Finding Purpose after Loss

Jeff Johnston never expected his life to be shattered from a phone call, but it was on October 4, 2016. It was the call that is every parent’s worst nightmare. He was told his oldest son, Seth, had died from fentanyl poisoning, he was 23 years old.

While Jeff could have taken the road of anger and bitterness after such a devastating loss, he made the choice to dedicate his life as an advocate for bringing awareness to mental health, substance use and addiction in teens and young adults. He began speaking at high schools and community events and joined the board of a local treatment facility where Seth spent time before his death. In 2020, he founded Choices Network, Ltd. a non-profit dedicated to educating kids, parents, teachers, and coaches on the importance of making positive choices. To honor Seth, he wrote his first book, “This One’s For You: An Inspirational Journey Through Addiction, Death and Meaning” and has organized the Living Undeterred Project (

On September 29th, Jeff will be in Phoenix to speak at the annual recovery month event, CARE (Celebrate the Art of Recovery) at Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Teen Center.


Living Undeterred Interview


Looking back, were there indications Seth was using drugs?

It all started, as far as I am concerned, with his prescription for Adderall at age 16 for Attention Deficit “disorder.” From there he experimented with alcohol and marijuana. Eventually that escalated to DUI’s, breaking and entering, jail stays and eventually prison. We had hoped prison was “rock bottom” but it wasn’t. After an early release he met someone who was into heroin and that led to fentanyl poisoning on 10/4/16 at the age of 23. I hate to say this, but I used to tell him, “Seth, the road you are on leads to one of two places, jail or death.” Unfortunately I was right on both. This was so predictable yet so preventable at the same time. The ultimate lesson in futility.


Any history or addiction or alcoholism in your family?

Not on my side as far as I know. The issue is, as you go back a few generations, these topics were taboo. It’s hard to know for sure if there was an issue within a family — as secrets were kept in the closet. I have to imagine almost every family has some sort of an issue with this. Nonetheless, my focus is on the present and the future and making sure if there is a history, that doesn’t mean it needs to be repeated. I can do alot to prevent that from happening.


The aftermath of this tragedy is difficult to imagine. What was it like for you, your family and community?

Horrific at first, and it still painfully lingers each day. I cry often, yet the weight of the tears aren’t the same as they once were. My tears used to be filled with anger, pain and sorrow; however, today they are filled with hope, love and inspiration. I view these events as less “tragic” and more unnecessary if that makes sense. Tragedy is a baby drowning in a pool or a drunk driver killing your family. This really isn’t tragic in my mind. It’s unfortunate, unnecessary and unacceptable to me. I aim to prevent this from happening to another family ever again.


The Living Undeterred Project has given your life a powerful purpose in bringing awareness to mental health and addiction. What are the positive changes you have seen in how we address these issues.

For me, I was originally an “angry fentanyl dad” if you know what I mean. This became toxic and made me feel spiteful, vengeful and full of hatred. Over time, through meditation (not medication) and forgoing alcohol myself (six years this Christmas Eve) I pivoted to becoming more focused on the demand side of the issue. Prevention vs. treatment. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware we need strong support on both sides of the fence, supply AND demand. I just don’t have the bandwidth to do both. My life’s passion now is working with young adults and intervening prior to the intervention.


Is the narrative is changing for the better?

Yes and no to be honest. Yes, more attention is being paid to these issues. No, in that the numbers keep getting worse pretty much across the board. Depression, anxiety, and a lack of meaning and purpose have never been this low, especially for Gen Z, ages 13-26. I think a shift from “raising awareness and more to bringing attention to” is how I want to spend my time. By being vulnerable and less “in your face,” I think we can lead with love, empathy and compassion and less with fear and scarcity, which is so prevalent today with social media.


You have written a book, have a podcast, any additional plans?

My book, “This One’s For You: An Inspirational Journey Through Addiction, Death and Meaning” was written as a tribute to Seth. I published it a few years prior to my wife, Prudence’s passing from alcoholism (in reality it was from grief) at the age of 46. We were married for 21 years. The podcast, Living Undeterred was a way for me to engage and meet other people doing amazing things and I am so humbled after speaking with each guest.

Last summer I bought a 34 foot Hurricane Thor RV, loaded up my 2 boys and a documentary team to embark on The Living Undeterred US Tour. An epic journey around the country for 95 days advocating and bringing attention to these issues. This is where I met Alice and Sheryl Cooper and was invited to stop at The Alice Cooper Teen Rock Center in Phoenix. We are so excited to return on Sept. 29th for the CARE event. We are hopeful to have the documentary available in 2025.


A New App

Our biggest initiative yet is the most personal for me. It is the launch of our App, Brighton, the nation’s first 1-page mental wellness app aimed specifically at Gen Z. We are showing young adults how to autonomously build their own, personal metal wellness plan. We are focusing on three areas of optimal mental wellness, Health, Wealth and Purpose. So far the feedback and input has been amazing as we have pilot programs being negotiated as we speak.

The challenge is we know it takes approximately 66 days to change behavior or to develop positive routines. This generation doesn’t have 66 second attention spans!

How did we come up with the name you may ask? Well, three weeks after Seth died his daughter was born. Her name is Brighton and she brightens my life. That is all I need for motivation. I think we have built something truly different and will change the trajectory of millions of young people.

Check out and I look forward to being in Phoenix and meeting some of you at CARE.


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