A School-Based Program Identifying Personality Traits That Put Teens at Risk for Substance Use, with Dr. Patricia Conrod

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
A School-Based Program Identifying Personality Traits That Put Teens at Risk for Substance Use, with Dr. Patricia Conrod

Dr. Patricia Conrod and her team at PreVenture have identified 4 personality traits that make teens at higher risk for substance use later in life, and have developed a school-based program that helps these at-risk kids learn how to turn their personality challenges into strengths. 

Parents will want to learn about the traits and this program which has some astounding, evidence-based results* like:

  • an average of 50% reduction in alcohol consumption and drug usage
  • 50% reduction in odds of binge-drinking
  • delayed initiation of alcohol use and binge drinking
  • significantly reduced conduct problems
  • delayed initiation and reduced frequency of cannabis use
  • benefits for kids who did NOT participate in the program

Dr. Conrod also talks about important topics such as:

  • What she learned from studying children of alcoholics
  • The common thing she sees young people from all over the world struggling with today
  • Why a personality-based approach is so important for teens
  • How traits like impulsivity put kids at risk for substance use
  • Why parenting interventions are often started too late
  • How kids as young as 11 are able to reliably identify their personality traits and challenges
  • The myth of “the addictive personality”
  • Why 85% of kids sign up for the PreVenture program when it’s offered in their school
  • The “switch” that goes off in teens around age 14
  • Why it’s unacceptable for schools to not be offering skills-based, evidence-based prevention programs
  • and so much more – it was a fascinating conversation

The PreVenture program has been recognized as an evidence-based program by:

  • UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
  • World Health Organization (WHO)
  • US Surgeon General


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 Brenda  01:49
Hello Friends Welcome. I am really excited for you to hear from my guest today, who has developed a unique and groundbreaking drug and alcohol prevention program for tweens and teens, that is delivered in schools, and it helps kids recognize areas of their personalities that might increase their risk for substance use. And I had never heard of a program like this. And so I did some detective work. And I tracked down Dr. Patricia Conrod, to see if she would come on the show and share more about her work and about this specific program on hope stream. And so today, you get to hear the conversation that we had, and I will introduce Dr. Conrad, but I’m going to have to edit her a bio, because she has done so much and is so accomplished in this field of mental health and adolescence and addiction and neuroscience, that it would literally take 10 minutes just to give her due credit. 
Brenda  02:49
But to give you just a glimpse. Dr. Conrad is a clinical psychologist and a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Montreal. She’s an associate member The department’s of both pediatrics and neuroscience there. And Dr. Conrad. His research focuses on the causes and consequences of substance use and mental disorders from a developmental perspective. And she has developed this targeted drug and alcohol prevention program that we’re going to talk about today called preventer. And it was evaluated in multiple international trials and is now recognized as an evidence based program in the US by the US Surgeon General and the also the UNODC international guidelines on drug and drug prevention. She has written a lot she is very busy, she’s published over 200 peer reviewed articles and decided over 16,000 times in scientific literature and her publications are covered in all kinds of media including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, CNN, CBC, BBC, and I can Go on. So needless to say, I’m extremely grateful for Dr. Conrad coming on the podcast. And I really want to get into this conversation that we had. So I will let you hear now from Dr. Patricia Conrad with PreVenture.
Brenda Zane  04:19
Welcome, Dr. Conrad, I’m so thrilled to have you here today and to be talking with you about what I think is a really, really exciting body of work that you have. So thank you so much for taking the time to be on with me today.
Dr. Conrod  04:34
Oh, thank you. It’s, it’s my pleasure. I hope you and all your listeners are keeping well during these extraordinary circumstances. And thank you for keeping an eye on the issue of substance use because despite the fact that we’re in a, another major pandemic, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we were experiencing at least in North America, we were experiencing another major health crisis that really hadn’t been addressed. So it’s still there. And there’s still a lot of suffering happening. Right?
Brenda Zane  05:05
Yeah, I know. I do. I feel like it’s been sort of pushed on the back burner like, oh, that opioid crisis that we had going on. Yeah, that. So? Yeah, I’m working hard to make sure it stays, it stays at least somewhat above the fold. Well, before we get started, I always like to let people get to know you just a little bit better as a person. So I have kind of a fun question to ask you to start out with. And that is, What did you have for breakfast this morning?
I had an oat bowl.
Brenda  05:36
Oh, an oat bowl!
Dr. Conrod  05:40
Half an oat bowl, I shared the other half with my husband. So trying to be a little more healthy in my food choices and cut out wheat. So we’re trying oat bowls at the moment.
