New Study Highlights Role of Mentor-Mentee Conversations in Preventing Substance Use Among African American Youth

African young psychologist talking to teenage boy during therapy session at classroom

Reference: Kaufman, M. R., Wright, K., Simon, J., Bazell, A., DuBois, D. L., Palen, L.-A., & Latkin, C. (2023). Preventing Substance Use among Urban, African American Youth: The Potential of Mentor-Mentee Conversations. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 110943. 

Summarized By: Ariel Ervin

About this Study

Evidence shows that substance use often begins during adolescence. Given its prevalence, it’s critical to develop prevention during this stage. Natural mentoring (relationships between youth and significant adult in their social networks) can promote self-esteem, positive adolescent health behaviors, & healthy coping strategies and alleviate stress, isolation, and loneliness. However, despite the potential mentoring relationships have for combating substance abuse, it is still unclear what mentoring mechanisms reduce the risks of substance abuse and other unhealthy behaviors. Learning more about communication and other possible prevention pathways is essential to optimize mentoring for adolescent substance use prevention. This study evaluates whether adults and African-American youth in long-term mentoring relationships discuss substance use and whether a digital app will help mentors facilitate these discussions.

Key Findings:

  • Most mentors felt comfortable with the idea of talking about substance use with their mentors, particularly on subjects like alcohol and marijuana. 
    • Evidence suggests that comfort levels are associated with mentors’ knowledge or experience of substance use or what they suspect their mentees to be engaging with. 
  • However, despite this finding, nearly half of the participating mentors said they had little to no actual discussions about substance use. Whenever they brought up the subject, their mentees appeared averse, discouraging mentors from pursuing the topic further. 
    • Some mentors doubted their authority in addressing substance use. Others wanted to provide an escape for their mentees. 
    • Female mentors felt relatively less comfortable talking about substance use than their male counterparts. 
  • During the qualitative interviews, mentors most often discussed whether their mentees were or were not using substances, the consequences of substance use, and barriers to discussing substance use.
  • Study participants supported the idea of having an app to encourage discussions about substance use and other sensitive subjects. They said that it can function as a quick & accessible information repository and offer interactive advice on conversations about substance use (including guidance on responding to specific scenarios via roleplay, case studies, etc.). 

Implications for Mentoring 

These findings suggest that many mentors are ready to discuss substance use with their mentees, however, in order to promote these conversations, mentoring programs must implement training, protocol and support for mentors. Training should address mentors’ concerns about relaying false information, overstepping boundaries and encouraging mentors to use their experiences with substance use when approaching conversations with their mentees. An app designed to serve as both a repository of information and an aide in facilitating conversations may   make it significantly easier for mentors to navigate these discussions. By combining these strategies with ongoing efforts to refine mentor training and support, this research opens up new possibilities for mentoring programs to play an even more impactful role in preventing substance use among young adolescents.

To read the full study, click here.