Chris Herren’s Unique Way of Explaining the First Day of Addiction

Students listen to a lecturer

When you talk to youth with the purpose of getting them to avoid drug use, it can be difficult to find the exact approach that relates to their worlds. After all, since young people have seldom experienced serious consequences, they don’t feel like bad things are going to happen to them, no matter what they try. And so you get young people testing out drugs like marijuana, pills, alcohol, tobacco, inhalants or other drugs.

For the last several years, former NBA player Chris Herren has been visiting schools all over the U.S. with the express purpose of preventing kids from using drugs. He knows the danger well, since he began failing drug tests while playing for Boston College and Fresno State.

In college, it was cocaine and marijuana use that caused him to fail drug tests. He managed to clean up and make it to the NBA but only played two years in the United States, during which time he began to misuse painkillers and heroin. He failed drug tests intermittently between 1994 and 2008, at which point he completed an extended rehab and has been sober since. He formed The Herren Project in 2011 to educate youth on the dangers of drug abuse and provide opportunities and scholarships to help the underserved.

“Once” Turns into Fourteen Years

Of course, Chris uses his own experience as a warning. He tells them how he only intended to use cocaine once, but then that “once” turned into 14 years. In his most recent school visits, he has worked out a unique and vivid method of helping kids understand that they, too, could become addicted and, most importantly, just how easy it is for them to start down that road.

“The focus oftentimes is about the worst day when it comes to addiction and not the first day, “Herren told reporters from the Hartford Courant. “Kids need to understand how this begins rather than how it ends.”

A young man steals beer from the fridge.

And so he tells kids about the single beer he drank, stealing it from his father’s supply, that started that big, irresistible ball rolling downhill. “That was the beginning of my bottom,” he explains. That was the beginning of the addiction that eventually ended up breaking his mother and father’s hearts.

By starting his story with that first beer, Herren has hit on a way to penetrate these young minds. Many of the youth hearing his message have already drunk that first beer or smoked their first joint. Or maybe they ground up some pills they got at a party and snorted them to see what would happen. Suddenly they can put themselves in Herren’s place.

They might picture addiction as something that happens to someone else, someone they envision as dirty and scrawny, not someone clean and well-fed like they are. But Herren’s story reveals the truth: It can happen to them and it can look as innocent as stealing a couple of your dad’s beers out of the fridge in the garage and sharing them with a friend.

Our Thanks to Herren for His Years of Dedication

Chris Herren has re-directed his life away from sports and toward helping those who are addicted who need help so badly. Through The Herren Project, Herren has been able to help young people avoid drug abuse and enable those in the throes of addiction to find recovery. To learn more about Chris and his message, click here.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.