Brenda Zane  05:54
Interesting. Interesting. Are you doing sort of a gluten free diet at that?
Dr. Conrod  05:58
Yeah. I’m going to give it a try. And cutting trying to cut down on sugar as well. I don’t think it’s a good thing. Yeah.
Brenda Zane  06:06
Yeah. So what do you put in your oat bowl?
Dr. Conrod  06:08
I let someone else do that for me. It’s it’s one of those kind of prepared things that that comes in a food delivery service. So, one of the way, I’m a mother of two children and a very, very, very busy schedule. So I make use of a wonderful kind of food delivery service that that does a lot of the prep for you. And then you still get to feel like you’re cooking for your family, but there’s a lot less work involved.
Brenda  06:39
That’s brilliant. I love it. And you are if I’m not mistaken, you’re in Montreal, is that right? 
Dr. Conrod  06:44
That’s right. 
Brenda  06:45
Okay. Well, you’re my very first international guests. So thank you. Excellent. Well, why don’t we talk a little bit about, I’d love to hear kind of your path to getting into what you’re doing now and how you came about. doing the work that you’re doing. It’s nice to sort of get a history of how how people come to the place that they are.
Dr. Conrod  07:08
Right? Well, so I’m a clinical psychologist by training, but I’ve now found myself as a professor of psychiatry. And I’m based my research team is based at a pediatric hospital in a research center within a generalist pediatric hospital. So I’ve come to this point, really through through my research, just in my research, my findings, the data really, you know, drove me towards a more developmental approach to understanding addiction. So now I’m a Canada Research Chair and preventative mental health and addiction and I hold another philanthropic chair on on in social pediatrics, and I have an appointment in the pediatric department at University of Montreal and as well as the psychiatry department. So the way I got into it is I started out by studying risk factors for addiction, and at the time back in the 80s and 90s, the focus was on the genetic predisposition to alcoholism and other substance use disorders. Because it was very widely acknowledged and a very repeatable and robust finding, you know, one of the most consistent findings in medical research at the time was the familial transmission of, of substance use disorders. 
Dr. Conrod  08:26
And so I studied children of alcoholics and tried to understand what they were inheriting. And there there was a wide variety of characteristics that differentiated children from families with with multi generational family histories of substance misuse compared to those who did not have such histories, and the the variables that appear to be most relevant and consistent where you neurocognitive differences. So, so different, you know, styles of thinking, some learning difficulties, attentional problems, executive difficulties, but that there was also a variety of other other characteristics that maybe had smaller effects but were nevertheless consistently observed. So I really set out on this path of trying to understand why risk prediction is so highly concurrent with risk for other mental health concerns. And, and and what is it about those risk factors that translate that make young people more vulnerable to using and misusing substances. 
Dr. Conrod  09:45
So what is it about having a slight learning difficulty or attentional problem that draws you towards, you know early onset substance use and and and maintains a heavier and problematic pattern of substance use, it seems intuitive, but when you really start to try to think about it, it’s it’s it’s not obvious why some, you know, some of these mental health concerns or learning difficulties would make someone want to use a substance that actually exacerbates the problem in most cases. So I’ve spent many, many years to develop conducting cohort studies where we follow young people through adolescence and try to understand the pathways to, to the onset and misuse of substances but as a clinician, I have always done that work with with the NIH on developing interventions on the basis of what my my research reveals. So another program of research that I’ve maintained ever since the beginning of my career is how do you develop new intervention strategies that that help people to better manage the risk factors for addiction, and this has ended up becoming, you know, a really successful approach. It’s a personality based approach. It’s an approach that essentially understands how traits like disinhibition or an impulsivity that tends to put someone at risk for executive prowess problems, executive control problems, or attentional problems is what is also putting someone at risk for early onset substance misuse and recurrent problems with substances. 
Dr. Conrod  11:36
And so the interventions that were developed were designed to help someone manage the impulsivity as opposed to the attentional problems or the substance use really focused on managing impulsivity. And if you do that really well, the question at the time was could that actually help someone manage both sets of problems and that’s indeed what we’ve we’ve shown through the years using various rigorous randomized controlled trials involving people with substance use problems involving young, early, early, you know, underage drinkers and substance users or even children who have never even been exposed to substances yet if you if you teach them how to manage some of these early risk factors for addiction and mental health problems, you can help them not only delay the onset of their use, but prevent trends, transition to alcohol problems and other problems with illicit substances and mental health concerns.
