Former BYU running back, KSL sports anchor and current Jazz Game Night host, Alema Harrington, has been very vocal about his lifelong struggles with addiction. It’s a fight he said he expects to last for the rest of his life.
The ex-football player, broadcaster and recovering addict shared insight into his difficult journey on the KSL podcast, Project Recovery, with Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Wooley.
His days of abusing drugs started while attending high school in Hawaii. Harrington would dabble in street drugs and alcohol, although admitted to never taking it too far. He felt as though his drug use was always under control.
“I experimented a little bit in my high school days, but not really anything that was over the top. I didn’t really like weed when I first tried it and alcohol tasted terrible and it wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I started to do this senior party thing, and I kind of liked it and the social ease that it gave me,” Harrington said.
Harrington Begins Fighting the Demons
That all changed when he attended Brigham Young University in 1984 following an all-state career at Punahou High.
“It wasn’t until I started going to school at BYU. The first time that I was prescribed a narcotic, an opioid, was at BYU. I had injuries as a high school football player, but never once was I prescribed an opioid,” Harrington said.
He said that day he was sitting on a bench in the common area of Helaman Halls after suffering an injury during football practice. With him was a manila envelope with opioids inside.
“I remember when I took those and it hit my bloodstream. It was like a life-changing moment for me,” he recalled.
During this time, he said he was struggling with some mental demons of his own. He came from Hawaii, where he was a star football player. When he arrived at BYU, he quickly realized that everyone on the team was a star football player. He found himself buried in the depth chart and getting zero reps at practice.
On top of that, he was lonely.
“When those drugs hit my system, it just felt like I was going to be okay,” he said.
Harrington had found some relief, but little did he know the subtle relief gained would quickly spiral into a much bigger problem.
During his senior season, following his second back surgery, Harrington realized that his career at BYU had not lived up to his expectation. He was in a lot of pain, both physically and mentally. His addiction had encapsulated his world. He started forging prescription refills, with the hope that one of the many doctors he was visiting would provide him with more pills.
He was striving to constantly stay high, being sober was nowhere near as enjoyable, he admitted.
Harrington said his family became secondary to his addiction, which led to his eventual divorce.
Addiction Under Control
Harrington would eventually manage to get his addiction under control. He attended rehab for the first time in 1992 and spent the next eight years sober.
Unfortunately, he said he relapsed in 2000 while working at KSL-TV as a sports anchor.
Harrington admitted to ordering drugs off the internet and having them delivered to work.
The addiction had crept back into his life.
Help From The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints
Harrington said his local leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints helped immensely during his darkest days. Religion played a monumental role throughout his life, he said, specifically when he needed help the most.
Speaking with Scott and Dr. Wooley, Harrington admitted that he continues to struggle with his addiction demons. He said he has relapsed on a number of occasions over recent years.
Harrington believes that the mental fight to remain sober will play a role in his life forever.
Harrington Finds The Light
Harrington is hoping that millions of other people around the world who struggle with addiction can learn from his story. Fortunately, Harrington is in a much better place today. He is happy and has a clearer view of the world.
Addiction is a struggle that some men and women in the world face, some struggles are more dangerous than others. But nonetheless, every struggle must be taken as seriously as the next.
“Today, what I went through and what my children went through because of me, now has a positive purpose,” he says. “It gives me the unique ability to truly understand the unspeakable things that addiction can drive a person to do and to give others hope that redemption is possible,” Harrington told the Deseret News in an interview in December of 2017.
Harrington’s life goal is to now help, assist, and aid those that are struggling with addiction. He respects the disease and has a much greater understanding of the powers that it holds. Nonetheless, he strongly believes that addiction can be nullified. The pain and agony that is causes can be limited, and light can be found at the end of the long, dark addiction tunnel.
Download Project Recovery Podcast
Tom Hackett is a Utah and Real Salt Lake Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the It’s Utah’s World Podcast (Utah Football themed) and The Lion’s Den Podcast (Real Salt Lake themed). Follow him on Twitter: @TomCantHackett.