Former Celtics player Chris Herren shares story of addiction, recovery

Last modified: Friday, November 14, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — When former Boston Celtics player Chris Herren listened to speakers on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse as teenager, he would leave those assemblies thinking, “I’ll never be that guy.”

“At 18 years old, I truly believed I was above it,” Herren, now 39, told a crowd of around 300 community members in the dimly lit Northampton High School auditorium Thursday night.

Herren, six years clean after a 14-year addiction to drugs and alcohol that he said started with a line of cocaine as a freshman at Boston College, is telling his story at schools across the country.

The Fall River native recalled walking into his dorm room one night to find his roommate doing cocaine with a female student, who he said coaxed him into trying it.

“The little girl at my desk said, ‘What are you doing? It’s not going to kill you,’” he told his audience Thursday. “Peer pressure set in.”

He said he did not think at that time that that one line of cocaine would stay with him for 14 years, leading to other abuses of prescription drugs, heroin and alcohol.

Herren spoke at the high school Thursday as part of Northampton Prevention Week. He spoke during the school day at an optional assembly for students, and again for the public that evening at a free event sponsored by the city’s Prevention Coalition and Booster Club Association, the Northampton Athletic Club on King Street and Joe’s Café on Market Street.

Herren told the crowd that he believes society needs to stop accepting that teenagers are “self-medicating.”

“I wish on Friday and Saturday nights when I was a teenager, being me was enough,” Herren said.

Looking back on his friends who did not drink or use substances, he said, “They have something I’m missing.”

Herren recalled his career from the time he was star of the basketball team at Durfee High School through being drafted into the NBA in 1999, then playing for several international teams before his career ultimately ended due to his addiction.

He spoke of many points along the way, including his first bout with prescription pills after a friend sold him the time-release painkiller OxyContin at age 23, and when he missed hearing his name announced as standing point guard for the Celtics after he ran outside to obtain a pill from his dealer stuck in traffic. His abuse of prescription drugs eventually led him to use heroin.

He said he became clean in August 2008 after four overdoses and seven drug-related felonies.

Herren, a married father with three children, told the audience that if his teenage son were to come home under the influence, he would not ask him how much he drank or who he drank with.

“I’m just going to ask him why,” Herren said. “I need to know why you didn’t think you were good enough to stay who you are.”

Northampton Prevention Coalition Coordinator Paul McNeil said he felt Herren’s talk was powerful in that it not only addressed the horrors of addiction, but why it started. In the daytime assembly, he said, students listened so quietly that “you could hear a pin drop.”

Northampton High School senior Reilly Griffin, 17, said Thursday evening that she thought Herren’s talk had changed lot of students’ perceptions on going out and partying.

“I thought it was very moving and motivational,” she said.

At the end of his talk, Herren invited questions from the audience, and several community members told him that they themselves were recovering from addictions.

Katie Talbot of Springfield said she felt Herren’s message rang true.

“Being in recovery, I can very much remember my first drink,” said Talbot, 33, on the way out of the auditorium. “You don’t connect the lines to the end of where your addiction will lead you.”

One audience member asked Herren how he deals with the stigma associated with being an addict. Herren said he shares his story with pride, instead focusing on how long he has been sober.

“I’m so tired of that stigma,” he said. “We’re survivors now.”

More information on the Northampton Prevention Coalition can be found at

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at


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