Two women smoking sitting up against wall

Addiction, Recovery and Student Success

My name is Michael DeLeon, CEO and Founder of Steered Straight. I am the #1 booked drug prevention lecturer in U.S. schools. I am a recovered addict, former gang member, ex-offender and a national leader in prevention and recovery, addiction advocacy and criminal justice reform.

America is dealing with the worst public social health crisis she has ever seen, and I’m not talking about Covid-19. I’m talking about Addiction. It’s the far more damaging, far longer lasting pandemic within the pandemic. One of the most afflicted populations are youth and young adults. This population has always been disproportionally touched by addiction because of adolescent risky behavior and seeking escape from trauma through substance misuse which often leads to substance abuse and addiction. Compounding this for more than a decade has been so many youth and young adults directly affected by a pharmaceutical induced opiate explosion. That, coupled with the widespread legalization of this population’s most abused illicit drug, marijuana, we find ourselves in what is being called by many as a pandemic but not widely accepted as such. This is one of the biggest hindrances to our young population. In fact, I personally submit that it is the greatest threat to student success.

Enveloping all of these underlying causal factors is Isolation and loss of connection. The widespread closing of schools, counter to ALL science and medical advice, is going to induce a season where addiction, alcohol abuse and suicide massively increase. This is very real, and Families MUST take steps to prevent their kids from falling down that path.

Every state in the nation is dealing with an addiction pandemic. Every community is affected. Recent statistics show us that the problem was not getting better prior to covid, it was getting worse. Post covid, the escalation of despair death will be greatly higher. I predict that the crisis will grow unabated for the foreseeable future. It’s beyond time for an all-hands-on-deck approach and as the foundation of communities across this great country, Parents and Guardians must take a lead in the solutions.

I usually focus my attention for these articles on middle and high school students. That is where prevention has the greatest affect, but too often, people assume that once kids are late-high-school age or college age, it’s too late to change their thinking. It’s not, and it’s equally important, especially now as young adult addiction rates escalate. According to the Indiana College Survey (2009-2016), there has been a significant increase in drug use among college students. In 2009, it was reported that there was a “14.9% usage of marijuana within a one-month period. This number reflects combined reporting data with both males and females respectively. However, in a repeat study in 2016, the results of marijuana usage within a one-month period had increased to “23.6%” for males, and “17.3%” for females. The findings within these studies shows a difference in usage between genders, but both have increased dramatically. Additionally, the studies reflect that males consistently have a higher rate of usage than females. I submit that these documented statistics are grossly underreported. Addiction and drug use is vastly stigmatized in America. People generally won’t be honest when self-reporting drug use. The statistics do not coincide with national ones. They don’t paint a realistic picture of what’s happening, and they do NOT consider the vast increases in marijuana potency, availability and social acceptance. The ignorance of what today’s potent marijuana is actually doing to the brain and the stigma of someone admitting they are addicted to marijuana/THC hinders real understanding of how bad the problem actually is.

Society’s unpreparedness and naivete about opiates and the growing overuse of those drugs brought us to where we found ourselves in 2019. Americans changing attitudes toward drug laws have made drugs more potent and more dangerous as well as more widely used. Covid-19 and the country’s lockdown approaches are setting a new foundation of danger in a climate where kids are more susceptible than ever. Studies show that young adults, age 18 to 27 are one of the most prevalent populations affected by addiction. We can’t as a country be as naive how systemic the problem affects the population which makes up our future.

To solve this problem, we need to understand the problem. Without systemic education among the Parents and guardians, educators and legislators, law enforcement and medical staff and students, and a community-wide plan to address the issue, it will continue to impact graduation and completion rates, enrollment, and student success. It will affect their very lives. It is too late to be only proactive. We must address this issue differently and openly. It must be addressed on three fronts: Prevention, Intervention and Recovery Support. I call it the Tri-fecta approach to addressing our country’s growing addiction problem.

It is a national pandemic, and during this crisis, we are compounding this problem. Many states are moving to legalize commercial marijuana. This is being done without proactively considering the consequential effects on students. Marijuana is the most abused illicit drug in America. It is also the most abused illicit drug for youth and young adults. Most people do not realize the changes being made to this misunderstood drug. It will affect increasingly more people as use of the drug escalates. It will also increase other illicit drug use as higher-potent THC in marijuana will make the drug more of a gateway than it has ever been.

Education is one of the most important protective factors needed to prevent addiction and the most foundational component in Recovery from addiction. Every study ever done on recidivism of jail and prison populations shows that increased education reduces recidivism. Educating our population is critical but closing schools destroys that factor for many kids. We MUST systemically open schools across the country and engage students like never before in sports, extra-curricular activities, clubs and activities. We must face this social issue in a systemic way.

Not talking about this will not make this go away. As secondary education becomes more important in American life, promoting Recovery and Student Success to our population is more crucial than ever. Facing this American pandemic of addiction head on is vital. Our students will increasingly come to depend on our openness and honesty in this issue for their success. Our success as a country is only success if it’s with our Youth. Parents and Guardians MUST lead the way, and we have written an in-depth guide and tool to do just that.

We published the first of its kind book, “Table Talks and Dashboard Conversations” giving Parents a year of conversations that they can have with their middle and high school students on a daily basis. There are more than 365 conversations to choose from. And we published it into an easy-to-use, journaling guide, with 12 months of themes and conversations for every day of the year. 

You can get our Full Parent/Guardian Guide on our website as well:

Table Talks and Dashboard Conversations is only $19.99 and is available at or you can order direct from Amazon.

You can also pick up your copy at our local Murfreesboro Steered Straight Thrift Store at 845-C Middle Tennessee Blvd., Murfreesboro, Tennessee 37129