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Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How Laurie Dhue of RecoveryEducation Is Helping To Battle One of…

Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How
Laurie Dhue of RecoveryEducation Is Helping To Battle One of Our Most Serious Epidemics

Don’t shame, blame or judge. Addiction touches every family- yes, even yours! It’s more helpful to encourage people to seek treatment for mental illnesses and substance abuse issues than it is to stigmatize them. Addiction is not a moral issue; it’s a public health issue and a human rights issue. Stigma kills too many people. We are not bad people who need to be punished; we are sick people who need treatment.

As a part of our series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurie Dhue is Chief Brand Officer at RecoveryEducation.com.

One of the nation’s leading recovery advocates, Laurie is in long-term recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. She has worked closely with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) and the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD). Laurie has spoken on behalf of many national recovery organizations including the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the Caron Foundation.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?

I was born a performer. From a very early age, when I would babble, sing and dance in front of my bedroom mirror, my parents knew that I would end up doing something on stage, screen or TV. I think I always knew in the back of my mind I would do something in the public arena. In both high school and college, I sang in a cappella groups and acted in plays and musicals. I was also quite athletic, serving as the captain of my high school swim team and becoming a member of the UNC women’s varsity swim team. Being an NCAA Division I athlete taught me so much about discipline and perseverance, as did being involved in the arts. These endeavors are all performance based, so being in the public eye was never intimidating. Most people’s biggest fear is speaking in public but I feel like it’s one of the few things I’m really good at! All of my prior experiences came in handy as I began my journey into the world of TV news. I enjoyed a lengthy career anchoring on all three major cable news networks: CNN, MSNBC and FOX News.

At the same time, I was living a secret life, a double life. Along the way, my casual drinking turned into full-blown alcoholism. For many years, I suffered in silence, but also in public, in front of millions of viewers. My battle with addiction nearly killed me, but fortunately, in March 2007, I made the life-saving decision to give up alcohol and drugs. Once I got sober, I realized that I could have a significant impact in the recovery community by being honest about my addiction and sobriety. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to help others as a national recovery advocate and as Chief Brand Officer of RecoveryEducation.com, a new platform created to educate, support and provide community to parents of teenagers and young adults who struggle with addiction issues.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid and drug addiction?

After I’d been sober for about 4 years (which very few people knew), I was invited to speak at a small-ish media dinner in Washington, D.C. where the topic was, “Faith and the role it plays in your life.” I decided to share my journey through addiction and recovery after being assured that it was an off-the-record dinner and that my remarks would stay private. It was a wonderful experience: I saw the shocked faces who were soon nodding their heads, tears in their eyes. My speech resonated with many in the room. I received a standing ovation and was surrounded by well-wishers afterwards, some of whom shared their own experiences with alcoholism and recovery. I went to bed that evening in my hotel room with my heart and spirits soaring.

But when I woke up and checked my BlackBerry (I was a bit late to the iPhone game), I had received numerous texts to the effect of “your story is all over the Internet.” Unbeknownst to me, there had been a gossip reporter at the dinner who decided (without my permission) to share my story. I was horrified. I should have known that there’s really no such thing as an “off-the-record dinner.” I felt paralyzed and had no idea what to do next. Later that day, a producer from “The TODAY Show”reached out with an invitation to do an interview the next morning. I called my family and my agent at the time, not so much for permission, but for support. I knew I had the chance to put a face on addiction and, and in doing so, hopefully help as many people as possible. I accepted the invite and sat down with Meredith Vieira the next day. She handled the segment with great compassion, for which I was grateful. It was a life-changing moment, a true turning point. I never dreamed that a simple interview would turn into an opportunity to become a national advocate for recovery. I never dreamed I’d get the chance to lobby on Capitol Hill in support of the Parity Act, never imagined I’d be invited to speak at the White House on two separate occasions by the ONDCP (Office on National Drug Control Policy), never thought I would have the opportunity to share my experience, strength and hope with countless people at conferences, events, on TV and in numerous publications. My role at RecoveryEducation.com is the culmination of many years of hard work and dedication to the life-saving endeavor of helping people recover. I live in gratitude for this opportunity.

Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?

