David Gust has been a mentor and teacher to me for over twenty-five years, whether he knew it or not. I first met David at a community training he brought to El Dorado County. I remember the room being full of therapists, public health and school professionals, outreach specialists, and a young twenty-five year old addiction counselor really wanting to do good work for our teens struggling with drugs and alcohol. I had been one of those teens myself, fully in my addiction by fifteen, dropped out of high school and in my first inpatient drug treatment program by sixteen, followed by two more years of terrible progression before hitting a heavy bottom at eighteen, and finding a new direction into real recovery for the past thirty-two years.
It was a fateful meeting for me as David Gust launched into the central topic of “Effective Adolescent Treatment.” He began to tell mine, and so many other young people’s story, of our unique descent into adolescent onset addiction. He talked about how the field of addiction treatment at the time was geared towards adults, and that many young people seeking help in 12-Step programs have felt discouraged hearing sentiments like, “I’ve spilled more beer than you ever drank.” David talked about how young people use differently than adults. He described the “the garbage can syndrome” where kids are more likely to use multiple substances and to glorify their use. He taught about the progression of the disease being different in adolescents than adults, and how it develops more rapidly for those in early-onset. He painted the picture of how young people’s consequences look differently, but they are no less harmful. He was one of the first few to talk about the adolescent brain, and how there is a good argument that there is no safe drug or alcohol use for children. David shared that if we are still using the adult template of what addiction looks like, we will miss the opportunity to help a young person already in the grips of a progressive, fatal illness. He taught the concept of “professional enabling” to describe how our culture and community inadvertently allows adolescents to get worse by rationalizing their use as “experimentation.” And most importantly, David taught us how to effectively treat young people, especially how critical it is to work closely with the family.
Through my years in college, and through addiction counseling training back then, I had never heard such insight about the unique adolescent experience of addiction. And to this day over twenty-five years later, I have still not heard such an accurate description of how to work effectively with these young people. As I mentioned, David told my personal story in his words, and I was inspired to use the training, joined with my own knowledge, to build an effective outpatient program here in El Dorado County based on these principles. To this day, people in my community still reach out asking if I will share that program design. I give proper credit to David’s teaching, and his work is still far reaching.
Sporadically through the years, I kept in contact with David to refer a family or to ask a question. David and his New Directions Program are the gold standard for the field, and they generously bring their expertise to their colleagues, to the community, and to the families with which they work. I saw David again at one of his trainings, and he introduced me to a local agency looking to build an intensive/day-treatment style program for kids. Again, I was able to utilize the knowledge and principles David Gust taught me to build a strong intensive services program for that agency. There was never any sense of competition, and David always worked collaboratively with us to serve families first.
For a young guy fairly new in my sobriety, and brand new in the field of counseling, David Gust brought me closer to my true values. When young people go through such painful transformation from addiction to recovery, we need safe role models to show us the way. David has always been a safe inspiration to me for his kindness, for his easy way of being, and for his deep intelligence about how to best help people. There are David Gust devotees all around that quietly do this work influenced by his guidance. He has never said “No” to helping me, no matter the reason I called. I am honored to write this letter of reference… letter of recommendation… letter of admiration for my decade’s long guide, David Gust.