Former NBA Star Chris Herren Shares Journey From Addiction to Healthy Living 

Former NBA star Chris Herren, who lost his professional basketball career and much else to drug and alcohol addiction, knew his substance use disorder had spiraled out of control well before he actually hit rock bottom. 

Rock bottom came in 2008 with a heroin overdose that put him on the path to recovery, but it was years earlier, as a freshman basketball player at Boston College in 1994, that he realized he had a serious cocaine problem.

“I had so much going for me, and I was putting it all at risk,” Herren said. “I was scared of the shame of the problem, so I waited until it got to the point where everybody knew before I addressed it.”

Herren, 39, shared his journey from addiction to healthy living and speak on the need for increased substance abuse prevention and treatment on Wednesday, April 2, at 8 p.m. in Sapinsley Hall. The talk was sponsored by the RIC Office of Student Activities and was free and open to the public.

Herren, drug- and alcohol-free since his 2008 overdose, founded The Herren Project, a nonprofit that works to increase public awareness about addiction and provides counseling and financial assistance to those seeking treatment who have limited access to healthcare. He also travels the country to deliver talks on substance abuse, the path to recovery and healthy living.

Marissa Weiss, assistant director of the Office of Student Activities, said students asked to have Herren speak on campus. She said students relate to Herren, who is from Fall River, Mass., because he is a local public figure and find inspiration in both his rise to international fame and in his commitment to overcoming addiction.

“Herren’s inspirational message is that, when you find yourself in situations of significant pitfalls in life, there are ways to turn things around,” Weiss said. 

The combination of newfound freedom and peer pressure makes college students particularly vulnerable to the dangers of substance abuse, Herren said. But one night of partying, he said, can set teenagers and young adults on a path toward addiction and worse. 

“The reality is that some of these kids are predisposed to addiction and they need to be aware that they are at an age when things can go really wrong, really fast,” he said. 

Herren also will address Rhode Island’s overdose epidemic. The R.I. Department of Health reports that accidental drug overdose deaths have nearly doubled this year from last year.

“No community, no town, no school is safe from what’s happening right now,” Herren said. “I don’t know anyone who overdosed from heroin who didn’t start by taking pills. We all go down that line by transitioning over to the next drug. It starts with the nights in the woods, at the beach, in the clubs or at a party. That’s when this thing begins.”

A focus of Herren’s work is on removing the stigma attached to substance use disorders. He said he feels that if shame hadn’t kept him silent all those years ago, he might have addressed his problem earlier.

“It took me until I was 32 to do that. By hearing my story, students will know that there is a way out of the addiction struggle,” Herren said. “I hope to leave them with some thoughts so that they look deep within themselves and figure out how a couple of decisions on a Friday or Saturday night could change their life forever.”