Out From the Shadows
The tendrils of addiction have touched the lives of all Americans in one way or another. As unrest at home and abroad puts more local families on the verge of crisis, resources mobilize to combat the stigma of addiction and help those at risk begin the journey toward recovery. 
by Bill Donahue

In his 1969 bestseller Love & Will, the late American existential psychologist Rollo May describes the ancient Greek term daimonic as “any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person.” He cites love and lust, anger and rage as examples. 
In more contemporary uses, the word is commonly spelled as demonic, which has a much more sinister connotation. Demons, after all, refer to evil supernatural forces, or, for those who do not believe in such things, emotional wounds from the past. The term also applies to drugs, alcohol, and other agents of addiction. 
Brad Sorte has an intimate understanding of the demons people face. As the president and CEO of Wernersville, Pennsylvania-based Caron Treatment Centers, Sorte leads an organization that provides tailored recovery programs to help families and individuals coping with substance use disorder and behavioral health issues. He has also overcome his own struggles with alcohol.
Sorte, whose family lives in Berwyn, began his career as a family therapist with Caron and steadily worked his way up to the chief executive’s chair. We spoke with him about his own recovery, the toll of the pandemic and world affairs on those who are at risk, and the steps individuals and families can take to begin the recovery process. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’re a clinician by training, having begun your career as a family therapist. What drew you into this field of work? 

I studied psychology in college. It was more a pursuit of personal interest than something I was thinking I would make a career of. After college, I ended up realizing I had a problem with alcohol, so I went to Caron as a patient at age 24. After going through the continuum in 2006, I realized I enjoyed the academic pursuit of understanding the human brain. As I was finishing graduate school, I saw a lot of opportunity in the behavioral health space. Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. My journey began with the organization being there for me a little over 15 years ago, and I feel like I have come full circle.
You mentioned your problem with alcohol. How was your recovery experience?
I was what you would call “one and done,” meaning I went one time for an extended course of treatment and that was all it took. My folks said, “We think you need to go get help,” and I agreed. The deal was that I would go for 30 days. It quickly became obvious that 30 days would not be enough time. A lot of my peers were ambivalent, but I could tell that if I left after 30 days I would not be successful. 

I went down to Florida [for treatment] in Christmas of 2006, and I got out around Easter of 2007. I had no money and no job, so every day I woke up and felt like I was starting at negative 100, so I thought: If I can put one foot in front of the other, I can get to 100. A big part of the program was getting a job, being on your own, and launching into adulthood. In the spring of 2007, I got a job and started becoming self-sufficient; I was very motivated to improve my station in life. I had the knowledge that if I ever did lose everything again, I could figure it out until I got enough momentum to move forward.  
Was there a certain aspect of your treatment you found most helpful in your recovery?
For me, the family work was huge. Family therapy has always been a hallmark of Caron’s treatment. A lot of it was helping my parents learn how to have an adult relationship with me. The other part was the psychodynamic atmosphere in Florida. I got to explore the root causes of the inadequacy I was feeling, things that lingered into adulthood, and I was able to understand where those messages came from. This was 15 years ago, so we didn’t have a lot of the treatment modalities back then that we do today. Fifteen years ago, it was a lot more talk therapy. Over the past decade and a half, we have greatly expanded the things we know about the underpinnings of mental health and addiction.
I’ve heard anecdotal evidence about an increase in addiction and treatment for the disorder since the beginning of the pandemic. Have you seen this play out at Caron? 
Oh yeah. We have seen it all the way through the pandemic, even during the height of it. We have seen everyone shift to the right, from those who are at risk to those who have a severe problem. Everybody is a little bit worse. We’re also seeing higher instances of co-occurring disorders, more mental illness. The economic environment and global affairs add to the uncertainty, and those are all major risk factors. Look at the risk factors over time—stress, bad news, anxiety. All these negative events have a traumatic impact on people. 
For anyone who is struggling with substance use disorder and doesn’t know where to begin, or anyone who has a family member or a close friend in crisis, what should they keep in mind? 
For family members, just because you have a loved one who is struggling, it doesn’t mean you can’t get help yourself. A big misconception is that people go through this alone. One of the best ways a family member can help is by getting help through support groups like Al-Anon or one of the other resources available locally.  

Often what happens is someone wants to stop [drinking or taking drugs], but they don’t want to admit they are an addict. There’s a tacit historical admission, “If I do this, it’s a big red flag acknowledging that I have an addiction problem.” There are a lot of ways to explore asking for help without taking drastic action. Start by talking to someone and asking, “Is this a problem, and what do I have to do about it?” As a culture, we have to make it less shameful and scary so people don’t have to go through the pain of suffering in silence. 
The good news is that people in this area have lots of local resources available to them. The things people build up in their minds are usually so much worse than what the reality is. Whatever thing they’re trying to keep secret, whoever they decide to talk to about their situation already knows what’s going on. Once you open the door for dialogue, it opens a pathway toward doing something differently to improve your life.
Ready to Help
More than 700,000 Americans have died of drug overdose since 2000, according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. Countless others have had their lives upended because of addiction to drugs and alcohol. SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, offers confidential help through samhsa.gov or (800) 662-HELP. In addition, a number of local organizations offer resources to help individuals and families overcome their challenges with substance use. Whether through outpatient services or inpatient treatment, these resources have the potential to help individuals and their families take positive steps toward recovery.
Belmont Behavioral Health System
Caron Treatment Centers
Huntington Creek Recovery Center
Pocono Mountain Recovery Center
Recovery Centers of America
The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, March 2022.