The drug epidemic didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight, if ever. I guess I’m a bit cynical because it’s likely that human beings will continue to ingest substances to make them feel better. It’s in our DNA. From (literally) the beginning of time, ever since man first crushed grapes, humans have wanted to escape, to forget about their troubles and just “feel better.” Alcohol has been abused for thousands of years. Opium was given to patients in the 1600s. Heroin was first synthesized back in 1897. The first description of the use of cocaine by humans can be found in the memoirs of Amerigo Vespucci in the 15th century. Sigmund Freud extolled the benefits of cocaine in 1884, calling it a “magical” substance. The crack epidemic devastated our country beginning in the mid-1980s and still plagues a small number of communities. Percocet and Vicodin hit the market in the mid-1970s. OxyContin in 1996. Fentanyl was first introduced in the 1960s as an intravenous anesthetic and has, of course, become the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered.

So, this is nothing new. Sure, using substances is about seeking pleasure, but it’s also about the need to escape and dissociate from pain. No one likes to live in pain. People want an instant solution. And substances provide that solution, at least in the short term. But, of course, these so-called “solutions” to the problem (booze, pills, hard drugs, etc.) eventually become the problem.

Can you describe how your work is making an impact in battling this epidemic?

Since going public in 2011, I’ve had the privilege of sharing my story and educating countless audiences about the disease of addiction and the journey of recovery. I’m filled with gratitude for the many opportunities I’ve received to advocate on a national level. Now, as the Chief Brand Officer for RecoveryEducation.com, I have the responsibility and great honor of sharing our educational platform for parents. Parents are often confused about what to do when they suspect or confirm that their child has an alcohol or drug problem. So, they either do nothing or they go about approaching the situation without any tools in their tool kit. RecoveryEducation.com was created to educate, support and provide community for parents when they need it the most. Addiction is a family disease and must be treated as such. Young people have a greater chance of recovering if they have educated and supportive parents. We like to say, “an educated parent is a more effective parent.” Information truly is power when it comes to addiction.

It’s important to note that our platform, along with myriad other endeavors of countless others, is also intended to diminish stigma, which has no place in the conversation. Judgment, shame and blame accomplish absolutely nothing.

Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your initiative?

We have created a platform that parents wish they’d had sooner. When we talk to others about RecoveryEducation.com, whether it’s on a personal or professional level, we are met with positivity and gratitude. One mother I met recently said, “Thank God for this resource.” A longtime teen interventionist told me, “Finally. It’s about time.” A woman whose 20-year daughter overdosed on fentanyl last year tearfully shared, “If I’d had this information, my daughter might not have died.” The doctors who helped create our curriculum were eager to participate since there are so few resources for parents out there.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

I’m always so grateful and humbled when people reach out to thank me for my honesty and share stories of their struggles and triumphs. I cannot tell you how rewarding it is to hear, “I decided to give up drinking because of you” or, “I heard you speak at an event a couple of years ago and it was the first time I felt like I wasn’t alone in my addiction. Thank you for giving me hope.” So many people feel helpless and hopeless when they are in the throes of addiction. My message has always been, and will continue to be, that help is available and recovery works. I’m living proof, as are the 25 million other Americans in recovery.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?

Educate yourself. Many Americans don’t actually understand that addiction is a disease and has been characterized as such since the 1950s. I wish everyone could understand that addiction is not a flaw in character, rather, it is a flaw in chemistry. It is a chronic illness that can never be cured, but can be successfully treated. It should not be viewed as a personal choice or a lack of willpower.

Don’t shame, blame or judge. Addiction touches every family- yes, even yours! It’s more helpful to encourage people to seek treatment for mental illnesses and substance abuse issues than it is to stigmatize them. Addiction is not a moral issue; it’s a public health issue and a human rights issue. Stigma kills too many people. We are not bad people who need to be punished; we are sick people who need treatment.

Recognize that everyone in your community has a role to play. This isn’t a simple problem that only affects a few random cities and towns. Addiction impacts tens of millions of Americans, as well as their families, friends and coworkers, so it’s vital that communities collaborate on how to address this deadly epidemic. Let’s bring together kids, parents, schools, local politicians, places of worship, local community leaders, sports organizations, rehab facilities and mental health and addiction professionals. The bottom line is that we can do together what we cannot do apart.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

*Note to the writer: I’m not comfortable commenting specifically on legislation or laws, but here are a couple of my thoughts:

In the summer of 2022, congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona introduced legislation to amend the Controlled Substances Act, HR 8228. His proposal called for the death penalty for “any person who knowingly distributes, possesses with intent to distribute or manufactures fentanyl,” where the distribution results in death. It’s also called “The Death Penalty for Dealing Fentanyl Act of 2022.” I, and no doubt many others, will follow this carefully.

