N. L. (2022). Drug Overdose Deaths Among Persons Aged 10–19 Years — United States, July 2019–December 2021. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 71(50), 1576–1582.
  4. Winstanley, E. L., & Stover, A. N. (2019). The Impact of the Opioid Epidemic on Children and Adolescents. Clinical Therapeutics41(9), 1655–1662.
  5. Tracy, K., Wachtel, L., Goldmann, E., Nissenfeld, J., Burton, M., Galanter, M., & Ball, S. A. (2020). Mentorship for Addiction Problems (MAP): A New Behavioral Intervention to Assist in the Treatment of Substance Use Disorders. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs81(5), 664–672.