When Abuse Turns to Addiction: The Hal Garner Story

Chronic pain generally reveals itself in two ways, either creeping up on a patient or making itself known immediately after an injury. Former Buffalo Bills star, Hal Garner, started his relationship with pain after a brutal hit during practice. He knew his football career was over as soon as he heard the popping of his spine.

With limited knowledge of options, Hal turned to a local spinal clinic, which followed the common assumption of the time that patients should be able to live free of pain, even if that meant prescribing unhealthy amounts of medication to suppress their condition.

As Hal’s opioid use increased, his relationship with his wife and young children diminished. Even more troubling, he began to have delusions and a violent temper. Not long after, his wife divorced him and he became a frequent visitor of his county jail.

While addiction is commonly pinned as a character flaw or some type of willful weakness, most doctors know addiction is a brain disease. Hal normally would not have considered using drugs to get high, but under the stress of constant pain and the emotional void filed with the thrill of being a celebrity, he found a way to fix his losses  by overusing the pain medications he was prescribed. Subsequently, he needed the drugs to avoid withdrawal. None of this made him an addict by itself, but Hal did eventually develop behaviors that were self-destructive, and that is a sign of addiction. He manifested the “three c’s” of addiction: craving for drugs, impaired control over drug use, and continued use of drugs despite harm.

Despite all that Hal had been through, he was determined to get better. When Hal and I met, he was switched over to a non-opioid medication that drastically lowered his pain and allowed him to beginning healing. He was able to resume life, finding a stable job and repairing his relationship with his children. Hal’s story illustrates the importance of destigmatizing addiction while also finding peace and acceptance in oneself.

Healing and living with chronic pain requires a number of steps, but arguably none are more important than the love you can provide yourself and the support of the people around you.


You can read Hal’s full story of struggle and recovery in my forthcoming book, “The Painful Truth,” coming this September.
chronic pain


  1. Tracy Skipper on December 29, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    Hope Hal is well. We were friends, lost touch, reconnected, and lost touch again. Can’t wait to read the book. If you speak to him feel free to give him my email address. Great guy!

  2. Kyle on August 5, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    I wish you the best Hal! Hang in there…

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