“Why do we focus on the worst day and not the first day?”  Chris Herren 

Why when there is so much information to say otherwise do young people still use drugs and/or alcohol? It’s also important to question why some parents believe drinking and drug use is something  “all kids do and/or is a right of passage.”

Should you be faced with having to decide “is what my child doing normal or is there a problem” START PAYING ATTENTION because decisions will most likely need to be made.  Educating yourself, asking questions, and seeking professional help is key to mitigating a serious issue or crisis.  Do not let fear hold you from moving forward and seeking advice, help, and support.

The quickest way for substance use issues to grow stronger is to ignore them…hope and healing is found moving in the opposite direction –   acknowledge it, name it, lean into it, ask for help, find the reasons the use started to begin with and if needed “fake” being brave.  Changing behaviors is a process and will take some time.  You and/or your child didn’t jump into the deep end overnight.  Go after the reasons why it started to begin with and make sure you show each other love and compassion.  Anger and fear have shown to make the stigma of substance use a moral failing – it’s NOT!   If you feel scared it’s ok – do the things that need to be done anyway.  The more knowledge you acquire the stronger you’ll become.  Remember healing ultimately comes when we pay forward what we learn…

“We all have a why for the reasons we experiment or start using drugs and/or alcohol.  Maybe you know yours and are embarrassed by it, scared of it, maybe you think you are the only one or that you only partake once-in-a-while.  If we can identify and talk about our whys we can support and recover from it.”  Chris Herren

Stages of Change

The idea behind the model is that behavior change does not happen in one step. Rather, people tend to progress through stages on their way to sustaining long-term behavioral changes.

Your why could lead you into a crisis danger or perhaps an opportunity.  Many will find they face a fork-in-the-road which direction to chose to confront facts and fears or continue blindly hoping luck is on your side?  If we have been given the info why don’t we believe it? 

A false social norm has been created, passed down through generations that “all kids do it” and “they’ll grow out of it,” but do we?  There are 23 million of people in recovery that would tell you otherwise.  Young people do NOT have to be riddled with the chaos of substance use disorder.  Educating yourself/family, engaging, and intervening is the key to preventing a crisis.   The best chance to advert a substance use problem is educating youth to wait – wait for the brain to develop because the alternative so often comes and could be deadly.

When our “why” happens if communities and families can intervene early, behavioral health disorders might be prevented, or symptoms can be mitigated – SAMHSA

Let’s Get Educated, Our Forks-in-the-Road

How do our whys happen?  Understanding the importance of our environments (what does a healthy environment look like), why is family history important, understanding mental health, physical health, science/research/evidence – many times our whys are influenced by our environments.  Should you need resources they can be found in the CRISIS section of this website. 

  • Let’s start here… If you believe that your loved one has a drug/alcohol issue, trust your gut and address it immediately. If the issue is with your child the earlier they receive support in reducing or stopping substance misuse, the better their chances will be to overcome the issue. Family Resource Center, Intervention 
  • Facing a mental health/substance abuse challenge? One in five Americans will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and more than 20 million Americans ages 12 and older will experience an addiction. Despite the high rate of mental illness and substance use in the U.S., there is also hope for recovery.


Knowing what resources are available, both nationally and in your community, can be a great first step to getting you or someone you know on the path to getting questions answered.

Our Environments, Influences, Physical/Emotional Health and some things to think about…

Many times what youth are exposed to or hear from friends creates a social norm of substance use being “normal” among peers.

Understanding peer pressure, denial, our perceptions influencing the truth, experimenting vs use and real statistics/facts on youth substance use.

  • Teen Drug Use:  A Phase or Growing into an Addict
  • Adolescent Substance Use and the Problem of Denial
  • Understanding use and experimentation:
    • Experimental use: trying a substance out of curiosity and deciding not to use it again.
    • Recreational use: repeatedly socially using for pleasure, doing so in moderation and not at the expense of normal responsibility.
    • Accidental excess: unknowingly using too much and suffering from the unexpected and unwanted consequences.
    • Intentional excess: intentionally seeking dissipation for the mood and mind-altering freedom (getting drunk or wasted) that overindulgence can bring.
    • Abusive use: regular and excessive consumption now lead to self-defeating, self-endangering, or socially harmful behavior, but the user does not care.
    • Addictive use: craving for use now couples with the compulsion to rely on habitual self-destructive substance use to survive.
  • Teen Drug Abuse:  14 mistakes parents make
  • Teen Esteem, Facts 
  • Will my child grow out of it?


Do we believe the shame and stigma associated with substance use/mental health disorders and why do they significantly influence our decision making process?

What is considered a healthy environment for a teen?

How important is for example sleep, nutrition, exercise, community/school involvement and environment?

If your child has personal safety concerns (bullying, drug use, physical harm to themselves or another) that take place on school property it may help to know your rights and understand school rules and policies.

Understanding your family history and being genetically vulnerable to substance use disorder (addiction/alcoholism)/mental health concerns.

What is considered normal teen behavior and understanding brain development - hijacking-the-brain is the real deal and should be taken seriously!

DELAY, DELAY, DELAY…it’s all about delaying use.

“When people start using at younger ages, the changes in brain structure and function are very, very pronounced  if we could only get kids to postpone their first drink or their first use of drugs, we could greatly diminish the prevalence of addiction in the U.S.”