Brenda  12:40
Yeah, wow. That’s there’s so much in there. It’s very, very amazing. A couple of things that sort of popped into my mind when you’re saying that is you’ve really gone upstream. I don’t know if you call upstream or back stream, but yeah, on to the root of the problem versus and I love that because I really am trying to provide a range of information on, you know, both education and prevention and treatment and all that, but to hear from you that you can go so far back to to really look at that, you know, I think there’s an analogy of, you know, finding people as they’ve jumped in a river and they’re drowning and going upstream and finding out why are they jumping in this is really the crux of that and, and to know that you’re really starting and looking how young Do you look at children like is this something that that you can start looking at it a very young like toddler age or
Dr. Conrod  13:44
Well, you can I mean, you can you can identify some some of these risk factors very early on but but the question is that you know, what point Can you do something about it? Parents, parenting interventions are very effective. too, in terms of helping families and children learn to manage disinhibited traits, as well as internalizing problems or more inhibited traits. The difficulty though, with parenting interventions is families tend not to engage with them until there’s a problem. So they’re not they tend not to be used, you know, effectively as a form of prevention, like really upstream prevention, because it’s very difficult, you know, they take a lot of investment from a family and so it’s hard to get the whole population to invest in them. So instead, the strategy that we developed was working with schools to deliver skills based psychological interventions to students in the school setting, where you could use the school context to do a brief screen to identify children as young as 11, 12, 13 right up to 17 years of age, but so it can really be done in any grade up to about 10-11 years of age, I’d say. And what’s fascinating is that even at 11 years of age, a young person is able to tell you yeah, I’m more impulsive than my peers or I, you know, I really am someone who seeks out stimulation stimulating experiences, or I’m someone who really has a lot more fears than other people. And so young people can, you know, children, older children or young adolescents can reliably identify these individual differences. 
Dr. Conrod  15:40
They can self report on them, and they’re highly predictive of whether they go on to develop problems to three to five years later. So that’s what we capitalize on is their ability to self report and and then what we do is we help schools to offer a brief targeted skill building program. Where you invite you invite young people to get together and do some goal setting and learn through through a two session workshop, how to identify and manage one of these four traits, how to avoid risky ways of coping with them. And I can explain that a little bit more. And and then how do I identify the thought processes that are characteristic of these traits and that are implicated in risky decision making improper and problematic behaviors. So it’s very much a cognitive behavioral intervention. But it also has some goal setting and some influences of positive psychology and motivational interviewing as well. So it’s, it’s using all the techniques that are used in clinical psychology but applied upstream before any problems have had their own
Brenda  17:01
That’s fascinating that at 11 that they can, that they themselves can really communicate that and I’m sure you must ask the questions in a way that feels very natural to them to answer so that they do kind of recognize those traits in themselves. And I love that you talk about identifying the thought processes, because at that young age, I think a lot of times, kids, they have all of those thoughts, but they don’t necessarily think of them as a thought process, right? It’s just what they think, satisfy for you to make them really aware of No, this is actually something that you can look at and potentially change is really, really powerful.
Dr. Conrod  17:39
That’s right, you know, when we do these in workshops with with younger adolescents, often it’s the very first time they’ve started to make the connection between thinking and feeling and enacting that and also the, you know, the recognition that just because you’ve had the thought, and it’s the first thought that comes to mind, it doesn’t mean that you Have to that’s the only thought you can have about a particular situation or reaction that you can choose how you react to something. And so that’s a pretty novel idea as well. So there is a bit of kind of building metacognitive awareness in the intervention. But what really sets it apart from other kinds of interventions is that it’s targeted. So what you end up talking about and the skills that you end up developing working on in these interventions really are focused on these different traits because the understanding is that you know, the situations that are considered risky for let’s say, a child who is impulsive compared to a child who is more sensitive to anxiety, situations will be different. their thought process will be different. The skills that you need to manage impulsivity in high risk situations will be different from those that you need to manage sensitivity to anxiety. So the interventions are very targeted in that way. And a young person who has impulsive tendencies is guided and learning to manage impulsivity, specifically. 
Brenda  19:10
So what are – you talked about, there’s four traits. And I’m sure for parents who are listening, and I and I talked about this on a recent episode that I have noticed consistently, when I talk with parents about their kids, there’s some typical things that come up all the time. So I’m curious to know, what are those the traits that you focus on?
