SALT LAKE CITY — When Casey Scott takes his son Boden, 7, into a store, the little boy likes to introduce him loudly: “This is my dad,” he proclaims. “He’s not a drunk anymore.”
It would be more accurate to say Scott’s not drinking anymore, because recovering from alcoholism is a lifelong battle. With luck, people who love you and endure what happened before recovery starts will stick around to help you through it.
Scott, 45, is a popular Utah TV and radio personality who has lived his adulthood in the public eye, amusing audiences with try-anything pranks and pratfalls. He was hired by KSL to be the “fun” guy.
But there was nothing funny about the serious car crash Scott caused by drinking and driving — and he’s lived that in public view, too.
In early September in Kaysville, Scott smashed into a car with a family inside, including two very young children. "By the graces of God, nobody died. It’s not to say that nobody was hurt," Scott says now.
The mother in the other car didn't respond to Deseret News’ invitation to talk about the wreck for this story. But photos of the crash she posted on Facebook show a vehicle smashed clear to the dashboard. She wrote: “I think back to that day and see the pictures of the wreckage. I look at my young kids and I'm terrified. Terrified for what could have happened. No, I don't live in the what could have, but when I say he very well could have killed us, I'm not joking. We were lucky that day, but no thanks to him. A family day out turned into a nightmare.”
It was Scott’s second DUI. At the hospital, Scott was handcuffed to the gurney while two police officers guarded his door as a doctor stitched up his forehead.
Alcohol, for Scott, has been nearly lifelong and “wildly expensive,” starting with costing him his marriage, which ended before the crash, largely because of his drinking, he says. Local media publicized his arrest, complete with the mug shot. He was fired. He lost his driver's license for two years and is on probation for one. Daily, he calls to see if he’s been randomly selected for a drug test, which happens at least twice a month. He sees his probation officer monthly. With treatment and other DUI-related expenses, the dollar cost reaches into six figures.
The cost to his pride and reputation can't be calculated.
But while some who are publicly humiliated by their own actions keep a low profile, Scott’s doing the opposite: Just over 200 days completely sober — “the longest stretch since I was 14” — he is talking openly about addiction and its devastation. He just launched a KSL podcast called “Project Recovery” with his friend Matt Woolley, a clinical psychologist. KSL and the Deseret News are both subsidiaries of Deseret Management Corporation.
Scott's and Woolley's free-form conversation in the first episode begins with Scott’s addiction, the early stages of his treatment and his ongoing recovery effort. They plan to look beyond Scott’s challenges, exploring tools that help people with addictions, whether the “drug of choice” is alcohol, opioids, pornography, gambling or “anything you give power over you,” Scott says. They’ll interview experts in 12-step programs, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation and mindfulness, prayer, medication and more. They want to offer resources so addicts recognize they should get help, and resources for family members, too.
Scott wouldn’t mind some public redemption, he adds. Because he’s trying to repair what broke — starting with Casey Scott.
The data on alcohol abuse is extraordinarily sobering: In 2017, roughly a quarter of Americans age 12 and older said they binged on alcohol in the past month, according to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health. Consuming four alcohol-containing beverages on a single occasion for a woman and five for a man constitutes binge drinking. More than half of Americans 12 and older (51.6 percent) are classified as current drinkers, though not necessarily binge drinkers in the report. That’s 140 million people.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates 88,000 people — 62,000 men and 26,000 women — die directly or indirectly from alcohol use annually. Alcohol is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States, behind tobacco and "lifestyle," which means lousy nutrition and inactivity. Alcohol increases the risk of various cancers, including esophagus, mouth, liver and breast cancer, among others.
That Scott might have a problem was no secret to those who knew him well. His mom, Robyn Scott, says she and her other sons talked about it and tried to talk to him. He shut them down with stories of how much pressure he was under and the assurance that everything was fine.
They're not alone. Addiction impacts whole families. When someone is in addiction's throes, relatives can feel mad, sad, distrustful, helpless, anxious, depressed or scared, says Carrie Carlton, licensed clinical social worker at Beachway Therapy in Boynton Beach, Florida. Family-sized complications include what to do if the addict is the breadwinner and gets fired. Even if an addict’s willing to get professional help, the cost can be worrisome without good insurance. Alcoholism raises the risk of divorce, an unfair division of household responsibilities and sometimes physical or verbal abuse, Carlton says.
Family members can also be co-dependent with the addict — overly involved “to the point of dysfunction,” she adds. Parents of addicts may wonder how they failed their child.
Carlton reminds people that "ideal" parents can end up with addicts; conversely, negligent parents can have addiction-free children.
If you ask Casey Scott to describe one of the “many moments I ruined with alcohol,” he talks about his only son’s second birthday party. They had invited family and friends to celebrate. When he went to the store to get supplies, he came home with two cases of beer.
“Why do you have two cases of beer?” his wife asked.
“It’s for the birthday party,” he replied.
“He’s 2,” she retorted. “Is it for you or is it for your son? Because I’m pretty sure this birthday party’s for our son.”
That was one of many warnings he ignored that his family life was deteriorating. Even now, he can’t tell you anything about the birthday party — not even whether the child had fun. He does remember fighting with his wife about his drinking.
