"This American Life" Spotlights "Dopey," a Podcast on Addiction and Recovery

By Paul Gaita 03/26/19

Using dark comedy, "Dopey" promotes recovery and pushes back against the stigma associated with addiction. 

Dopey Podcast Logo, Dopey podcast on This American Life

The NPR weekly radio/podcast series This American Life featured a segment on its February 1st broadcast about Dopey, a podcast about addiction and recovery heard by more than four million listeners.

The podcast began as a forum for creators and hosts Dave and Chris—as well as guests ranging from Marc Maron and Dr. Drew Pinsky, to My Fair Junkie author and The Fix contributor Amy Dresner—to share "war stories" about their struggles without judgment and with a degree of humor. 

Dresner was a recent guest on the podcast (and will return as a rotating co-host) where she discussed how her experience trying to treat ringworm made her want to use again.  

But with the overdose death of Chris in July 2018, Dave has shifted the focus of Dopey to promote recovery while continuing to address the stigma of addiction.

As a result, the podcast has grown both in terms of the number of fans—also known as the "Dopey Nation," who have helped to boost downloads to more than 1.2 million to date—and as a community for listeners in all stages of recovery, as well as family and friends, to come together. 

As Vice noted, the roots of Dopey began in 2011, when hosts Dave and Chris—who do not give their surnames—met at Mountainside Treatment Center in Connecticut while undergoing treatment for substance use disorder.

The pair became friends, and after acquiring and losing various periods of sobriety, they decided to launch a podcast about addiction that focused on what Dave called "the last bad thing"—tales from their past including "using stories, open-ended drug discussion and debate over addiction philosophy," as the pair wrote on the podcast's website. 

Dopey soon caught on with listeners, who submitted their own recollections. The result was a podcast where those in every stage of recovery could share their experiences and gain support.

Then in 2018, Dopey Nation was rocked by the news that Chris had been found dead of an overdose. He had been sober for five years at the time of the incident, working as a manager at a sober living facility and studying to earn his doctorate in clinical psychology.

In the wake of Chris's death, Dave was determined to carry on with Dopey, but as he told Vice, "It's apparent now more than ever that Dopey's main focus will be addicts living in recovery. Chris's legacy will live on through these episodes, and the lives he touched all around the world."

The new approach has also brought a wealth of new guests, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Beautiful Boy author David Sheff, and musician and recovery advocate Bob Forrest.

For Dave, continuing the podcast means giving individuals in the grip of addiction a place to go, to listen, and to share.

"[They] are not just showing up for Dopey, they're showing up to support one another," Dave said.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.