Laurie Dhue appeared to have it all — a successful career as a broadcast journalist, a beautiful apartment over Central Park, a great family, and lots of friends. But she had what she thought of as a “naughty and thrilling” secret — a cocaine addiction.
Join us as she shares with Gabe her motivation for getting clean, how she did it, and what she is up to now.
LAURIE DHUE is Chief Brand Officer at RecoveryEducation.com.
One of the nation’s leading recovery advocates, Laurie is in long-term recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. She has worked closely with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) and the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD). Laurie has spoken on behalf of many national recovery organizations including the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the Caron Foundation.
Laurie has had the distinct honor of speaking at the White House in 2014 and 2017 on behalf of ONDCP. She was also a featured speaker at the inaugural UNITE to Face Addiction national rally in Washington, DC in 2015. Laurie appeared in the award-winning 2013 documentary “The Anonymous People” and the Emmy-nominated 2017 documentary “Reversing the Stigma”, produced in conjunction with OASAS (New York State’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse).
Prior to her work in the recovery field, Dhue enjoyed a distinguished career as an award-winning national news anchor who hosted shows on all three major cable news networks: CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel. Her 25 years in news has included interviews with numerous world leaders, politicians, entertainers and prominent newsmakers as well as extensive reporting from the Middle East during the War on Terror.
Dhue joined forces with RecoveryEducation.com to give addiction a face and voice, helping crush the stigma surrounding the disease, further proving that long-term recovery is possible. She travels coast-to-coast giving speeches, emceeing events and moderating panel discussions, as well as offering commentary in national media.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome to the show, everyone. I’m your host, Gabe Howard and calling in today we have Laurie Dhue. Laurie is the chief brand officer at Recovery Education and Applied Learning, REAL. Before entering the recovery field, she enjoyed a distinguished 25-year career as an award-winning national news anchor who hosted shows on all three major cable news networks CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Laurie, welcome to the podcast.
Laurie Dhue: Hi, Gabe. Thank you so much. I’m delighted to be here.
Gabe Howard: If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that more people understand mental health issues. Does it bother you as a person in active recovery that it took other people suffering? It took themselves going through this to pay attention to the needs of people like you and the people like me as someone who lives with bipolar disorder? Because people in active recovery, people living with mental health issues, people living with mental illness. We knew this was an issue well before COVID. Society just didn’t care.
Laurie Dhue: Yeah. And as I’m listening to you, part of me thinks, well, that’s a cynical thing to say. And the other part of me says, oh, you’re spot on. And it’s true. I don’t want to be too cynical here. I want to be positive. But mental illness was something that simply wasn’t discussed back in the day. And the day is even as recently as 20 or ten years ago. It simply wasn’t discussed. And if you were depressed, well, you kept it to yourself. If you were depressed, family members and friends might just say, Oh, buck up. Change your attitude. Have some gratitude. And it’s and those things are important. Yes, it’s important to have gratitude. But mental illness is a lot more serious than that. And yes, you and I both suffer from mental illness. You have bipolar. I have had depression for decades. I treat my depression with an antidepressant every day.
Laurie Dhue: I am happy that at least there is more attention being paid to mental illness because of this epidemic that killed more than a million people in this country. But yeah, it’s been frustrating. You know, it’s I grew up in the South where, oh, you simply didn’t discuss these things. You know, if anything was unpleasant, well, you just went off and dealt with it by yourself or you privately sought therapy without telling anybody. And that keeps people sicker. Secrecy. I have always thought it keeps people from seeking help. And certainly, in the world of addiction and recovery, secrecy is a very dangerous thing.
Gabe Howard: Asking for help, of course, is a very difficult thing. It sounds so easy. Just ask for help. But it’s
Laurie Dhue: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: A challenge. It’s a very big challenge in our society. I want to sort of turn the microscope on you for a moment. What was the impetus that made you ask for help? How did you get sober?