  • Biology of Addiction.  Drugs and Alcohol can hijack your brain.  People with addiction lose control over their actions. They crave and seek out drugs, alcohol, or other substances no matter what the cost—even at the risk of damaging friendships, hurting family, or losing jobs. What is it about addiction that makes people behave in such destructive ways? And why is it so hard to quit?  When you’re becoming addicted to a substance, that normal hardwiring of helpful brain processes can begin to work against you. Drugs or alcohol can hijack the pleasure/reward circuits in your brain and hook you into wanting more and more.
  • Family Resource Center.  Adolescence is a developmental period of growth and great potential, but it is also a time of risk-taking and experimentation including the use of alcohol and other drugs. Research reveals that patterns of brain development during these formative years play a significant role in shaping your teen’s personality and actions. Get the facts. Learn what your kids are talking about if they use ‘slang’ terms, and find definitions for the types of drugs your child may be exposed to.
  • Facing Addiction with NCADD.  Alcoholism is not defined by what you drink when you drink it, or even how much you drink.  Whether a person drinks every day or only on weekends, drinks shots of liquor or just drinks beer or wine, what matters most is what happens when they drink.  If her drinking is causing problems at home, at work, physically, financially, emotionally or legally, it is time to get help.
  • Teen Drug Use:  A Phase or Growing into an addict?  Parents often ask: Where is the line between experimentation and drug abuse? They may know or strongly suspect that their child is using drugs but they tell themselves, It’s just alcohol or marijuana” or As long as they don’t let it affect their schoolwork.” They’re holding out hope that it’s just a passing phase. And for some it is. But the consequences that befall others reveal the flaws in this type of logic.
  • Child Mind Institute.  Alcohol can rewire the teenage brain, binge drinking may harm a teen’s brain now and forever.
  • Your Teen for Parents.  How Alcohol and Drugs Damage the Adolescent Brain (and what you can do about it)
  • Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.  Brain Development, Teen Behavior, and Preventing Drug Use.  There’s a reason that teenagers act the way they do. Understanding the brain science behind teenage behavior can help parents better prepare their kids to avoid drugs and alcohol.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), The Best Strategy – drugs, brain, and behavior

If you find something that you think could be drug/alcohol related or just and uneasy feeling - finding out what it is and what to do, start here?

How do I talk with my child about substance use/abuse and what if there is a concern for them or me? Answering some hard questions.

  • Mental Health First Aid Action Plan for Substance Use – ALGEE.  Train yourself, encourage your schools, community, workplace to get educated:
    • A ssess for risk of suicide or harm
    • L isten nonjudgmentally
    • G ive reassurance and information
    • E ncourage appropriate professional help
    • E ncourage self-help and other support strategies
      • Alcohol Screening, Is the drinking harming our health? Answering these questions will take only a few minutes, and will give you personalized results based on your age, gender and drinking patterns.
      • NIDA provides links to information for parents, teens, health professionals, teachers and others about various drug use problems.
      • SAMHSA’s website has information about substance use disorders of all kinds. It includes information for the public, including families, health professionals, schools, and individuals. The website also includes a treatment finder to locate a substance use treatment provider in your area.
      • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is the lead agency for U.S. research on alcohol use disorders and health.
  • The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence website features information on local resources for getting help for a substance use concern, fact sheets and further information for friends, family members, parents and youth on having a conversation about substance use.
  • Talking with Children
  • Helping Family or Friend 
    • What is a drug or alcohol Intervention?
    • How do I know for sure if my teen is using?
    • How should I prepare for a talk with my child?
    • How do I make sure the talk is productive?
    • What if my child needs outside help?
      • I think my child may need help.  If your son or daughter is using substances but isn’t ready to make a change in his or her life, there are still steps you can take to help.
  • Stay in the Know, Resources
  • Teen Esteem, helpful handouts.
  • Drug-Free Kids.  Between legalization, increased normalization in pop culture and new ways of using (edibles, vaporizers, concentrates), it’s becoming more and more complicated to know how to address marijuana use with your kids.
  • PBS Newshour, how schools are teaching students about the opioid crisis. 

Science, Research, Evidence - do you believe the facts enough to act on them?

Where can YOUTH find education, answers, and resources to questions and support on substance use/abuse concerns?

Understanding Mental Health disorders/illnesses, what is co-occuring and trauma?

  • Mental Health First Aid.  If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use problem, there are several resources available to find out more information or get connected with help.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse, Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders.  
  • Child Mind Institute, When your child is struggling, one of the first challenges for you as a parent is getting the information you need to make good decisions. The guides collected here cover a broad range of topics, from the basics of children’s mental health and learning disorders to advice for parents handling common challenges.
    • Kids with ADHD are also at risk for other psychiatric disorders, especially anxiety and depression, which can get overlooked; kids with ADHD tend to act out and that can mask the symptoms of the other conditions. But these are still there, and some teens use alcohol and other drugs, like marijuana, as a means of self-medication.
  • SAMHSA, The coexistence of both a mental health and a substance use disorder is referred to as co-occurring disorders.  People with mental health disorders are more likely than people without mental health disorders to experience an alcohol or substance use disorder.
  • Trauma-Informed Oregon exists in part because of the efforts of family members who advocated for strengthened policies and improved practices to address the needs of children, youth, adults, and families affected by trauma. This page includes links to resources and information that may be directly useful to those with lived experience, including a number of centers in Oregon that provide support to trauma survivors as well as publications, tip sheets, websites, suggested reading and other materials.
  • Avel Gordly Center for Healing (OHSU) A multicultural, mental health center responsive to the needs of the diverse communities of Oregon.
  • Campaign to Change Direction is to change the culture of mental health in America so that all of those in need receive the care and support they deserve.
  • Trillium Family Services, what is mental health?
  • Teen Esteem, helpful handouts:  Mental Health awareness and a lot more.
  • Campaign to Change Direction, The goal of the Campaign to Change Direction is to change the culture of mental health in America so that all of those in need receive the care and support they deserve. The Campaign encourages all Americans to pay attention to their emotional well-being – and it reminds us that our emotional well-being is just as important as our physical well-being.