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Vance Johnson: From Near Death to Recovery

Published on 09. 22. 2015

After years of alcohol-fueled rage and depression, Vance Johnson is an example of how commitment to rehab can turn lives around. 


Former NFL wide receiver Vance Johnson is proof that rehab works, even after numerous attempts at recovery -- even when all seems lost and death is knocking on the door. 

Johnson was an athletic powerhouse at the University of Arizona. A champion long jumper, he just missed making the 1984 Olympic team. The young athlete was picked up by the Denver Broncos in the 1985 draft, and that’s where he remained for the duration of his successful, ten-year career. 

Johnson admits that he started drinking to cope with the pressure and stress of life when he was 23 years old. In a heart-rending interview by Oprah Winfrey in 1996, he admitted physically abusing his wife and other women in his life. Through his tears, Johnson told Winfrey that he regretted his actions every day of his life, and that he believed he was not worthy of forgiveness. 

A tremendous loss leads to a downward spiral.

Although his life was a mess, things got much worse for Johnson in 2007, when a drunk driver ran a stop sign and killed his 19-year-old son, who was riding a motorcycle. Not surprisingly, Johnson turned to alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate unmanageable grief and depression. Soon, his life was completely ruled by alcohol. 

Although friends and family realized Johnson was in trouble, most people weren’t aware of the depths of his addiction until he posted a picture of himself on Facebook. The picture, taken by his sister, displayed Johnson in a hospital bed, his body hooked to wires and hoses that sustained his life while he was in a nearly month-long coma. Johnson related that he experienced hallucinations and vivid out-of-body experience, and that when he emerged from the coma, he wished he was dead. 

Turning point: Turning to God

Johnson relates that after leaving the hospital, he returned to the beliefs of his childhood and reached out to God for help. He admits that he continued to drink, in spite of attending Twelve-Step meetings. Finally, Johnson was tired of lying to himself and sick of attempting to “fill himself up” with sex, money, cars and alcohol. He was no different than any other addict at the Florida treatment center where he sought help, he realized, and he wouldn’t get better until he was ready to commit fully to the recovery process. 

An advocate for recovery

According to Johnson, addiction is part of his life, but rehab gave him the tools he needs to stay sober. Today, he is committed to helping others at the treatment center that helped him find his way to an alcohol-free lifestyle.


Spirituality and addiction treatment

Religious belief is not a requirement for addiction treatment, but during the recovery process many addicts who have experienced a feeling of hopelessness realize that they have turned to drugs or alcohol to fill that spiritual emptiness. For many, faith and spirituality provide a sense of meaning and purpose that offer strength when things get tough. 

Spirituality doesn’t mean adhering to certain beliefs or belonging to a church, and there are no “musts.” A spiritual belief is personal and means something different to each person. People who belong to Twelve Step programs often claim belief in a Higher Power, which simply refers to an unseen force, or a “power greater than ourselves.” For some people, God is that Higher Power. Others may discover spirituality in a variety of places, such as nature or the universe. 

How can Hawaii Island Recovery help me with my alcohol problem?

Hawaii Island Recovery offers comprehensive, evidence-based treatment for substance abuse in a tranquil environment that supports healing of mind, body and spirit. We are able to provide assistance to those who are struggling with addiction to alcohol or drugs. Just give us a call at  if you need help with a substance abuse problem, or if you are concerned about a friend or family member. We’re here to help!


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