Laurie Dhue: Oh, my gosh. Well, frankly, Gabe, I didn’t think I needed help. You know, it never occurred to me to actually get sober. I had been drinking alcoholically and abusing cocaine for many, many years. And I just sort of thought that it was my lot in life. Well, you know, I’ve got this big TV career and I’m going to drink and drug with impunity. And it doesn’t matter because I’m having so much fun and nobody can tell me what to do. And I’m making a lot of money and I have this big career and la la la la la. And then I realized, oh, I’m going to die if I keep drinking and drugging the way I am. So, a lot of people sort of slow down their drinking after college or maybe by the time they hit 30 or 35, they have slowed down a bit and they realize, oh, you know, this isn’t so great for me. It’s taking me longer to recover from drinking and or drugging. And I’ve got a career and maybe I’m married with kids and I need to grow up. I never had that. I just kept thinking, well, I it would never occur to me to stop. I can’t stop. I won’t stop.
Laurie Dhue: And who cares? If I die, I die. That was sort of my headspace at the time. You know, I’ve had this big, exciting life. I’ve traveled around the world reporting on the war on terror. I’m anchoring my shows on these different networks, and I’m going to do whatever I want to do. And then it occurred to me when I started feeling really awful physically, I started losing friends. I had some people at the network where I was working who noticed that I didn’t look good, who said, hey, you might want to slow down. And I said, you know. Well, I can’t repeat what I said, but it was basically mind your own business, I’m fine. And then I realized that I wasn’t fine and I thought, I am going to die if I keep drinking and drugging the way I do. There’s no way I’m going to make it to 40. And so, at age 37, I thought, I need to do something. So, after many, many years of suffering, of being in pain, of lying to myself and lying to other people and not recognizing the woman who I saw in the mirror anymore, I decided to reach out and get help. And that was reaching out to one of the top addiction psychiatrists in New York City, where I was living at the time. And I wasn’t exactly ready to quit. But once I entered treatment, I realized that I actually did not have to drink and drug anymore. That I actually could live my life without intoxicating substances, which theretofore I had never considered. Gabe, it was like, I am having so much fun drinking and drugging.
Laurie Dhue: Why would I ever give it up? But of course, the irony was that I wasn’t having fun, that I was living a very sad and lonely existence, and my depression was worsening because of my substance use. So, it’s like a chicken and egg thing. I’m not sure which came first, the addiction or the depression. But I can tell you that they’re related. And once I started seeing this addiction psychiatrist, we talked about all of the good things in my life and how much I had to lose. And he got me to a place where I could admit out loud, number one, I am an alcoholic and a drug addict. And number two, I am a strong person and I don’t have to live with these substances. And so, it took a couple of months of intense therapy with him. And then my moment of grace happened on March 14, 2007, where I was out to dinner with a friend. I ordered a glass of wine and I didn’t drink it. And it was as if I had been hit by a lightning bolt and a voice from above. You can call it God. You can call it whatever you want. For me, I think it was God said, Hey, Laurie, you don’t have to drink this glass of wine. And Gabe, it was my moment. It was my moment of clarity. It was my moment of grace. I looked at that glass of wine. I didn’t touch it. And that was the beginning of my journey into recovery.
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much for sharing your story. And I love in addiction recovery that people have that date. That’s you said March 14th. I don’t know what date I reached recovery. Right. It’s not something that we have over on the mental health side. And the reason
Laurie Dhue: Right.
Gabe Howard: That I bring that up is to draw these two things together. You mentioned living with depression and you mentioned substance abuse disorder. And you really see them as co-occurring and going hand in hand. There’s a huge debate in this country about whether or not, one, those two things are comorbid. And two, there’s even warring factions among mental health advocates and addiction advocates between which is worse, which goes together, or even if the other one exists and you own it, you’re like, yes, I suffer from depression. And I had addiction issues. That’s very rare.
Laurie Dhue: They go hand in hand with so many people. People don’t abuse drinking and drugs when they’re happy and they’re fulfilled necessarily. I think people feel they get lonely, they get isolated, they are insecure, they are unhappy. They are looking for something to take away their pain or to take away the uncertainty in their lives. And also, we cannot ignore the genetic component. And they’re very much is a genetic component to addiction and mental illness, I believe. And I think that science has shown that. It’s they often go together and, in my mind, it makes a lot of sense. I also think that trauma has an enormous role in mental health and addiction issues. I know from my own personal experience having childhood trauma and scientists and doctors know for a fact that when people suffer trauma, especially early in life as a child, that there is a direct correlation to mental health issues and becoming addicted. And getting back to that connection between depression and addiction. I think addiction can lead to depression, and depression can lead to addiction. They share common risk factors like changes in brain chemistry. And when that’s untreated, depression can increase the risk of developing an addiction? I think so. People who suffer from depression are more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope with their feelings of sadness and hopelessness. And then in that process, Gabe, addiction can creep in. And again, I think that’s probably what happened with me.