Dr. Conrod  19:29
So, you know, that the work that I do is always empirically based. So these this has been demonstrated, you know, quite consistently in my work and others were at work, it’s, it’s, there isn’t just one personality trait. So this notion of the addictive personality doesn’t really stand up to empirical investigation. But what does seem to stand up is the notion that there are multiple traits that are linked to risk for substance use disorders. So impulsivity I’ve already mentioned. So the tendency to kind of act rationally without thinking. But another one is is thrill seeking or or cincin sensation seeking. And that can be different from impulsivity. sensation seekers aren’t necessarily always impulsive. They really tend to be driven by the desire to experience intense, arousing situations and get bored very easily. But other traits like hopelessness, are also very much implicated in risk for for early onset, problematic use in adolescence and tends to co occur with risk for depression. And then there’s another couple of traits that we focus on. So one is anxiety sensitivity, it actually acts as a protective factor early on, because so this is a trait that is very much implicated in risk for panic related anxiety disorders, and it’s it’s not so much a tendency to experience a lot of anxiety but when you experience anxiety, you have a real fear you have your own physiologic arousal or sensations related to being anxious. So items that would would detect anxiety sensitivity would be something like, It scares me when I feel my heartbeat. So what’s interesting about that trait is that it kind of protects young people early on because they’re, they tend not to try substances early on because out of fear of what the substances will do to their physiology, but once they’ve transitioned to substance use, they very quickly realize wow, there are certain substances that really are good at helping them manage their their the the anxiety and the arousal symptoms that they so fear, and so they telescope more quickly to to becoming dependent on certain types of substances. So Those are the four. And then we’ve also more recently been focusing on a couple of others. So there’s another trait that it only characterizes a small portion of the population, but it’s called psychotic like experiences or this tendency to, to maybe attribute too much salience to certain odd perceptual experiences. It’s a very rare trait. It’s more often observed in very young, it’s very young adolescence and, and children grow out of that, but there’s a small portion of the population about 7% of the population who who struggle with that all the way through adolescence, and they’re the ones who you would you’ve probably seen Brenda in your in your clinic who who develop difficulty with substance use and and psychotic symptoms and disorders. So that would be a fifth trait.
Brenda Zane  22:58
And just this this I know you’ve done this with thousands of young people, is this pretty across the board? Male to Female? Are there differences there that you see?
Dr. Conrod  23:10
Yeah, there there are some differences. So you tend to see, you know, higher impulsivity scores in males and higher anxiety sensitivity scores and females. But you it’s it’s, it’s more that there’s a slight imbalance. But you can you see these traits in both genders. And in fact, you know, many people have some degree of these traits in them. It exists in everyone is just some people experience these more intensely than others.
Brenda Zane  23:50
Right. And for, especially for parents, I think it can be such a confusing time as your kids get into that 1211 1213 year old age, they do. You start to make changes just naturally as adolescence and then. So it’s hard to tell sometimes what is sort of normal teen, you know, in between behavior and what is not. And so something like this that gives you that, like you said, that empirical data to say, Yes, your child might be impulsive and a level of that is normal, but this level might be something to pay more attention to is that sort of, is it kind of a litmus test in a way for parents?
Dr. Conrod  24:31
I fully agree with what what you’ve just said. That’s exactly it is. In Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and psychology often, you know, the parents and the child and the school might be detecting that things are our little you know, that there’s a struggle that things are uncomfortable that you know, meet the child might be coming distant, but really the only way to access services in many parts of the world or to for any In the family to agree that this child requires some kind of intervention, things have to escalate to, you know, a very high level. And and what we’re suggesting in this approach is that you know that that can often be a two year period where where symptoms and difficulties are evolving and having an impact on learning at school and friendships and so on. And that schools should take a bit more of responsibility and being a bit proactive in terms of reaching out to children, allowing them the opportunity to self report on the existence of these traits and how they feel how you know how much of these traits they’re experiencing, and allow them opportunities to do something about it. And what’s amazing is that when you offer this program in a school and you advertise it, you know, in a way that that that is accurate, but all So that it, you know, is is positive and, and focuses on the preventative nature of it. But 85% of students sign up for the program. So they’re interested in this. They’re interested in learning the skills and the way we, we advertise it. As we say, this is a workshop where you learn about your personality, you learn about your personal strengths, and maybe some of your personal weaknesses and you learn to skills to help channel your personality towards your long term goals. And when you put it that way, and when it’s offered to a wide range of students, regardless of whether they’ve started to experience problems or not, what you find is that overwhelming overwhelmingly, the majority of of adolescence would like this kind of assistance.
Brenda Zane  26:49
Yeah, I think as an adult, it sounds something like something I would like,
Dr. Conrod  26:53
you know, when you put it that way. Yeah, it’s
Brenda Zane  26:55
really that is such a I was gonna ask you that how you position this. So that It doesn’t come across as, you know, something specifically geared towards preventing, you know, addiction or substance use. So that’s really helpful to know. And yeah, that sounds really positive and and i would imagine as teens are going through those, those years are so hard, you know, anyway, just the confusion and the peer pressure just to have something that sounds like a solid tool to use to kind of help ease that path sounds like it would be just really empowering for them.
