Celebrities speaking out on addiction may pave the way for Suncoast residents needing help

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SARASOTA, Fla. - TV news anchor Elizabeth Vargas is more than an alcoholic, she is also a wife and mother.  Her very public announcement may help those on the Suncoast battling addiction to speak up and seek help.

Celebrity, Sarasota resident, and father of six, Dickie Smothers is in recovery 20 years, he says the code of silence surrounding addiction is changing.

"Lindsay Lohan and these people, they have people looking at them, and everybody that looks at you judges you, even if they're your friends they don't know what you are going through." He explained when he first knew there was a problem.

"The first signs something was wrong was my personal life,” said Smothers. “And when my third wife left me."

There was fear associated with being an alcoholic, he says. "They say you're weak-willed and you're a drunk, you're weak-willed and you're a drug addict. No, you'll go to any lengths to get your fix, or your drink."

P.J. Brooks of First Step of Sarasota says many on the Suncoast struggle with addiction.  "You're really looking at about one out of ten individuals dealing with some addictive disorder."

People are speaking up more now, but, there is still fear. "It was bigger than stigma, people would be ostracized if not fired and lose jobs and to this day there is still some of that that goes on," says Brooks.

But the health implications outweigh the risk of speaking up. Brooks said, "Pancreatitis, liver disease, or ultimately death from any of them."

Key sign of addiction are changes in friends and behavior, and Brooks urges families to be on the lookout as they will be of most help.

"But ultimately," says Smothers, "although a hard one, admitting addiction and staying sober is a choice. But there is hope.  He coined the phrase, "When you get into recovery, you can give up high cost of low living.  They can be happy, joyous and free, it depends on them, how deeply they admit and surrender to the fact they cannot drink and drug, ever."

While celebrities may have to deal publicly with the challenges of addition, they also have the funds and resources more readily available.

But, there is help here on the Suncoast.

First Step of Sarasota has both in and outpatient programs, there are local 12-step programs available and the Salvation Army is a good resource.  There is also help available at Alcoholics Anonymous of Sara-Mana.

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