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Former Boston Celtic Chris Herren talks addiction and recovery

FILE, 2000: Celtic guard Chris Herren drives past the Cavalier Bimbo Coles in the second half.
Jim Davis / Boston Globe
FILE, 2000: Celtic guard Chris Herren drives past the Cavalier Bimbo Coles in the second half.

Not many people get to live the dream of playing NBA basketball. Even fewer get to live that dream while playing for their hometown team. Fall River, Massachusetts, native Chris Herren briefly got to live both dreams — and basketball fans across New England were anxious to live it with him.

“I get traded to the Boston Celtics, but all of New England went, you know, went crazy for it,” Herren said.

Herren was full of emotions on the day his dreams became reality. But none of those emotions were good, he said.

“I'm sitting in the press conference, and all I can think about is, ‘I'm about to humiliate, embarrass, and ruin my life because I am so addicted to oxycontin right now, that there's no way I can perform in front of 15,000 people, as well as my family, for the next year as a Celtic,’” Herren said.

Walking arm-in-arm with Herren’s basketball stardom at Durfee High School, Boston College, Fresno State and overseas pro basketball were a series of addictions.

“At 21 I went to treatment for cocaine when I was at Fresno State,” Herren said. “When I was 25, I overdosed for the first time. So there were multiple times that it was pretty obvious how sick I was. But even after that, I started pretending to be sober and playing the role of being in recovery and having my wife bring me to AAA meetings, and I'm getting high inside the AAA meetings.”

Herren’s addictions to drugs and alcohol would cost him his NBA career after only 70 games. But, they wouldn’t cost him his life. Now 15 years sober, Herrren has dedicated his life to recovery: for himself and for others. He now runs the recovery facility he founded in Massachusetts called Herren Wellness.

“A huge part of my program is family,” Herren said. “Because I believe families need to be part of recovery, like they were part of the addiction, we open up this campus to family members to start on their own journey of recovery and take pride in their own personal process supporting a loved one getting sober.”

One thing founding a recovery facility has taught him is that the drugs that make all the headlines aren’t necessarily the ones doing the most damage, Herren said.

“The headline is all fentanyl,” Herren said. “It's a killer. But the truth is in my treatment center, 75% of the people who come from my center to live, they'll come in because of alcoholism.” Herren says he also knows how hard it is to break an alcohol addiction from personal experience.

“People say ‘how hard was it for me to get off heroin?’” Herren said. “The honest answer is vodka was much harder. But you know, it's things that smell like it: Hand sanitizer, you know, there's so many things that kind of trigger you, whether it's a liquor store or a gas station sign that you drive by every day. And you know how accessible it is.”

These days, Chris Herren is also a much sought after speaker on addiction and recovery. In late August, he was in Stonington sharing his story of substance addiction and recovery with a Primary Prevention Project wellness circle. The Primary Prevention Projectis an effort by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation to reduce alcohol and substance misuse in children and teens in this region. One message Herren shares wherever he goes is that one never gets “cured” of addiction.

“I think there's different pathways to staying sober. But for me, going to meetings and staying involved in a community was extremely, extremely important to me for the last three years.”

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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