Dr. Conrod  27:34
Absolutely. And if you’d like to, if you’d like to get to just to hear some testimonials on our website, so if you go to the Preventure.ca website, we have a number of videos that that offer some testimonials from from adolescents who’ve been through the program and they just articulate what they like about it so beautifully. So one thing is that just you know, the feeling of having a place to talk about this and hearing that there are other young people who are like them, and who are experiencing some of the same challenges that they’re experiencing. So many young people go to these workshops, thinking, the stuff, the stuff that’s going through their head, the stuff that they’re struggling with, nobody else would understand it. And it’s a huge relief to them to hear that there are other young people in the school who they thought had it all together, who are also having some, you know, questioning, how do I interpret certain situations, you know, am I overreacting or who even self report having had a major overreaction at times? So I guess what I didn’t mention is that these are group based. And the more we do research on these, this intervention approach, the more we learn from young people that they they really learn from each other better than learning from a facilitator. So they’re guided by a very well trained counselor or teacher, or psychologist. But what the facilitator does is it presents information and facilitates discussion. But experientially, the young people learn from each other and not from the facilitator necessarily. It’s also manual base. So they all they, they’ll, they’ll take a really helpful work booklet home with them and get to continue learning that way. So
Brenda  29:32
yeah, and like you said, this is this is such a great sort of non emergency way to get that information. So you’re not waiting until they’re in the principal’s office or you’re not waiting until they’ve, you know, gotten caught with marijuana in school or something. This this is that entree that seems like it’s a very positive way to get that information versus sort of a discipline, you know, corrective way to do it. Yeah.
Dr. Conrod  30:05
Yeah, absolutely. And, and it also, you know, by training schools and counseling teams or special education teams, on how to deliver the approach, it also provides them with tools. And a dialog that they can have with students as problems do arise it should they arise down the road. So remember that remember that workshop we talked about memory or impulsivity? Was this a situation in which maybe you reacted impulsively, and it just allows them to quickly move into this is what often with the counselors at the schools will tell us to allows them an opportunity to quickly pick up on and engage in in a in a constructive type of discussion and intervention.
Brenda  30:51
And so so you run and this is the PreVenture program. I just want to make sure that we…
Dr. Conrod  30:57
That’s right.
Brenda  30:58
I couldn’t remember if we said that. Not so it’s called PreVenture. And so it’s it’s actually administered through schools. Right. So this is something that a school district kind of adopts, or how does that actually work? How does it come to be?
Dr. Conrod  31:14
It’s, it’s a pretty flexible program. So there are all kinds of variations of implementations of the of the program. It, you know, we’ve got certain districts in the US where the county judge has decided this, this should be available to all youth, you know, within schools, so that, you know, I don’t have to deal with the ramifications much for long from a from a, you know, punitive or legal perspective. And, and, or it could be a school Commissioner, an individual school that decides we’re going to bring the program to our students. So it you know, they’re there. There are also organizations potential potentially like yourselves,
Dr. Conrod  32:04
or their organizations in the US where, for example, families who have lost children to addiction. And these are charitable organizations now that are just offering to train schools and bring the program to their communities or deliver it themselves. So, so essentially, what we advocate, though, is that you deliver the program in the school because that’s where most young people can be found, especially at younger ages. So in the seventh, eighth and ninth grade, they, you know, they tend to have better attendance and they tend to be at school, and that’s where you can reach the greatest number of young people for the program, right.
Brenda  32:49
Yeah, you would think that like the drug courts and some of those, like you said, that are feeling the impact downstream that would be really motivating to say, hey, what can we do to to make sure we’re catching these kids earlier? And if so, if a parent sees because, you know, obviously, the parents are seeing their kids so closely as they’re growing up, and if the parents listening and they’ve seen some of these traits that you’ve talked about, what would your advice be? As far as you know, maybe they’re not ready. Maybe this program isn’t available there. Are there things that they can do if they’re seeing like, oh, that kind of sounds like my kid. What course of action would you recommend that they take?
Dr. Conrod  33:36
First of all, you know, don’t just try to convince yourself that they’ll grow out of it, you’re better off addressing it in advance than waiting for something to become a bigger problem. I recommend to parents that if you’re detecting some traits of intolerance of anxiety or fear or that tendency to have a more pessimistic outlook on on things or if your child struggles with executive control and impulsivity or thrill seeking, you want to address it before they enter into those riskier years. You want them entering into adolescence with skills that help them manage these traits because if they’re unmanaged, they, they they will lead to substance misuse. It’s they’re very direct directly linked to substance misuse. And now the question is, how does a parent do something about it? How does a parent help a young person do something about it now?
