Chris Herren shares his struggles with substance abuse

Former NBA player Chris Herren speaks to McLean about drug addiction

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Chris Herren shares his struggles with substance abuse

On Oct. 3, former NBA player Chris Harren shares his account of battling substance abuse.

On Oct. 3, former NBA player Chris Harren shares his account of battling substance abuse.

Photo courtesy of Nick Corsi

On Oct. 3, former NBA player Chris Harren shares his account of battling substance abuse.

Photo courtesy of Nick Corsi

Photo courtesy of Nick Corsi

On Oct. 3, former NBA player Chris Harren shares his account of battling substance abuse.

Imani McCormick, Managing Editor

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Former NBA player Chris Herren gave a compelling speech on his experiences with drug addiction on Oct. 3 to McLean juniors and seniors. Before his speech and Q&A session, students previewed his story on the ESPN 30 for 30 feature film “Unguarded.”

Since 2011, Herren speaks at 250 schools each year to share how his poor behaviors led him to rock bottom and the struggle of paving a new path to sobriety. His inclination towards unhealthy behaviors began in high school, an experience which was defined largely by the use of marijuana and alcohol.  

“There’s definitely an environment in high school that fosters the idea that drinking is just part of growing up and isn’t a big deal, but Chris really reiterated his point that even alcohol can start you on a bad path similar to his,” senior Cate Pearce said.

Although Herren had a promising future as a professional athlete, he grew up in an unstable household and was surrounded by friends and family who faced drug and alcohol addiction. Hence, Herren held onto the hope of having a fulfilling athletic career.

“When I was in middle school I just wanted to play high school [basketball]. When I went to high school, I just wanted to get a Division I scholarship, and then when I got a Division I scholarship, I figured it was over. Somebody told me that you have it in you to become an NBA player,” Herren said.

From the outside, the younger version of Herren seemed like an average teen full of hopes and dreams but graced with talent. As he relished in the excitement of the limelight and his know-it-all confidence, life tested him during his first year at Boston College in 1994.

“Two young girls are sitting in my dorm room with my roommate chopping up lines of cocaine. I never touched cocaine; I had never seen cocaine,” Herren said reminiscently. “[The] two girls in that dorm room said ‘Chris, come sit down, it’s no big deal it’s not going to hurt you.’ I said ‘no, thank you.’ She said, ‘I promise it won’t hurt you. Nothing is going to happen.’ I turned around, sat down in the chair, grabbed a dollar bill and snorted my first line of cocaine at 18 years old.”

Students and staff glared at Herren in awe of his statement, some with tears in their eyes. Herren continued to recollect his early experiences and express that everyone is grappling with some issue that can go unnoticed until one reaches their threshold.

“[Herren’s speech] reminds me that every day, we all walk through the doors of McLean High School with something heavy on our hearts. Everyone is fighting some sort of internal battle or struggle that others may not be aware of,” System of Support Advisor Nick Corsi said. “Whether it is low self-esteem and self-worth, or issues surrounding mental health and social anxiety, it is important for us all to be more accepting of individual differences and to practice strategies that help us to be more comfortable in our own skin. Far too often early warning signs can go untreated, and unhealthy coping strategies can lead to addiction. “

Herren continuously fought internal battles with drug addiction leading to his professional career as an NBA player and later in life as a father. After years of stepping over hurdles and finally entering a realm of sobriety, he reflected upon his actions with concern for future generations.

“If you don’t want it for them, why do you want it for you?” Herren expressed when discussing the purpose of being a role model.

Over the past few years, McLean has combatted a drug culture, marijuana in particular. Many factors play into the interest in drugs, such as experimentation and boredom.

“I think kids participate in drugs because they need to feel some type of release. It can be from school, issues with family or friends. I think that’s the reason for kids doing drugs, instead of trying to be cool. It’s honestly super sad to hear that they need to relieve any type of pain or stress they’re feeling with drugs,” junior Katelyn Long said.

Herren reminded students that there is always someone who is coping with pain of some sort, but do not know how to manage it. At times, this can lead to adverse decisions.  

“Unfortunately, every high school I go to there’s kids struggling…and the saddest part about this is I’ll get an email from your friends, they won’t say to you what they say to me,” Herren said.

Opening a door to unhealthy behaviors results in an escapable path, one of which Herren spent nearly 20 years trying to avoid.

“Advice he suggested is that we place more emphasis on the ‘first days’ and not the ‘worst days.’ To me, this suggests the importance of not opening that first door to drug use, because you may not be able to close it,” Corsi said.

As a community, McLean can reiterate Herren’s message and reshape the support students have for one another, alongside the diminishment of McLean’s drug culture.

“If one of my friends were going through this, I would tell them that they don’t have to do drugs and alcohol. If they are struggling, they can always come to me for help. I will always try to help them to the best of my ability,” Long said.

A bright future should not settle in the darkness of drugs or alcohol, but instead, flourish in the light of optimism and advocation of change.

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