Chris Herren Advocates Stopping Addiction Before it Starts

On January 9, Massachusetts basketball legend Chris Herren shared his story of addiction and recovery with RL students and faculty during the new year’s first Health and Wellness Hall. Mr. Herren’s battle with substance use disorder transformed his promising basketball career—first at Durfee High School in Fall River, and subsequently at Boston College, Fresno State, and the NBA—into a lifelong struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.

“I do these presentations for many reasons,” said Mr. Herren. “Just like some of you, I wanted to skip this assembly in high school. Just like some of you, I tried to convince my mom the night before to let me sleep in because I didn’t need this talk. And just like some of you, I walked into this talk with the attitude, ‘All I do is drink and smoke—drug assemblies, man. They’re a joke. I’ll never turn into that guy.’

“That attitude comes from what I believe is the way we’ve irresponsibly presented drug addiction and alcoholism to kids over the years: I think we put way too much focus on the worst day and we forget the first day. We show you pictures of drug addicts, we have you watch their 30 for 30, read their books and say, ‘Look at how horrible life was for them in the end,’ instead of sitting you down, looking you in the eye, and asking you right now, ‘Why in the world are you taking a chance by letting it begin?’”

Over the past decade, Mr. Herren has spoken with millions of students across the country, sparking honest discussions about addiction and providing children, parents, and teachers with the tools to help understand and prevent substance use disorder—especially at this early stage of physical and psychological development when drugs and alcohol are most addictive.

Mr. Herren has been sober since August 1, 2008. His recovery journey has been documented in the bestselling memoir, Basketball Junkie; the ESPN Films documentary, Unguarded; and in countless news outlets, including the New York Times, the Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated. In 2011, Mr. Herren founded the Herren Project, which empowers schools and communities to make healthy choices and guides families through recovery. In 2018, he founded Herren Wellness, a residential program that helps guests lead healthy, substance-free lives.