Become a member of Allies in Recovery and we’ll teach you how to intervene, communicate and guide your loved one toward treatment.Become a member of Allies in Recovery today.

“Addiction Is a Disease That Thrives in The Dark”: A Younger Sister’s Plea For an End to Fear and Shame

Sam Fowler and her parents spent many years hiding her brother’s substance use disorder (SUD) from the world. The experience convinced Sam that openness, and even vulnerability, are better choices.

As a family, the Fowlers felt something many of us will understand, whether we have Loved Ones with SUD or not. They were afraid of what others would think. They feared that one word, addition, would indelibly change how people thought and treated them.

“Having that stigma and thinking we were going to be viewed as a bad family made us want to stay hidden,” she explains in this TED Talk from 2018. But over time, Sam began to question this strategy. “Maybe the reason we wanted my brother to be anonymous was not to save him, but to save ourselves.”

The more she learned about addiction, and the more she observed the struggle of her older brother, the less she felt that shame and fear were warranted. Much of her change in perspective, she states, involved learning to see substance use disorder for what it is—a disease—and not a moral or a family failure. “I’m here to tell you: we were raised the same way,” she says. “It could have easily been me who became an addict, and that I just equate to luck. Sometimes it’s not about a traumatic event or having a bad family. It is a disease inside your brain.”

Her address begins as a personal story, but it ends with a wider challenge. Anonymity, she argues, often seems to be the whole country’s first instinct when it comes for SUD. It’s even built into the names of the largest support organizations in the country. “Why?” she asks simply. “Do we think that this helps?” For Sam and her family, anonymity is a thing of the past. “I am not afraid of addiction anymore,” she says, “And I am certainly not ashamed of my brother.”

This brief talk comes straight from the heart. There’s no doubt Sam’s family has been through great challenges together. But it’s brought them wisdom, strength, and togetherness. And that is something to be proud of.


Related Posts from "Sanctuary"

Dr. Gabor Maté: The Power of Addiction, the Addiction to Power

Across four decades of work on issues of trauma, addiction, childhood development, stress, and illness, Dr. Gabor Maté has become an internationally recognized thinker, author, and public speaker. But his brilliance is only one side of the coin. The other side, evident in all his remarks, is profound compassion. In this TED talk, both qualities are on full display.

Using ChatGPT To Fight Depression: Some Creative Ideas

ChatGPT is not a living mind, let alone a therapist. It is, however, proving to be an immensely useful online assistant for people across the world. Little wonder that professionals and others are finding ways to apply its powers of information gathering and synthesis to the challenge of living with depression. This article offers one emotion expert’s tips on how ChatGPT and related technology might be able to shoulder a bit of that burden.

Dating Someone With Depression: A Brief Guide

More than one quarter of U.S. adults report having been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives. The disease makes life challenging in all kinds of ways, and relationships are no exception. For partners of those suffering depression, the inability to “fix” the other’s condition can be difficult and frustrating. But even though we can’t cure our partners’ depression, we can learn skills that strengthen our relationships and make them more fulfilling for both parties.

Out of the Mouths of Babes (and Comedians)

Comedian DJ Pryor says that he’s always spoken to his children (even when they were toddlers) as if they could understand his every word. The approach seems to be working with 15-month-old Kingston, who holds detailed conversations with his dad. Sure, it’s in a language known only to the two of them, but that hasn’t stopped the world from being charmed.


In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)