This post was originally published on June 29, 2015.
As a native Bostonian, I have spent nearly 30 years admiring various members of the Wahlberg family. Though that is typically for their musical endeavors, acting chops and well-defined pecs, today I celebrate a lesser-known sibling—James Wahlberg—for lending his family’s talents to a, well, higher calling.
A Different Kind of Movie Business
Through the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, a non-profit founded by him and his brother in 2001, and Millennium Health, James produced a film called If Only (not to be confused with the 2004 Jennifer Love Hewitt drama), that chronicles the growing opiate addiction Massachusetts. Set in Tewksbury, the roughly 30-minute movie aims to hit home for the 1200 local high school students it recently screened to by showcasing town landmarks as well the names, ages and photos of some of the young people in the community who lost their lives to addiction. With this powerful and chilling visual, Wahlberg—a parent and resident of the area—says he hopes to help eradicate some of the stigma that still exists around the disease of addiction. (James told a Fox 5 reporter that he considers himself “somewhat of an expert in the field” of addiction as he has “had his own history with alcohol and drug abuse” but has been clean for over 25 years.)
While I love everything about this—community helping community, awareness about addiction, anything involving any Wahlberg—I get the sense that we might be confusing the disease of addiction with plain old physiological addiction. And there is a difference.
Addict vs. Addicted
Anyone who is prescribed a narcotic for pain, anxiety or depression is at a risk to become addicted and therefore end up abusing it. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have the disease we refer to—it just means they got physically addicted to addictive medication because they are human. Of course, this phenomenon can certainly be the gateway to discovering you have the disease of alcoholism—which is why some people who detox from one drug find themselves abusing another. They are more than likely looking at what some call an “addictive personality” rather than an isolated addiction to one drug.
For instance, I know a guy who, in his early 20s, became addicted to heroin. People nowadays might automatically label him an addict suffering from a disease. But after a year or so of abuse, he went into rehab and emerged drug-free, never to use opiates again. He now has a functional life where he enjoys drinking, smoking pot and occasionally snorting coke like a normal person. That is not the markings of someone with a disease; that is just a person who happens to have been addicted to a highly addictive drug.
Let’s Get This Party Un-started
But when it comes to a community rallying together to combat a rash of premature drug-related deaths, the technicalities don’t really matter. The film’s message is poignant and its regional-specific content should do its job and help the locals connect to the gravity of the issue. My hats off to yet another talented Wahlberg, using his Irish charm (and whatever chiseled goodness might be lying underneath his sport coat) to makes people pay attention, get educated and start a dialogue with their children about the serious consequences of experimenting with pills. Even better: no one has to shell out their hard-earned bucks for this one as the film can be viewed for free here.