Though they divorced, they remain cordial and Scott shares custody of their three children with her. But he's often reminded of what his drinking cost his family. No longer a media star, he delivers furniture. Tired and achy one night, he complained he'd been through a lot this year. “Really, Dad?” Preslee, 14, asked. “You think you’re the only one who’s gone through this?”
Conversations with daughter Frankie, 11, usually start with, “How you doing, Dad? No drinks?”
After his arrest, friends told Scott they “saw cracks in the wall.”
“I didn’t know if it was my place to say anything,” one told him. Scott isn’t sure it would have mattered; he never thought he was an alcoholic. “I didn’t think I had my drinking under control, but I thought I was smart and I could figure it out on my own.”
Woolley says most people with a substance use problem need professional help to stop using. And alcohol detox without expert supervision can be dangerous. Even those who can, as Woolley says, “gut through” the process and stop using on their own could have a better quality of life recovering with support and treatment.
For many, only an “outside force” like a divorce, a DUI, loss of a license or an accident can get someone who's addicted to seriously consider intervention.
Robyn Scott thought her son had reached that “rock bottom” point a couple of times. He hadn’t. She didn't know what to do. Family efforts to intervene had failed.
Before the divorce, Scott's ex-wife asked him, “Why can’t you stop for me? Why can’t you stop for the kids?”
Addicts can’t answer that, but Woolley, his co-host on the podcast, has seen so many struggle that he tackles the question easily. “If it’s an addiction, the body has become dependent on the substance; you feel horrible without it. We talk about it in ascending order: use, then abuse (that's "getting wasted"), then dependency — as in ‘I need it to get through my day.’ Finally, there’s addiction.” At that point, an addict’s body physically rebels against efforts to stop using.
Carlton told the Deseret News addiction is “much deeper than the issue of how much an addict loves a particular family member." She likens addiction to chronic illnesses “characterized by clinically significant impairment in health, social function and voluntary control.” Nor is “rock bottom” the same place for everyone. Some need to lose everything; others have “a higher bottom.”
“Being an addict or alcoholic does not represent a person’s moral fiber, their love for family or friends or their ambition. The first of the 12 steps in (Alcoholics Anonymous) is ‘We came to admit we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable,’” she says.
Nor does the social aspect of imbibing help. People drink at parties. They have alcohol with meals. Because Scott could buy his drug of choice at a convenience store, he figured it couldn’t be a big problem. He wasn’t meeting a drug dealer in the park, Woolley says.
Scott’s rock bottom was that devastating car crash. He thinks daily of the fact that he could have killed someone. He checked himself into detox, then into Pinnacle Recovery Center for treatment.
Long road back
Families can point an addict to help and get help for themselves, too, through support groups for family members, like Al-Anon, and by learning about particular addictions.
Intervention by family members can work, Woolley says, but Carlton notes it’s more likely with help from an intervention specialist. Without guidance, loved ones who confront an addict may make things worse. “He or she may become stubborn and not accept any help,” Carlton says.
Often the best way to help is emotionally the hardest, she says: Tough love. “As gut-wrenching as this approach may be, if you are providing financial support for an addict, you may need to confiscate their credit cards, cell phones, access to cash or other tools that would enable them to fuel their habit.” She doesn’t suggest depriving anyone of food, shelter or medical care. But loved ones should refuse to fund the vice. Without money to support a habit, the individual may experience withdrawal and be amenable to medical care for detox, then treatment.
Health, home, community and purpose are treatment pillars, says Christina Zidow, chief operating officer for Odyssey House of Utah, which treats addicts. But she warns recovery does not “come with a graduation date and diploma.” Even after a sanction lifts or a fine is paid, recovery still continues. The individual must forever guard against relapse, which frustrates recovering addicts.
Nor does a single stint in treatment guarantee there won’t be relapse. Some get it on the first try, but recovery may include need for treatment again and again, she says.
Amid complexities of treatment and recovery, Zidow says it works best when treatment targets what made a person vulnerable to substance use disorder. Someone who experienced trauma as a child will need trauma-informed treatment. Someone with a mental health or physical condition requires medical management of the condition, along with therapy.
Carlton thinks some people are afraid to ask a loved one if they struggle with addiction out of fear the answer might be “yes.” Then what?
Shame can silence conversations that could be helpful and addiction prevention doesn’t start early enough, says Zidow. She's a proponent of talking about emotional regulation and how to deal with distress even in preschool.
Finding the right treatment may require some patience and exploration. Not everyone responds to every option. For some, 12-step programs are a gift, but others try them once and won’t return, says Woolley. Research suggests cognitive behavioral therapy works for most people by helping them change both thoughts and behaviors. Medication can be a safe, effective add-on.32 comments on this story
On a society-wide level, just talking about addictions would help a lot, experts agree. Shame contributes to hiding addictions instead of getting help.
Woolley hopes the Project Recovery podcast will help overcome that. “I really want to start a public conversation about all of this,” he says. New episodes are released every Tuesday.
“Project Recovery will not fix you,” Scott says. “I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I believe you can fix you, with the right tools, the right mindset and the right framework. I think you can recover. You can learn to live a life.”