Dr. Conrod  34:42
As everyone with a child let’s say at about 14 to 17 years of age, there’s a switch that goes off at about 14 right where teenagers to stop listening to messages from parents and actually kind of twist them around and really tend to, to, to be turned off by messages that come from adult.
Brenda  35:04
Right. I have one of those right now. I have a 14 year old!
Dr. Conrod  35:09
Yeah. And but that’s a natural process that’s that’s part of that’s part of young people and a new generation, developing plasticity, flexibility and the ability to basically adapt to a new environment should the environment change from one generation to the next. It’s that’s important for humanity that adolescence. You know, not just for the individual but for humanity that that the next generation be ultimately plastic and a built and able to adapt to a new environment. And so what that means for the individual adolescence is that they are primed to be out there and be exploratory and sample new ideas and and, and also be critical of the ideas that are just passed down from the previous generation. They’re also primed to learn more from their peers, and they are from their parents. And so all that to say that this program is best administered by your school in a group format than it is administered by a parent at the moment. 
Dr. Conrod  36:24
And so what could a parent do if they notice that their children have these traits is that you could put pressure on your school to, you know, get this kind of program or other other similar programs in place at your school. Every school should be delivering some kind of, you know, skills based preventative intervention for substance use. It is unacceptable that your child is attending a school that is either not providing evidence based prevention or providing an intervention that is is unhelpful, such as just providing testimony. Or, for example, former drug users who go in and tell their story or someone going in and talking about all the harms associated with drug use, we know that those those, those programs don’t work programs that transfer skills to students and to the community or the programs that are effective in preventing substance use. So what parents could do is put pressure on the school to allow these programs to happen – they must become more comfortable allowing schools to deliver targeted and preventative interventions, right. So that’s another barrier for schools and sometimes schools want to deliver these programs and parents say, my kids don’t need it. Or you know, I don’t want anyone thinking there’s a problem here. And you and parents have to become more comfortable being proactive about just, you know, traits as opposed to, you know, it necessarily meaning that there’s a problem. And actually, if you’re willing and able to deliver preventative intervention to children or to a community that means that you’re, you’re, you’re a pretty healthy community doesn’t it?
Brenda  38:08
Right. And also your your it sounds like what you’re doing is you’re helping that person learn how to take that trait that could steer them in a very negative direction. They use it to steer them in a positive direction to meet their goals. And so it’s actually if you’re, you know, if you’re a parent who’s kind of leery of what a program like this might, might be, I think that’s a really interesting, bent, you know, even a side benefit of not only will you be less likely, you know, or delay the use of substances. It’s actually saying how can you use this passion that you have or this you know, impulsivity, impulsivity that you have or the sensitivity and make that into a real positive in your life.
Dr. Conrod  38:52
And make it into a positive…and many children do talk about how there are some real advantages to having any one of these traits and we know that, you know from from a number of personalities out there that you know certain impulsive people really have been able to channel their their impulsivity towards extreme success and and similarly with anxiety sensitivity and and even, you know that that more kind of hopeless more pessimistic trait.
Dr. Conrod  39:25
You know a lot of people can manage that and it makes them quite critical thinkers so they tend to go into professions that involve writing that’s journalism, for example, humor and comedy as well, political commentary and so on. So yeah, there are a lot of there are a lot of ways in which these traits can be channeled towards, you know, really successful diversity and creativity. And that’s what the program is designed to try to do. 
Dr. Conrod  39:57
We often, health research tends to focus on the negative outcomes, and so yeah, my team is now becoming a lot more interested in understanding how the program also helps young people thrive, not just avoid, avoid problems, but how does it help them thrive? I guess the only other thing to mention is that it’s interesting, it’s not a universal program. So it’s not a program that that you would deliver to everybody. And that is because the targeted nature of the program and the very, very brief nature of the program, you wouldn’t want to waste time and resources and everyone’s time teaching everyone about impulsivity, when really only some people self report having having having difficulty or or having kind of an extreme profile and on impulsivity, so instead, what you do is you reserve your resources and you put a group of impulsive youth together and you have them work on developing these skills. And it ends up being a very powerful experience. So what that means is that not everyone will get an impulsivity intervention. But what’s fascinating is that by targeting impulsivity and some of these other traits in the population, what we’ve shown is that the whole population benefit so by by helping people with these traits, be healthier, make healthier choices, avoid early onset substance use, the whole school will benefit. And you’ll see lower rates of substance use across the board.
