A former NBA player is continuing to bring awareness to teen substance misuse through a new documentary.

Chris Herren is a former NBA basketball player who founded several nonprofit organizations and now works as a motivational speaker. After playing at Boston College and transferring to Fresno State, he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets and later played for the Boston Celtics.  Throughout his basketball career in college and the NBA, however, he experienced the effects of substance misuse firsthand. 

In 2011, Herren was the subject of “Unguarded,” an ESPN documentary by Jonathan Hock. The documentary showed the truth of Herren’s struggles with substance misuse during his basketball career. Now, the two have teamed up again to create “The First Day,” which looks at mental health problems, teen substance misuse and harmful behaviors among young people. 

Chris Herren’s Addiction Journey

When Herren was playing for the Celtics, he started using prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin. In 2004, he overdosed on heroin and crashed into a utility pole. Responders said he was dead for thirty seconds. In 2007, he was charged with possession of heroin in Rhode Island.

Herren has been substance-free since completing an intensive rehab program in August 2008. After, he wrote the book “Basketball Junkie: A Memoir with Providence Journal” with columnist Bill Reynolds. In 2011, ESPN Documentaries aired “Unguarded,” which was nominated for two Emmys.

Now, Herren travels the country and speaks to young people. He founded the Herren Project, a nonprofit group with the goal of helping young people to make healthy choices. He also founded a residential health and wellness program in 2018.

Herren has spoken to more than a million students, athletes and community members around the country about teen addiction. Herren’s story about addiction and recovery has been life-changing for many people, but teens still struggle with substance misuse.

Substance Abuse in Sports

Research shows that nine out of 10 people with a substance use disorder started using drugs by the time they were 18 years old. More than half started using drugs before they were 15. Research shows drug misuse occurs in all sports and at all levels, including high school sports. Athletes may begin misusing substances to enhance performance, deal with the pressure to perform and relieve physical pain and injuries. 

Teen Drug Awareness Is Critical

Recovery speakers and advocates for drug awareness feel it’s essential to create effective drug prevention programs for youth“The First Day” is billed as a new approach to teen drug prevention education. Instead of focusing on what happens in the later stages of addiction, the film focuses on why young people often turn to substances.

According to Herren, parents, educators and members of the community rarely focus on early prevention. Herren’s hope is that his films and his work are helping start a powerful conversation that highlights why teen substance misuse happens in the first place.

If you or a loved one is dealing with a substance use disorder, The Recovery Village is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options that can work well for you.

a woman wearing a pink scarf and smiling.
By – Ashley Sutphin
Ashley Sutphin Watkins received her degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Psychology and Journalism. Read more
a man wearing a blue and white striped shirt.
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more

PR Newswire. “The First Day, A Substance Use Preventio[…] ESPN July 16, 2019.” July 1, 2019. Accessed August 9, 2019.

NBC Sports Boston Staff. “Chris Herren Documentary, ‘The First D[…]esday Night on ESPN.” July 16, 2019. Accessed August 9, 2019.

Reardon, Claudia L.; Creado, Shane. “Drug abuse in athletes.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, August 14, 2014. Accessed August 9, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.