The secret struggle we need to talk about is an issue that's very personal to me. It's something we don't talk about much, but it impacts the lives of millions of Americans every day--and for years it controlled my own life. Especially for entrepreneurs, who crave the highs of business success, this struggle often rears it's head.
I'm talking about addiction.
In honor of National Recovery Month, it's as good a time as any to get the conversation going.
My struggle wasn't with drugs or alcohol--it was with gambling. And like so many other addictions, it began small and innocent. I got my start dealing blackjack with friends in 8th grade, and having fun at the slot machine at the corner bodega store on my block in Brooklyn, New York.
But as is too often the case, my problem escalated--and quickly. I began taking bets on sports at school, and started gambling at the race track and at casinos. I was taking money from my friends, but I couldn't stop and I was afraid to ask for help.
I hit rock bottom when I was just 17 years old, and it took a long time and a lot of guidance until I found my way again. I found relief in Gamblers Anonymous, and I relied on my family and friends for their patience and understanding. I lost a lot of time and energy to addiction, but I was lucky--many people lose their lives.
We've known for a long time that addiction is a disease. Research has proven that it's a chronic and relapsing brain illness, and that--like other diseases--it's grounded in genetic, environmental, and social factors. More than 22 million Americans struggle with addiction to alcohol and other drugs every day, and we lose more than 135,000 people to those substances each year. Worst of all, we know that the most vulnerable people are those whose brains are still physically developing: kids.
That's why I support Shatterproof, the first national organization fighting to prevent and treat addiction across America. They're working to make sure that evidence-based prevention and treatment methods are put to good use in our schools and our communities, and to end the stigma that keeps too many people from asking for the help they need. I encourage you all to check out their website to learn more about their mission and how you can help.
I know firsthand how easily addiction can take over your life, and how hard it can be to ask for help when you're struggling with a disease that so many people don't understand. But I've also learned that with a little help and compassion, we can overcome this disease, as individuals and as a society.
Entrepreneurs struggle with addiction. Small business owners struggles with addiction. Doctors, and lawyers, and teachers struggle with addiction. Moms and dads struggle with addictions. Friends and family struggle with addiction.
I ask that we each take it upon ourselves to consider addiction as the disease that it is, and to offer our warmth and understanding to those we meet who may need our support. For many people out there, a simple smile and a few kind words may be all the encouragement they need to ask for help.
Never forget, we all have the power to give hope and change lives.