Brenda Zane  41:28
Wow, that’s interesting.
Dr. Conrod  41:29
Yeah, and we’ve demonstrated that a few times. So and that’s because we know that there’s there are individual risk factors for addiction and mental health, but there also is a small contagion component to it as well. So some people come to it, just through peer influence. Other people come into it through just having to cope with some of the difficulties that they’re having themselves. And so I would say that, you know, the final message to parents is even if you don’t think your child has has any difficult Caesar has one of these traits, that it’s, it’s still a really good idea for you to put pressure on a school to deliver such a program and make it you know, that kind of program available in your community because it does have, it does have benefits for you and for your child, regardless of what whether they get it or not.
Brenda  42:19
And I guess worst case scenario, if you don’t have this program, and you’re pushing for it, in the meantime, if you do see this with a therapist who you said these are very cognitively based therapies, at least maybe a therapist who’s you know, trained in CBT would that be a good place to start if you’re really looking for something just you know, immediately?
Dr. Conrod  42:43
Yes, absolutely. So, so they they intervention can also be delivered individually and has has similar efficacy. So, it also you know, for young people for adults who are experiencing more difficulties the program can be extended. we call it Pre’vention Elonge’. So elonge’ is like a type of coffee where you put a special shot with hot water. So I think that’s called an Americano, right?
Brenda Zane  43:23
It sounds so much better when you say it though. 
Dr. Conrod  43:26
So my students have coined it Pre’vention Elonge’. And the idea is that you offer shorter sessions, more focus sessions over a longer period of time in a more of a psychotherapy format and that tends to work very nicely as well.
Brenda  43:45
that makes sense. Wow, I there’s a million questions I would love to ask you but I know that you you do work in a global capacity and just everything that’s going on in the world right now and just with you being so tapped in, what are some of the special struggles that you’re seeing with this, you know, younger group of people right now. What are they dealing with? And how are you sort of adapting? Because you’ve got this really great hands on very personalized program? what’s what’s happening now with these kids? And how are you guys sort of pivoting into to adjust?
Dr. Conrod  44:21
Yeah, that’s such a great question. You know, there’s, I feel that they’re really struggling with society’s ambivalence about substance use. So, you know, what one thing that’s happened with cannabis legalization and, and and the adoption of harm reduction strategies, is that, you know, society is trying to come up with better Public Health Solutions for the addiction crisis. And, but at the same time, I think there’s an ambivalence in society as to whether as adults, everyone feels we want to do what we what it really takes to protect the public from the harms from substances. And I think, you know, the the data that do exist on this suggests that actually, you need more control, you need to convince people to use and, you know, drink less, smoke less cannabis, smoke it less often, less often less frequently. Use lower potency alcohol or cannabis or cigarettes, and so on. And so I feel that what’s happening with young people is that sometimes they’re interpreting these efforts around harm reduction as a sign that actually if you do it this way, it’s okay.
Dr. Conrod  45:52
And that they’re actually adopting more and more liberal attitudes towards all kinds of substance use including prescription drugs because those as well have been, you know, made widely available. And there’s also a lot of messages coming from the music industry and and kind of less on on less regulated media and television. So that if they’re just being bombarded with messages about drug use alcohol and drug use, and they’re having a really hard time figuring out what is the answer for them. And what I think what PreVenture helps them with is that what’s what’s interesting about the program is that you don’t really talk very much about alcohol and drugs, although it has this very consistent preventative effect on substance use. You’re mostly talking about their personality and and how they’re coping. But one way in which you do refer to substances is this idea of whether it’s okay to use substances as a way to cope Most young people really don’t don’t agree with that.
Dr. Conrod  47:04
So they’re still ambivalent about whether it’s okay to use or not. Most will by the end of high school will say it’s okay to use because everyone uses, but what they’re not comfortable with is this idea that you’re using as a way to cope. And once they see that substance use is often linked to using to cope for. And if they see it as using to cope with their personality, they become very uncomfortable with it, and it is a driver of why many choose not to use after the intervention. So I think that’s the big challenge right now is helping young people understand these shifts in society about how we are understanding of, you know, what is the new place for substances in our society, we’re becoming more liberal.
Dr. Conrod  47:49
And what measures needs to be put in place in order to protect the population from the reality of these is that these are substances of abuse, and they have addiction potential to them, and we need to put things in place in order to protect young people and the general population from the harms from substance.
