Being candid and thoughtfully transparent is sort of the brand for Dax Shepard and Kristin Bell, as evidence by the way they’ve navigated Shepard’s recent relapse and decades-long struggle with opioid addiction while working, living and parenting in the public eye. True to their parenting philosophy of trying to be honest and real with their daughters (Lincoln, 8, and Delta, 6), the couple has given them a certain level of age-appropriate insight into their dad’s experience with addiction — with the hope that they can give them some important lessons about addiction, forgiveness and owning your mistakes as they grow.
In a recent episode of Chelsea Clinton’s podcast In Fact with Chelsea Clinton tackling substance use disorders and addiction, the Armchair Expert host gave a glimpse at what his daughters know about his addiction and efforts to stay sober.
“They know that dad goes to an AA meeting every Tuesday and Thursday,” Shepard told Clinton. “One of the cuter moments was, I wanna say my oldest daughter was 3 — back when my daughters really wanted to be with me 24 hours a day — and she said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to AA,'” he recalled. “She said, ‘Why do you have to go?’ I go, ‘Because I’m an alcoholic and if I don’t go there then I’ll drink and I’ll be a terrible dad. And she said, ‘Can I go?’ I said, ‘Well, no, you got to be an alcoholic.’ And she goes, ‘I’m gonna be an alcoholic.’ I said, ‘You might become one. The odds are not in your favor, but you’re not there yet.”
It’s one of those jokes that’s based in reality, as the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) notes, family history is the most reliable indicator for future risk of alcohol or drug dependence — and there’s a known genetic component in how dependence runs in families. And for many people that knowledge paired with an understanding of their family’s background with substance abuse can help them better navigate drugs and alcohol as adults.
Shepard added that the low point of his most recent relapse has also been part of the conversation with his kids — with details that make it clear that he’s sorry for his behavior in pursuit of enabling his addiction and reminds them that they can always own their mistakes, apologize and be forgiven.
“When I relapsed we explained, ‘Well Daddy was on these pills for a surgery and then Daddy was a bad boy. He started getting his own pills,'” Shepard said. “Yeah, we tell them the whole thing. The proudest I am of my children ever is when they admit something and say sorry. That to me is the single most impressive thing a little person can do, because it’s the bravest thing to own your shortcomings.”
Shepard also went on to talk about some of the more insidious and less understood parts of addiction to opioids: how “normal” and seemingly functioning a person can be while using while putting themselves in danger of having a higher tolerance. That higher tolerance, per University of Michigan Medicine, is what can greatly increase the risk of overdose, breathing emergencies and death for the individual who is using.
“The opiate thing was very misleading because I was still doing everything I was supposed to do. I was still interviewing people, it was going well, I was still playing with my kids, putting them to bed, waking them up, doing the dad stuff. And I just generally was cruising through life without any unmanageability other than the terrible aspect of opiates is your tolerance is going up daily,” he said. “I was making people who loved me feel crazy because they knew something was going on and I was lying.”
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