Gabe Howard: One of the common tropes that you hear about when you see very successful people like yourself who have substance abuse disorder issues is, well, it can’t be hurting them. I mean, after all, you were an anchor on three major networks. This is this is a level of success that most people will never, ever, ever hit. And I used to think that that was a protective factor. Right. Because after all, you had all of this success, you made good money, so therefore you were going to be okay and that, hey, maybe the addiction wasn’t hurting you. What do you feel about people who feel that way? And how did your life change once you got sober? Because so many people believe, hey, in order to succeed at that level, a little cocaine is a good thing.
Laurie Dhue: You know, Gabe, I’m laughing because you’re mentioning, hey, a little cocaine, it can be good. That’s how I looked at it. Except for me, it wasn’t just a little cocaine. You know, the joke about cocaine is there’s never any left. You just keep doing it until it’s gone. It’s not like, oh, you know, I’m going to do a little cocaine and then I’m going to put the bag away for, you know, until next weekend or until next month. And, you know, I literally laugh out loud at this because there’s never any left over. You just keep doing it. Or at least that’s how I operated when I was using cocaine. My life changed immediately. And I mean, within two weeks after I had detoxed and gotten the drugs and the alcohol out of my system, I felt like a black cloud had been lifted. And yeah, that sounds cliche and maybe it was a cliche, but I swear my heart, my mind, my body, everything was so much clearer within literally the first 2 to 4 weeks. And about six months into recovery, I feel like I started getting my brain back. You know, I think I had been fuzzy for so many years. But about six months into being sober, I had people come up to me at the network where I was working at the time and said, you look different.
Laurie Dhue: What is different? Have you lost weight? Is your hair a different color? And no, my weight hadn’t changed. I hadn’t changed my hair color. I was sober and it showed on my face, in my voice, in my dealing with my colleagues. I was no longer hungover at work every day. You know, I was a lot more pleasant to work with. I started repairing my relationships. I started getting physically and emotionally healthier. And I’ve never looked back. It’s it is a joy to be sober. It is a joy to know that I’m dealing with my depression every day. I know that that may sound antithetical. What do you mean you feel joy in your depression? Well, I feel joy that I’ve that I tackled it and that I treat it and that I am living a very fulfilling and happy life. And I think. You know, a lot of people see, I’m grateful to be an alcoholic. And that might sound completely crazy to most people, but I can say that, too, because. I found a 12-step program that saved my life. I found other people suffering from the same disease. There’re like 30 million of us in recovery in this country. And I’m happy to be one of them. But it’s just a better life. And Gabe, I’m sure, you know, once you started treating your bipolar, you probably felt like a different person, didn’t you?
Gabe Howard: Oh, completely. Everything changed for me. It’s a little bit different in in bipolar disorder because of the for me, the psychosis component. But
Gabe Howard: My life absolutely got better. And I’m really fascinated by this idea that people believe that drugs, alcohol, mental illness makes us better. One of the things that somebody who lives with bipolar disorder that I get often is, well, don’t you miss the mania? Didn’t the mania make you creative? Didn’t the mania make you productive? No, no. Severe and persistent mental illness hurt me. My curious question for you is you’ve described, you know, the substance abuse disorder, the drinking, the cocaine as harming your life. Yet society really romanticizes that.
Laurie Dhue: Yeah, I thought it was amazing until I didn’t. Oh, yeah. You know, I’m so sarcastic when I talk about it now. I thought the drinking and drugs were making me this fabulous person, and we’re making me kind of a fun girl. A naughty girl. I was so responsible when I was a national news anchor delivering the news every day. And then I had this secret side of me that not many people knew about, and it was like I was keeping this thrilling secret. Like you people watching me, you have no idea what I do with my time off. And I thought it was giving me a better life, only because it was kind of exciting and I never knew what I was going to happen. What was going to happen, Gabe, when I left the house or when I got off the air and I would go straight to dinner or straight to a bar or a straight to meet friends and whatever. I never knew what was going to happen. Was I going to be relatively subdued that night and just go have a nice steak dinner and a couple of glasses of wine? Or was I going to go crazy and meet friends downtown and call my coke dealer and stay out until four or five in the morning? I never knew.
