I was 14 when I had my first experience with drugs and alcohol. At that age, I desperately wanted to grow up, to have my own adult life separate from the expectations of my parents, teachers, coaches, and peers. Getting drunk and experimenting with drugs was that outlet for me; a secret source of independence outside of my often regimented upbringing.
By the time I was 15, I was fully out of control. My drug of choice was alcohol, but I would try anything that was put in front of me. During my final years of high school, arguments with my parents were as commonplace as my all-night benders. This culminated in being arrested one night with alcohol and other substances coursing through my system. Eventually, I ended up being checked into a psych ward where I stayed on and off for the next two years of my life. This severely affected my ability to succeed as a college student and athlete.
By the age of 26, I had completely given up on my goals. I pursued nothing but highs and people in my life constantly questioned why I couldn’t just get it together; I wondered as much myself. I wanted to be like everyone else and be able to set limits for myself. I wanted to live a functional life, have a drink after a long day of work, smoke the occasional cigarette or have one hit be enough. I tried many times to be that person, but I always ended up losing the battle with myself, taking things to excess each time. It took me a long time to realize that I was simply not wired to have a moderate relationship with mind-altering substances; and I realized many others aren’t either. My addictions had isolated me for so long I treated it like a dirty secret; first out of fear of being caught and losing a hobby that made me feel older and distinguished, and then out of fear of judgment. I kept my struggles to myself because I thought no one could understand but I’ve since realized that so many people around the world deal with some form of addiction.
In fact, a 2017 survey from AAC found that around 20% of adults (12 and older) are dealing with substance abuse disorders. For us, we are allergic to what we are addicted to but our bodies, completely outside of our mental control, build a physical craving for the substance. Addicts can recognize the issues with our behavior and some might even be able to stay away from their substance of choice for a period of time. However, it’s a slippery slope and months of abstinence can be broken when we convince ourselves that it’s “just” one beer, one joint, one pill, one line.
I’m sharing my story and experiences in the hopes that someone reading might see these behaviors, identify with them and seek help for themselves or their loved ones. Addiction is consumptive and dangerous no matter what the substance. Take the recent backlash and banning of e-cigarettes and other vaping products in the wake of the potential dangers they pose to teens. The CDC put out a report which implicated vaping in 805 documented cases of related illnesses and 15 confirmed deaths have in the US.
I’m not here to take a stance on whether e-cigarettes are any more or less dangerous than traditional cigarettes or even alcohol for that matter, I simply want teens to feel safe to talk about whether they think they might have a problem. If you feel like your e-cigarette use is affecting your health, ability to maintain relationships, or any of the other important aspects of your day-to-day life, you might need to self reflect on why you’ve turned to vaping. When I was young and first became an addict, I felt it was like a burden that I didn’t want to and couldn’t share, so I kept it to myself. That led to me spiralling deeper into myself and my addiction, keeping myself from people who cared about me. I battled with that isolation for decades before I got the help I needed. Don’t wait too long to talk to someone about the way you feel.
Addiction can come in many forms, from nicotine to gambling to sex and technology. We are susceptible to becoming addicted to anything we attach ourselves or turn to for support or treatment of a problem. However, addiction isn’t a problem anyone should or can face alone. Talk to people you know love you and care for your wellbeing which could your family, counselors, teachers or coaches, reach out to support groups for those addicted to nicotine or THC, or seek addiction specialists. The internet is awash with resources and personalities who can offer some guidance to seeking and receiving the help you need to break free from your addition.
There are 7 billion people on this planet, and each one of us deals with something that makes us uncomfortable; it’s always okay to speak up if you feel like something isn’t okay.
About the Author: Kevin Sullivan is a sobriety coach, motivational speaker and serial entrepreneurial success who, proudly in recovery himself, is committed to helping others struggling with addiction. Known as the “turnaround guy,” for his ability to flourish in challenging markets, Kevin has helped kickstart successful multi-million dollar businesses in several different verticals including Job.com, Eniware, and Viggle. Kevin was also the driving force behind launching pizza franchises Domino’s and Papa John’s in the world’s pizza capital, NYC, transforming it into the most profitable market in the country for both companies.
Though Kevin’s professional career is filled with accolades, the 2008 stock market crash ravaged both his finances and well-being. Sitting at rock bottom, he was forced to face the inner turmoil that plagued him throughout his life and fueled his reliance on alcohol and substance abuse. Through this challenge, Kevin found purpose and resilience, taking solace in helping others through their own hardships. He embarked on a mission to lift up communities that dealt with struggles similar to his own; starting initiatives in his companies to hire and create opportunities for at-risk youth and those battling addiction. Kevin eventually found himself sharing his personal journey with small groups and large crowds alike, speaking at seminars and conferences on addiction and how to recognize and heal the spiritual wounds beneath it.
Tapping into the tenacity and magnetism that made him a successful business leader, along with his genuine and deeply personal passion for helping others rise up from addiction, Kevin’s talks have inspired many to start the process of spiritual healing and recovery. Those who have benefitted from his talks have called Kevin inspirational, powerful, engaging, and authentic. Many have credited Kevin for inspiring them to go open up about their own struggles, or reach out to someone who they know is struggling. Kevin is currently working to change the narrative around addiction and recovery to an inclusive message centered around community, self-care, and inner strength.