Why do people act the way they do, and why do some people use drugs, and why do they “need” them? The workshop explains how our chemistry works, and which psychoactive drugs match our pain and calming chemical receptors.  At no time in life is the brain more distressed or less able to deal with distress than during adolescence. When you add the adversity that half of our youth face, it is easy to understand shy many seek the immediate relief of outside chemicals, including alcohol and other drugs, as well as medications.

Part of the science is that we are pre-wired by our DNA to respond in automatic ways (fight, flight or freeze) to anything that causes pain or distress, and we are also wired to seek relief. Plus, our DNA pre-wires our temperament to be more sensitive or less sensitive to pain and distress. We are also pre-wired with hundreds of chemicals that operate in “sets”.  Some of these sets of chemicals operate automatically from birth, and trigger our automatic fight, flight and freeze behaviors when anything is upsetting or distressful.  Then, there is the set of chemicals, which we have access to, but are triggered only when our experience is reassuring and calming.  The problem is that unless we live in a calming environment, have calm models, have our needs met — and have learned “stress management habits”, i.e., the experiences that trigger the calming chemicals – – we are at the mercy of our automatic set of fight, flight and freeze chemicals. But the good news is that neuroplasticity means that it is never too late to effect meaningful change.


Participants will be able to name/explain/use:

  • The set of chemicals that automatically trigger our fight, flight and freeze behaviors
  • The set of chemicals that can be released to trigger a calm response
  • The single most important skill needed to “flip the switch” from the alarm set of chemicals to the calming set of chemicals


  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • National Center of Biotechnical Information (NCBI) – longitudinal brain scan study, research on neuroplasticity, mirror neurons, temperament, chemical homeostasis, the vagal nervous system
  • The National Research Council (NRC) – Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders among Youth, 2009.

Format:  PowerPoint, Videos with Q&A


  • 1 to 1.5 hrs. (Conferences only)
  • 3 hr. Workshop (3.0 hrs. ATOD Specific)