Laurie Dhue: And so strangely, paradoxically, that was kind of exciting. And then it wasn’t. It was exhausting. I, I lived this secret life, this dark life. As I said earlier, I didn’t recognize the woman looking back at me in the mirror. In fact, Gabe, I used to stand in the mirror when I was intoxicated and stare at myself and just cry and think, how did I get here? What am I doing? I’m going to lose everything. I’m going to lose this big TV news career. I’m going to lose my family. I’m going to lose my friends. I’m going to lose this beautiful apartment I have on Central Park. I’m going to lose it all. And yet that wasn’t enough for me to stop until the exhaustion set in. And actually, I was dating a man at the time who realized how serious my drinking and drugging were. And he broke up with me. And him breaking up with me was actually the first catalyst to get clean.
Laurie Dhue: I wanted to get him back. So, I started entertaining the notion of sobriety for him, to get him back. But more importantly, I realized that I was losing myself mentally, emotionally and physically. And then there was one more component that was very important, and that ended up being a huge catalyst for me to get sober. And that was my sister’s pregnancy with the family’s first grandchild. She was pregnant and I knew that I had a niece or nephew on the way and I thought, you know what? This unborn baby who is growing inside my sister, I want to be there for this baby. I want to be there for this child. I want to be the aunt, the auntie who shows up for things, not the auntie who misses the plane because she’s still drunk, not the auntie who misses the school play or the soccer game or the ballet recital or whatever it is. I realize that I had a chance to be a good aunt. And you know, now that baby, I have two nephews, they are 15 and 12 and they are two of the biggest reasons I stay sober.
Gabe Howard: I think that is an absolutely beautiful story and I just have to ask to avoid listener emails. Did it work? Did you get him back?
Laurie Dhue: We got back together and then we realized that we were not good together. But I have to thank him in a way, because when one night over dinner when I was having a cocaine nosebleed in front of him, I didn’t know it. And he looked at me at dinner and said, Do you have a nosebleed? And I was so mortified. And on the cab ride back to our respective apartments, he said, I can’t see you anymore. And that was pretty humiliating. So, yeah, he was one of the reasons I got sober. I wanted to get him back, but it didn’t work out with him. And it’s a good thing it didn’t. We’ve both moved on and it was the catalyst, and so I’m grateful to him.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing the stigma of addiction with award winning journalist Laurie Dhue. I understand why you decided to get help for your substance use disorder. That makes perfect sense to me. And I’m so glad that you did. But I’m wondering, you’re in the public eye. Why did you choose to be public about it? Because from what I understand about your story, you could have just kind of kept your mouth shut. You didn’t have to let the public know that well, that any of this happened. You sort of, for lack of a better phrase, got away with it. But then you outed yourself. Why?
Laurie Dhue: Well. Well, I actually did not out myself.
Gabe Howard: Ah.
Laurie Dhue: I was. Yes. So, it was not initially my choice to go public. I was in recovery privately for two or three years and really wanted to deal with this on my own. I didn’t tell anyone at the network where I was working. I only told my closest friends and obviously everybody was so happy and excited for me. No one said to me, Hey, Lori, it’s a bad idea that you got sober. I think everyone was kind of waiting for me to do so. And so, I was just living a life in recovery pretty privately. And then I was asked to speak at a media dinner in Washington, D.C., and I was asked to talk about the role of faith in my life and how I got through particularly difficult things in my life. And I was assured that this dinner was going to be off the record, that I was safe to talk about anything I wanted to. And so, I decided to talk about how faith and community and support had helped me get sober. Well, unbeknownst to me, there was a gossip reporter at the dinner who decided to break my anonymity and tell my story without my permission. And so, the night I spoke at this dinner, I got a standing ovation.
