Columbine Survivor Strives To Overcome Trauma, Addiction By Helping Others In Need

By John Lavitt 04/26/16

Seventeen years after the attack, Austin Eubanks opens up about his addiction journey which led to a career in substance abuse treatment. 

Columbine Survivor Strives To Overcome Trauma, Addiction By Helping Others In Need
photo via Shutterstock

Austin Eubanks knows firsthand how trauma can fuel addiction. Seventeen years ago this month, Eubanks was a junior at Columbine High School, where he witnessed Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shoot and kill his best friend and his classmates. Unable to cope with the trauma, he became hooked on prescription drugs for over a decade. But he has since committed to sustainable sobriety, and now helps others do the same.

Eubanks survived the April 20, 1999 school shooting, but found he could not escape the memories of that day without the help of mind-altering substances. He fell into a daily cycle of taking Adderall, OxyContin and Xanax for over a decade, he told Steamboat Pilot & Today in a recent interview. "It was an active addiction within a few months," he said. "I always had multiple doctors and then I would buy substances on the street." After four attempts at rehab and hitting rock bottom, he was finally able to stick to long-term recovery. This April, Eubanks celebrates five years sober.

Now, he's using his experience as a former marketing executive to help others achieve long-term sobriety as the new program director for The Foundry Treatment Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He says he was drawn to the facility, which works to empower and inspire clients to improve their lives. “The core of what’s going to make someone achieve lasting sobriety is that they’re able to build a life for themselves that’s so much better than it was in addiction, that they can’t imagine going back,” he told the local paper.

The opioid epidemic is a key issue for Eubanks, who believes doctors should be thoroughly educated on addiction to discourage the overprescribing of opioid painkillers. He told the Steamboat Pilot & Today that encouraging doctors to seek alternative pain relief methods, as the CDC did in new guidelines published in March, is a "huge step in the right direction." In his own experience, his addiction began with psychotropic drugs and painkillers prescribed to him for his injuries from the Columbine attack. "We need to be adequately training doctors to be aware of what addiction really is," he said.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.