photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA


As happens all too often, media outlets from TMZ to the New York Times and millions of Americans have been consumed with the foibles and rants of a Hollywood celebrity. Charlie Sheen, who reportedly has battled drug, alcohol, and other addictions for years, has access to every resource available to him: money, the best rehab facilities, an industry that supports him, counseling, plenty of delicious food, a nice place to sleep, clean and fashionable clothing.  He has an enormous team of well-paid people to support his path to sobriety.

His is a life in crisis. We understand this as tragedy, not comedy, because at Catholic Charities we deal first hand with the consequences of substance abuse and addiction every day. We provide food, transitional and supportive housing, counseling, job training, and wrap around support for millions of individuals, living in poverty, struggling with recovery each year. We are their team.

Addictions to illicit drugs, prescription drugs, opiates, and alcohol affect tens of thousands of Americans, and the numbers are growing.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 21.8 million people used illicit drugs in 2009, a 9 percent increase over 2008.  In 2007 there were a total of 38,371 drug-induced deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that from 2001–2005, there were approximately 79,000 deaths annually attributable to excessive alcohol use.

Many veterans are homeless in America—estimates range from 130,000 to 200,000 on any given night; 76% of them experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems.[i]

Around 75% of those leaving prison have a history of drug or alcohol use, yet few receive treatment services.

The loss of a person to addiction is profound, and affects not only the individual but their families, children, communities, and society at large.  But like the return of the prodigal son, we celebrate each person who manages to regain sobriety and stability, who reconnects with family and society, who climbs out of poverty and rebuilds a productive life. To me, these are the people who are winning.