Laurie Dhue: I had a lot of people come up to me to say, you know, you’re I had no idea you were struggling with this all those years. You were TV news anchor. My goodness. Nobody had any idea. And thank you so much for sharing your story. But that reporter wrote an article about me without asking my permission or giving me any kind of heads up. And so, the next morning when I woke up, it was all over the Internet and I thought, oh, my Lord, my life is over. I really thought that. I thought, I’ll never work again. I’m going to be shamed. People are going to make fun of me. I literally didn’t know what I was going to do and people started calling, meaning my friends. People who had no idea that I was in this journey of recovery. And then the media started calling. The Today Show called; Good Morning America called. And a lot of media outlets reached out to me. And after talking with my agent and with my family, I decided to go public because I knew I had the chance to help people. So, a couple of days later, I went on the Today Show and did a lot of other media appearances, and it was the beginning of a beautiful journey of being a national recovery advocate. I knew I had the chance to put a face and give a voice to the disease of addiction, and it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me because from that moment on, I was public. I got invited to start speaking at events, and I know that my public recovery has helped untold numbers of people. So, in the moment it was horrible, but it ended up yielding something quite beautiful.
Gabe Howard: How do you feel about that reporter now? I know all’s well that ends well, but as a journalist yourself, it it’s still kind of a jerk move, right?
Laurie Dhue: Well, you know, I should have known better, Gabe, because nothing is really off the record, right? When someone says, Oh, don’t worry, it’s off the record. It really never is. And I probably should have given that more thought. But instead, I decided just to be honest and to share with this audience of really, I think it was only like 70 or 80 people who were at this dinner that night. I thought, this is a safe space. And while the reporter decided to tell my story without asking me, it ended up opening a whole new world to me. And I’ve moved past that. And I just like to focus on today and what I can do today to help people.
Gabe Howard: Laurie, let’s talk about the work that you’re doing now. How does the work that you’re involved in today play a role in helping people improve their mental health?
Laurie Dhue: Well, my job is to put a face on the disease of addiction and the power of recovery. That’s what I’ve been doing for the better part of 15 years. And it’s my privilege each and every day to share my experience, strength and hope. And now I get to do that for parents and families. So, I’m the chief brand officer of REAL, which stands for Recovery, Education and Applied Learning. This is an educational online platform for parents of teenagers and young adults struggling with substance use disorder. You know, parents need help just as much as the young person does. Addiction is a family disease and it has to be treated as a family. And I think right now, when parents are looking for answers or, you know, they might go on Google and there’s just so much out there. It’s like the wild, wild West. Parents don’t necessarily get the answers that they need.
Laurie Dhue: So, we have created a platform that includes an educational curriculum which we’ve created with a team of psychiatrists and therapists and a team of PhD learning designers to help parents address all the issues that are connected with addiction. We talk about prevention and, you know, we do think if you start talking to your child early, say, at the age of eight, nine or ten, that is a good thing. Your child is never too young for you to talk about addiction. We talk about possible treatment options. We talk about insurance issues. We talk about legal issues. We provide education on everything from how to recognize the signs that your child may have addiction issues or even mental health issues to say, okay, they’ve gotten out of rehab. What do we do now? And I think one of the most important components of our platform is self-care for parents. A lot of parents, perhaps they are not on the same page when it comes to determining whether or not their child has a substance use issue. We help educate parents on how to align with each other to get on the same page, to say, okay, our child has a problem, we need to tackle this together. We want parents to know you don’t have to go through this alone. You shouldn’t go through it alone. And you don’t have to, because we are here and people can find us at RecoveryEducation.com. We want to help as many people as we can. We’re available 24/7. We are here to help.
Gabe Howard: Laurie, thank you so much for being here. Where can folks find you online?
Laurie Dhue: Oh, thank you. Well, again, you can find me at RecoveryEducation.com, but I’m on Instagram @LaurieDhue, L A U R I E D H U E. You can find me on LinkedIn at Laurie Dhue as well. And our Instagram handle is @recovery_education. I would love to talk with anyone directly if they just want to reach out to me privately and direct message me. That’s great. I’m always available to help people. I have been for the last 15 years and now my partners and I who founded REAL are happy and grateful to help as many people as we can. And we’re here.
Gabe Howard: That is wonderful. Thank you once again so much for being here.
Laurie Dhue: Gabe, thank you. I just appreciate the time that the care that you took in your questions and making me feel comfortable.
Gabe Howard: Laurie, you are very welcome, and a big thank you to all of our listeners. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award-winning public speaker who could be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon because, well, everything is. Or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free. And hey, can you do me a personal favor? Recommend the show to your friends, family, colleagues. If you go to a support group, recommend it there, put it on social media, send a text message. Referring the show is how we grow. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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