If you’re a sports fan, you’ve heard of Josh Gordon. His entrance to the NFL was highly anticipated. Drafted as a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns in 2012, he logged 50 receptions for 805 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie year. But by the time his career in Ohio was over, he had missed 43 of the team’s last 48 games due to struggles with addiction. A series of failed drug tests, DWI arrests and rules violations made it increasingly difficult for coaches and staff to continue championing the talented player.
Gordon began turning to drugs and alcohol at a very young age, in an attempt to self-medicate his anxiety. He told GQ, “I didn’t want to feel anxiety, I didn’t want to feel fear. I didn’t plan on living to 18. Day-to-day life, what’s gonna happen next? So, you self-medicate with Xanax, with marijuana, codeine—to help numb those nerves so you can just function every day. That became the norm from middle school to high school. So, by the time I got into my 20s, I was on an accelerated pace.”
Josh’s story is also an interesting talking point in the conversations surrounding marijuana. Whether or not it is a gateway drug is hotly debated, but in this case, it seems clear that it was. “I failed myself when started using marijuana regularly as a young teenager,” he wrote in an open letter for The Cauldron.
Substance use disorder is difficult for anybody to overcome, but those in the spotlight receive an additional layer of enablement. Gordon’s football coach at Baylor was so eager to ensure his talent stayed on the field at McLane Stadium, he gave him “detox” bottles and helped him pass drug tests he should not have passed. He received countless chances, but few offers of help.
Finally, in 2016, he opted for treatment over touchdowns and checked into a 30-day intensive rehab program in New Hampshire. As is common in the early stages of recovery, he relapsed, and hit what he calls his rock bottom. But, he got up and checked back into inpatient treatment, this time for three months. Since then, he’s been transparent about putting his health first and staying sober.
With a “one strike and you’re out” policy facing him here in New England, his free passes seem to have run out and as addiction professionals and fans, we are looking forward to seeing him succeed on and off the field. And we thank him for his honesty and bravery in sharing his struggles.
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