Executive summary for parents

  • Open communication about the experiences in online and offline life that inspire shame and anxiety is essential to prevention.
  • In order to maintain open communication, parents must choose to have an open mind about how your child/teen/young adult’s life experiences are informing them and trust that your child is capable of making good choices and recovering from risky traps.
  • With this confidence that your child has the intellect and will to make good choices and learn from poor choices, focus your mental energy and attention on getting to know what your child/teen knows about drug and alcohol use and why your teen/young adult may be seeking altered states, or is choosing sobriety. Your aim is to catch them doing things right, and help them recognize the negative consequences of abuse and/or dependency, and seek help if the dependency is their new norm.
  • If you have concerns about your teen or young adult consuming alcohol or using drugs, seek drug counseling. When you and your child get educated about the nature of addiction and the hope of recovery, this is an opportunity to build trust and learn something about one another and strengthen your bond.
  • Excellent resources for drug and alcohol education and counseling include Raising Placer, Coalition for Rocklin Youth, Coalition for Auburn and Lincoln Youth, Recovery Happens, and CoRR.
  • To learn how to establish open communication with your teen or young adult so important to prevention and intervention strategy, book an appointment with Joanna.


Stephanie Lake, M.Ed, CATC IV, TTS, is a drug and alcohol counselor at U.C. Davis.

Parents today are experiencing a perceived extreme loss of control over the health and safety of their children. Social media and internet-enabled communications in general amplify the timeless adult issues into the hearts and minds of youth at earlier ages: anxiety, bullying, addictions and sexual exploitation. And because these communication streams are ubiquitous and easy to conceal, youth are more likely to believe things that are not true, act on them and then keep secrets that harbor great risk. The use of drugs and alcohol is one of those risky traps and the symptoms can appear like normal adolescence: moody, withdrawal, changes of friend groups, etc.

So the thought of harm reduction as a safety strategy for youth using drugs and alcohol on college campuses may seem counter-intuitive at first. After all, we want our children to be safe; and since we want them to avoid risks there may be a fearful thought that harm reduction initiatives may be received as a type of endorsement of risky behavior.

Stephanie Lake is a drug and alcohol counselor at U.C. Davis. She counsels students who are showing evidence of substance use disorder and addiction, and recently she delivered a training on harm reduction at the Women’s Association for Addiction Treatment in Sacramento.

According to Lake, the most effective way to help college students who are consuming alcohol or using drugs in harmful ways is to meet them where they are at. “College students need harm reduction strategies,” she said. “Harm reduction entails practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug and alcohol use.” And then, she explains how she helps them examine the specific ways their own drug or alcohol use is costing them money, health, grades and relationships and guides them in new patterns of reduction of use and abstinence.

In their book, Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (2013), Professors of Public Policy Mark Kleiman at UCLA, Jonathan Caulkins at Carnegie Mellon University, and Angela Hawken, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, examine the challenge of substance use disorder prevention strategy as a response to very dynamic sets of circumstances. Among their findings is that drug policy must take into account 1) peer dynamics making prohibition/law enforcement less effective, 2) the capacity of many in a population who can manage the use of substances without serious consequences is not evident because they are not the ones showing up for treatment, and 3) that “hitting bottom” is not a requirement for recovery; rather it prolongs the risk and discourages earlier intervention.

SaferLock for medication

When we take into account that the context for substance abuse and addiction is both ubiquitous and also complex, Lake’s statement, that in order to engage youth in prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery she meets them where they are at – on a college campus where substance use is perceived as the norm, makes good sense.

Kleiman, Caulkins and Hawken suggest that “lifting the bottom” by conducting interventions to help the person abusing drugs and/or alcohol perceive a better future for themselves increases the chances of successfully quitting. “That means that building in a higher bottom might improve the overall recovery rate,” they write. “The fatalistic myth of recovery as an automatic consequence of ‘hitting bottom,’ and of ‘hitting bottom’ as the necessary precondition of recovery can be destructive insofar as it enables passivity among both substance abusers and those who might intervene to help them turn their lives around.” (pp.97-98)

According to Lake, harm reduction is a movement that leads the student from safer use to managed use and then to abstinence. “Harm reduction involves a non-judgmental approach. I do not rely upon the reports [of their problem from police or teachers or counselors]. I ask them to tell me in their own words why they are here,” she said. “And then I learn where there may be mistakes in the report and the student reveals more to me.”

Lake explains how she walks the student through a self-assessment audit of the consequences of their own drug and/or alcohol use to raise awareness of the problem their dependency is costing them. “One student added up the cost of drinking and it amounted to $3,000 for a year,” she said. Some elements of this audit and harm reduction strategies include: 1) the impact of drinking and smoking marijuana on their quality of life (such as sleep, academic performance and family relations); 2) examination of and anticipation of the triggers; and 3) then have a plan for when to drink, how much and support systems to maintain limits. The strategies include references to scientific data on how to set limits with the height and weight charts and knowledge about how much time it takes for the drink to leave their system, and consequences (getting kicked out of school/grades suffer, etc.) and incentives (feeling better, more money in your pocket, etc.) to stick to a harm reduction plan.

Lake stresses that harm reduction is not about minimizing the dangers of drug and alcohol use. “Drug and alcohol use can lead to addiction and death,” she said.  She relies on harm reduction strategy to save lives. And according to her, this is a successful strategy, as she reports that 80 percent of students she has counseled have not relapsed, which is a very high success rate.


To learn how to establish open communication with your teen or young adult so important to prevention and intervention strategy, book an appointment with Joanna.


Joanna Jullien, Founder & CEO of Core Connectivity
Photo by: Victoria Hatch

About:  We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.