Brenda  48:10
Yeah, they are getting mixed messages. I agree that there’s, you know, there’s sort of this message of everything in moderation. And with harm reduction, which, you know, is probably great for a small population who are very, very deep into their addiction and harm reduction is better than the alternative but when you’re talking to an 11 or 12 or 13 year old, it would be so confusing to see that
Dr. Conrod  48:36
absolutely. I I agree, because what we know about substances is that the earlier you use them the more you use them the more frequently you use them and more heavily you use them the more at risk you are and and so yeah, moderation message would be is a tricky one for young people because you don’t want them using in moderation daily.
Brenda  49:00
Right and in moderation to somebody of that age group is, you know, a little suspect. Yeah. And so now have you had to shift to an online model? or How are you coping with the whole COVID-19 scenario?
Dr. Conrod  49:14
Yeah. So we have so PreVenture has shifted to we got really quickly activated and you’re told to stay home and then we all just decided this is this is what had to be done. So PreVenture is now available in an online format. And it’s also remained it maintains its flexibility in that whoever’s using it can use whatever meeting platform that their institution approves. So whether it’s zoom or WebEx or or a homegrown program, you can use that and we’ve made the intervention material available in digital format, so that therapists and facilitators can still host meetings, routes, and deliver the intervention. And we even have a new kind of training format so that we can help therapists become comfortable delivering a group intervention on zoom. So that’s what’s happening right now. So all of its been made available and certain communities are picking it up. But to be honest, schools are extremely overwhelmed, and in my, in my province, where we’ve been terribly affected by by COVID. terribly, terribly affected, that all the school counselors have been seconded to go and work in the seniors home so they aren’t even available to deliver virtual interventions at the moment. 
Brenda  50:51
Oh, wow.
Dr. Conrod  50:53
Yeah, So I don’t know what’s happening in in various states across your country. But even, there’s certainly a desire to continue reaching out to young people. It’s difficult to do it through the school system, because the school systems are so overwhelmed and school based counselors.
Brenda  51:14
Yeah, this may be I wonder if you’ll see a shift. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s a shift into more like we have the Boys and Girls Club here sort of, you know, community based clubs. I wonder if that will need to, you know, shift for a while as schools are understandably, you know, overwhelmed with having to, to change to an online delivery. Is there a question that you get asked all the time or sort of a scenario that you see that you would like to clear up? You know, if we could give Dr. Conrod a billboard in the middle of downtown Montreal, what would it say? What would you like to say to parents or to people in general?
Dr. Conrod  51:59
Yeah, just just just keep working on your keep working on your mental health, it’s just an ongoing commitment that everyone has to make in order in order to address address this issue. I guess that’s the message is just you know, just keep plugging away and working and focusing on your mental health.
Brenda  52:23
Well, and and I love that you say that because I think it does help break down that stigma that you know, working on your mental health means there’s something wrong with you and this program to to introduce two kids at a young age to say that, thinking about your mental health and thinking about this and putting plans together is a healthy thing to do. It’s a positive thing to do, rather than making it shameful or making it feel like oh, you know, I have some big problems. So so that makes a lot of sense. Thank you. Well, we are at time and I want to be respectful of your time, I know incredibly busy schedule. So I just thank you so much for sharing with us the the PreVenture program and your thoughts on what’s going on with our young people here in North America. I will direct people to the program into your website and all of your research in the show notes. So that’ll be there. And thank you so much for your time.
Dr. Conrod  53:20
Oh, that was a pleasure. Thanks for all your questions. That was a lovely interview, and you managed to keep it in one hour or two to the minute. It’s very impressive.
Brenda  53:31
Yes. Well, I definitely respect everybody’s time. And I know that you’re very busy. So I just appreciate it so much. And I look forward to staying in touch and I’ll be following what you’re doing.
Dr. Conrod  53:42
Right? Well, yes, please do keep in touch. That was my pleasure.
Brenda  53:47
Again, I am just so grateful to Dr. Conrad for coming on today and for sharing her vast knowledge of adolescents and teens. And I think it’s so great that there’s a way that we can Identify early on those kids who might have some of those personality traits that can lead to higher risk for substance use. 
Brenda  54:08
And if you’re a mom who is struggling right now who needs some support, please go to check out The Stream, which is our online community where moms get together and we just hold each other up and give each other virtual hugs. It’s online at www.thestreamcommunity.com, and it’s not associated with Facebook or any other social media. So it’s a very quiet, confidential place to come and get supported by other moms. And if you are in the mood to do a little reading, you can download my free ebook. It’s called HINDSIGHT: Three Things I Wish I Knew When My Son Was Addicted to Drugs, and that title is pretty self explanatory. So I will just let you download that and get the information that you might need to help you during this difficult time. It’s at www.BrendaZane.com/hindsight. Thank you so much for listening. I will meet you back here next week.

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