- “My story is powerful, but our stories are powerful beyond measure.”
Meet Ryan Hampton, 36, recovery advocate, political activist and recovering heroin addict igniting America’s social media feeds with stories of hope, recovery and activism. From his advocacy that led Sephora to take their eyeshadow branded “druggie” off the shelves to the activism that urged an Arizona politician to apologize for a statement stigmatizing addiction, he’s certainly become a social media powerhouse for all things addiction, recovery and policy.
And with an estimated 7 out of 10 people on social media platforms, it’s no coincidence he’s found success taking the addiction advocacy fight digital.
Today, more than 22 million people are struggling with addiction, and it’s estimated that as a result, more than 45 million people are affected. But what many people don’t realize is that there are more than 23 million people living in active, long-term recovery today. Yet, because of shame and stigma, many stay silent.
To fight this often-lethal silence, Hampton has urged the public to speak up and share personal stories of recovery through his recently launched Voices Project. The project, a collaborative effort to encourage people across the nation to share their story, exists to put real faces and names behind the addiction epidemic.
A Personal Struggle
Before becoming a national recovery advocate and social media powerhouse, Hampton himself faced a personal
struggle with addiction. A former staffer in the Clinton White House, Hampton did not appear to be a likely candidate for heroin addiction, or so stigma would say. But after an injury and subsequent prescription for pain medication, Hampton found himself addicted to opiates, eventually leading to a heroin addiction that would span more than a decade.
After a long struggle, Hampton decided to get help.
It was the phone call that started his recovery journey that changed everything – his life and his view on the power of his phone. After getting sober, he began connecting with others in recovery, amazed at the magnitude of the digital community. But still, while uncovering these online stories of recovery, Hampton lost four friends to opioid addiction.
It was a breaking point for Hampton – one that led to the beginning of a movement that would someday reach and impact millions.
A Notable Partner
Hampton began reaching out to others in recovery and started realizing the power of digital tools to connect and build an online recovery community. And as he was slowly networking and meeting others in recovery, on October 4, 2015, Hampton’s advocacy met its catalyst: Facing Addiction. The nonprofit organization hosted a concert at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., an event that drew thousands to the capitol with celebrities, musicians and other well-known names willing to publicly celebrate the reality of recovery and call for reform in the addiction industry. Hampton, a Los Angeles resident, tuned into the event from across the country through Facebook Live and was again inspired by the content delivered through his mobile phone.
After meeting co-founders of Facing Addiction, Jim Hood and Greg Williams, Hampton plugged in, partnered and even joined the Facing Addiction team as a recovery advocate.
The importance of online advocacy aligns with Facing Addictions’ national priorities, shares CEO Jim Hood, “When enough people tell enough stories and the people who are impacted by addiction look like all of us and our kids and neighbors and relatives, the stigma has to start going away. And then we can get to work.”
After partnering with Facing Addiction, Hampton understood the priorities, the strategy and the mechanism. Said by Hampton, “I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
The Power of Social Media
Leveraging the power of the algorithms at his fingertips every day, Hampton has grown his online presence to be one of the most influential in the recovery movement. Digital communication helped him get to treatment, connected him with Facing Addiction, and now is the platform in which he is sharing recovery stories from across the nation.
In just one week, more than 200 stories were submitted to the Voices Project and over 500 people sent in personal messages to express their support. Among those speaking up are notable voices such as pro skateboarder and former Jackass member Brandon Novak; Grammy Award-winning musician Sirah; rapper Royce da 5’9’’; American politician and mental health advocate Patrick Kennedy; former child actress and now-addiction counselor Mackenzie Phillips, and more.
According to Royce da 5’9’’, “Addiction is a problem that we all have to deal with. It affects us all in one way or another, and having someone giving it a voice, a name and a face not only helps get rid of the stigma regarding addiction, but he’s [Ryan] on the forefront letting people know there are solutions out there and recovery is real.”
Patrick Kennedy shares the importance of building a digital recovery movement to influence and support political reform in the addiction recovery space. “With the push of a button we’ll be able to have others show up to support communities across the nation,” says Kennedy, “because their fight is our fight.”
“The face of addiction is everyone,” Sirah shares. “The Voices Project gives people a voice and a connection to hope.”
The hope offered through open dialogue about addiction and recovery has now grown into a digital movement.
The pages that Hampton started with $20 and an old computer have gained more than 200,000 followers across platforms, reaching nearly 1 million people each week. “We’re the fastest-growing social movement in history – and the funny thing is, we’re a community that nobody ever wanted to be a part of,” Novak says.
“This is the one space where we cannot be ignored. The time has come for us to speak out, and we’re a community that speaks loudly. With addiction, we’re dealing with imminent death every day,” Hampton says. “Through social media, we’ve found an innovative way to communicate with each other and connect with people we haven’t met, and now, we’re having this conversation with the rest of the world.”
Perhaps the most intriguing impact of Hampton’s work is the paradoxical ability to bring the work of addiction recovery advocacy online – only to take it back offline through real-world change in communities across the country. According to Hampton, the work he’s doing shouldn’t stay digital – it should impact community laws, help new nonprofits emerge and influence real people to seek treatment and find it.
“No matter if you have social media or not – your way of doing this is talking about addiction at the dinner table, to a parent or a friend or an employer. You should not be afraid to tell your story of recovery or loss and, most importantly, your story of struggle and how you need help. It may not just change your life, it may change someone else’s life,” Hampton says.
At the crux of digital advocacy in the addiction recovery realm are real lives being saved – people finding treatment, families finding hope and those in recovery being freed of stigma that can keep them in shame and silence. This is the mission that has fueled Hampton’s work since the beginning.
And Hampton’s reason is hard to refute: “My story is powerful, but our stories are powerful beyond measure.”