I understand that completely shutting down TikTok may not be possible, and certainly isn’t a popular sentiment, but I surely wish I could stop the dark forces on TikTok from selling fentanyl and other deadly drugs to our kids. Fentanyl killed more young Americans than did COVID-19. It is now the leading cause of death in people between the ages of 18 and 45. It’s tearing families, communities and our country apart.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

Knowing that my colleagues and I are making a difference; we are part of the solution. I’ve always said that if I can save even one life, then I will have done my job. That’s how we feel at RecoveryEducation.com.

Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?

Sadly, addiction will continue to kill people. It’s a fact. That’s never going to change as long as there are substances out there that provide “relief.” That’s why it’s so important to continue the fight and to educate as many people as possible about all components of addiction.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

There are myriad ways to be a leader. I think it’s tough to pinpoint exactly what leadership is, but you know it when you see it. Great leadership brings out the best in others; it’s about motivating people to work towards a common goal, or whatever goal they would like to achieve.

I recently met with an extraordinarily impressive man who had a lengthy corporate career, then turned to academia and is now involved in helping to establish curricula that focus on critical thinking and leadership. He shared his four core competencies of a leader with me:

  1. Has a strategic vision.
  2. Can communicate effectively.
  3. Has the ability to motivate others.
  4. Has high ethical standards.

I read somewhere that great leaders aren’t necessarily born, butthey can be created. That’s pretty encouraging. In my own small way, I try to lead by example by staying in long-term sobriety and letting people know that recovery is possible.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”?

1. Keep your expectations (of others) realistic.

2. Trust yourself more. Listen to your intuition because it’s usually right.

3. Cocaine is not a good idea. Don’t even try it once. Alcohol isn’t so great either.

4. Appearances really CAN be deceiving.

5. Stop apologizing so much!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

My dream would be to create a PSA with sober celebrities extolling the virtues of sobriety and reminding kids how dangerous alcohol and drugs are. My dream participants: Bradley Cooper, Samuel L. Jackson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Robert Downey Jr., President George W. Bush, Keith Urban, Jessica Simpson, Russell Brand, Edie Falco, Rob Lowe and Eminem would be a good start. When celebrities lend their names and faces to important causes, they can have an enormous impact. And, of course, celebrities do not have to have a disease to advocate for treatment of it. Just look at the AIDS and breast cancer movements. Elizabeth Taylor did not have AIDS, but founded an organization that has raised billions of dollars: AmFAR. Countless celebrities support breast cancer awareness, even if they have not been diagnosed with it.

I hope that any sober celebrities reading this will reach out and say, “Hey Laurie, I’m in. Just tell me where to go and what to do.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My nationally recognized high school swim coach, the late great Pete Higgins at Westminster Schools in Atlanta, expected a lot from us, and because we respected him so much, we wanted to give him everything we could. I remember feeling nauseous during one practice (from sheer physical exhaustion) and apologizing for my poor performance. He looked down at me in the pool and said “Laurie, don’t be sorry, be good.” It was life changing. No excuses, just do it. Boom!

Is there a person in the world or in the U.S. whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this!

I’d like to gather some of the world’s richest people (Jeff Bezos, Oprah, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Sara Blakely, Warren Buffett, Tyler Perry to name a few) in one room and find out how much they know about addiction. I would ask how many of them have either struggled with addiction or know someone who has, or are in recovery themselves. Then, I would present them with some alarming addiction statistics (such as the fact that more than 100,000 people die every year of drug overdoses and the fact that the disease costs Americans more than $675 billion a year), and ask how they would like to contribute to addiction and recovery causes. I would ask them to sign a pledge that they will do whatever they can to help combat the deadly disease, with a particular focus on the current fentanyl epidemic. In 2010, Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates and Warren Buffett established The Giving Pledge, an open invitation for billionaires to publicly commit to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy either during their lifetimes or in their wills. In that same vein, I would suggest a pledge to help fight a disease that affects every single American family. Money does not solve everything, but it would make a big difference. Sadly, the recovery movement is chronically underfunded. Let’s make it a priority!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @lauriedhue, @recovery_education

Facebook: Laurie Dhue

LinkedIn: Laurie Dhue

This was very meaningful. Thank you so much!

Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How 
Laurie Dhue of RecoveryEducation Is Helping To Battle One of…
was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.