Our substance use clinic helps teens battling addiction – without stigma 

When Veronika Mesheriakova, MD, started out in adolescent medicine, she frequently encountered teens with the same challenge: addiction. And she had no idea how to help them.

“I was completely unprepared,” she recalls. “I didn’t know how to talk about it or where to send them. I felt helpless.”

Mesheriakova spent years educating herself on best practices for evidence-based care. Ultimately, she became an expert in treating adolescents with substance use disorder. To deliver excellent care for young people facing this condition – and to ensure that trainees at UCSF and beyond would learn skills she hadn’t been taught – Mesheriakova established the UCSF Youth Outpatient Substance Use Program (YoSUP).

YoSUP offers each patient the specific multidisciplinary services they need, without stigma or judgment, and involves the entire family. Social workers and mental health providers help families understand and overcome underlying issues.

Mesheriakova also created a training program so that future physicians will be able to better diagnose and help young people battling addiction.

“Less than 5% of young people with substance use disorder are correctly identified by providers,” Mesheriakova says. “I’m working to change that.”

YoSUP serves teens like Nic, who battled addiction for 10 years. His father, David Sheff, wrote the award-winning novel Beautiful Boy about Nic’s journey.

Sheff navigated what felt like a broken system trying to find care for his son. So, when he learned about YoSUP, he was inspired to get involved. He made a major contribution to support YoSUP’s clinical care, research, and education programs.

“With UCSF, I felt like I was finally in the world. I imagined – a world in which addiction was treated like the complicated disease that it is,” David Sheff says. “The more we develop proven treatment programs, the less stigma there will be, because there will be widespread recognition that not only is this a disease, but it’s also a treatable one.”

Today, Sheff and 38-year-old Nic are neighbors. They see each other almost daily to go hiking or surfing. Sheff doesn’t take their health and happiness for granted.

“With the recognition of how lucky we are, supporting this work didn’t seem to be a choice – it was an obligation,” Sheff says.

Nic and David Sheff with their dogs.
Nic and David Sheff with their dogs.