Changing How the Public Perceives Addiction

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Over the past few weeks, the story of Ted Williams has swept the nation. For 20 years, Williams lived on and off the streets around Columbus, Ohio, and struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. Today, he is proudly in recovery and showcasing his natural talent for voiceover—a skill that recently went viral when a YouTube video of Williams received 13 million hits. Since then, Williams’ “Golden Radio Voice” has earned him countless fans and job offers.

How was Williams’ able to make it this far? By fighting his addictions, getting sober, and maintaining that sobriety. Unfortunately, none of the news coverage mentions the heroic steps that Williams took to get his life back on track. It’s wonderful that the media – and the nation – is applauding Williams for his newfound success, but are they doing him a disservice by not examining his road to recovery? Did he receive treatment? Is recovery still a daily struggle for him? If Williams was able to achieve so much as a result of his sobriety, the public would greatly benefit from hearing how he got from “point A” to “point B”—and Williams certainly deserves to have his full story heard.

Although the story is incomplete, the outcome is positive; it’s clear that our society is ready and willing to embrace a person with a powerful recovery journey. Redemption is always popular, and, as WNCI-FM DJ Dave Kaelin declared on CBS, “Everyone loves a second chance.”

The overwhelming support for Williams is proof that the public’s perception of addiction and recovery is changing. This attitude of acceptance is a step in the right direction, but there is still work to be done. Society needs to recognize addiction as the chronic disease that it is, and realize that individuals who struggle with substance abuse are human beings with potential to change and succeed—just like the rest of us. The possibility for greatness is present in every individual, at any point along the recovery continuum—from denial to treatment to the 20th year of recovery and beyond.

It appears that the public is ready to show support for recovery success stories—now, the next step is to show support for those who are still battling their addictions. By cheering these individuals on through their struggles, we can inspire them to make positive and lasting changes. If we believe in them, they just might find the courage necessary to believe in themselves.

Deni Carise, Ph.D
Chief Clinical Officer
Phoenix House

Update: During today’s filming of The Dr. Phil Show, Williams admitted that he is still struggling with his addictions and will be entering treatment. We congratulate him on making the important decision to deal with his substance abuse. Recovery is an ongoing process, and Williams deserves the public’s support every step of the way.

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  • Deni,
    As always you skillfully distill the issues pertaining to sobriety out of this story about transition. Working in PH’s mental health program, I would like to bring up another perspective. While the public record is replete with stories of redemption for substance abusers, aggresors and animal torturers those suffering from severe mental illnesses continue to be marginalized. Case in point, Jared Loughner, the shooter in AZ appears to suffer from a significant mental illness that went undiagnosed despite at least one attempt by his Community College. A CNN field reporter used the term “nut job” in his report the other night. Needless to say, I was appauled!

  • I just hope the people that are helping him are not just interested in tapping into their own benefits, i.e., helping him will garner them something… That whole world can be very predatory, but let’s hope he can handle it in a way that keeps his humility in balance and his program in tact. It’s great for him to own his greatness, as long as those pffering opportunity don’t try to own him!

  • Deni and Shaun I totally agree with you both. And Shaun to hear a professional call someone a nut job I agree is appaulling. If the people would just STOP and listen to the signs that are usually very obvious cries for help people would not be in danger and the individual needing help wuld get the help needed. People in society don’t understand that emotional pain is what drives people to become an addict or to want to hurt others or themselves. U don’t leed the perfect life and one day decide to become a drug user that leads to an addiction or to go out and hurt others…My son is an addict and that is what brought me to your sight. I am glad to have read your comment, it shows me that you and your staff have compation, understanding and are not looking down on people reaching out for help with problems. Now I hope you have an opening 🙂 I will be calling you tomorrow.

  • The latest info on Williams is that he was not being completely forthcoming, has apparently continued to drink and is now going to enter rehab. It’s kind of a good news/bad news situation. The good news is he’s going to get the help that perhaps he has not received prior to now, not knowing his full history. The bad news is that this story in some respects only reinforces the negative public perception that fuels stigma; i.e., that alcoholics/addicts are basically hopeless, will always let you down, can’t be trusted, etc. Let’s hope he gets the help he needs, does well and down the road genuinely becomes a positive story/representative of recovery.