Ben Higgins Reveals He Took Pills from His Grandfather Amid Past Painkiller Addiction
By Paige Gawley
Paul Archuleta/Getty Images
Ben Higgins is opening up about the moment that made him want to get help for his past addiction to painkillers. The 32-year-old former Bachelor appeared on the Facebook Live series Addiction Talk Live, and revealed when the "slow fade" of coming to terms with his addiction began.
"I was recognizing that I was always hiding something from somebody. I think that was the first sign to me, is I was always strategically prepping in my mind on how I could hide whatever it was," he said. "Maybe I was carrying something on me, or maybe I was going to go find it, or maybe I was high at the time and I didn't want anybody to know. I was always hiding something."
"For a while I was OK with it," Higgins continued. "... But then over time, as I started to feel a ton of depression, a ton of anxiousness around, 'Where was I gonna find the next pill? Where was I going to find the next bottle?' and then doing that around friends and family who loved me, it started to click."
The "final day" of it clicking happened when Higgins took pills from his grandfather.
"I remember doing it and walking out and I just remember this feeling of like, 'Who are you? What is this about? Why are you still doing this? You're taking something from somebody that needs it and someone that you love,'" Higgins recalled. "That was, I think, the start of me starting to say, 'I need to start at least confronting it.'"
Though Higgins wanted to get help after that moment, he said that it wasn't until "months after, a year maybe, that I said, 'I'm done.'"
That last moment came after Higgins spent 24 hours in bed and questioned where he was in life, as he felt depression, unhappiness, anxiety and struggled to find joy.
"I think it was finally just looking at myself in the mirror after 24 hours in my bed and saying, 'Hey, this isn't the man you want to be'... I don't know why I was ready in that moment. I can't tell you there was a lot leading up to it, I don't know why it happened then," he said. "... At that moment is when I officially decided I needed to get help. That's when I started telling my friends, I started telling my family... That's when it started to become a thing that I knew I needed to rid myself of, or at least try to heal from."
"I, because of my faith, would say that it was one of the moments that God has interacted in my life in the most loving of ways," he added. "... This was a four-year change that I made at that moment and finally said, 'I'm ready.'"
Though Higgins experimented with painkillers as a sophomore in high school, his struggle with addiction began his junior year, when another guy "blew my knee apart" during a football game, and the reality star knew that he was "never going to be able to play sports the same way again."
"Sports was my identity. I'm 6'4", it's the thing I was going to go to college to do, the thing I'd done my whole life, it was the thing that brought me the most joy," he said. "... For me, that was a turning moment where I realized my identity, the thing that I had always counted on was going to be taken away."
He went on to have surgery for the injury, and was prescribed painkillers after the fact.
"I was already struggling with this lack of identity... and when I took the medication, I remember it being a numbing moment for me," Higgins said. "When I was high... my mind wouldn't wander. It just made me feel number or more... at peace. I just took them then to just rid myself of the pain emotionally that was inside of me. That was the start."
While Higgins said that he felt "some type of shame" over his actions, which he hid from his family and friends, he convinced himself that he didn't have a problem.
"I was high all the time. It was all different kinds [of pills], but say it was like a Vicodin, it could be upwards of six to seven throughout a day," he said. "It was just always all the time. The more I had, the more I'd take. It wasn't always readily available. It was getting harder and harder to find."
Higgins noted that the situation was "very isolating," before explaining that he was able to hide his problem from his friends because they "were all struggling" with addiction, and from his parents because he was away at college.
"When I had my knee surgery, it was medically prescribed, so there was no concern there. I don't think they had any reason to ask. There were conversations I would have... about how dependent I was. I would tell them, like, 'I feel like I'm dependent. I need my medication,' and that concerned all of us," he said of his parents. "... I had my knee surgery and then I had another medical issue... so I was prescribed painkillers for nine months of my life, like, had a prescription. None of us really recognized then the problem that that would bring on."
Even though Higgins has been sober from painkillers for nine years, he said it's "still a thing that I work through today."
"It is still something that is on my mind. Somebody asked me the other day... how it feels to be recovered and I said, 'It feels good, but I know I could easily slip back into it,'" he said. "... It is still sometimes a battle. I've gotta fight and I've gotta implement boundaries and tools in my life to keep me healthy, because I want to be healthy. I know what life looks like when I don't numb myself. I like that life and I want to stay on that, but it's still something that I battle with."
Higgins credits his willingness to be open about his struggles, in part, with his appearance on The Bachelor.
"The Bachelor gave me an insight into what vulnerability can do when done in an appropriate way. Sharing things that I'd never shared before, especially on national television, kind of opened me up to a whole new world," he said. "As I shared more and more about my life and my insecurities, it actually became the thing that connected me with others... That gave me a new seeded kind of confidence in being vulnerable."
Though the show did a lot for him, and while there have been "incredible comments" in his support, Higgins admitted that it's "been really weird to see negative response to the subject of addiction and recovery."
"It's been really saddening for me," he said. "But, at the same time, the Bachelor world, I guess in a weird way, prepares you for that. It's a pretty negative space, so in a sense I'm glad that I'm the one that can somehow take some of that on because I think I've been prepped for it."
Now that he is speaking out about it, something he first did in his 2021 memoir, Alone in Plain Sight, Higgins hopes doing so will help others.
"What I'm hoping with the book, and with the platform I've been handed from a show, is to be a voice from a distance that can just let you know and scream into you that you're not alone, that you're never alone in this," he said. "That's something I wish I'd had... I felt alone, which made me hide it more."
With his book out and with the public knowing his full story, Higgins is looking to the future, a large part of which is centered around his upcoming wedding to Jess Clarke.
"Wedding plans are a big deal. Our wedding's been pushed back a year too, so we're getting married this November, which is super exciting," he said, noting that he told Clarke about his past struggles "very early on" in their relationship.
"I have the best fiancée and again I have the best family. I'm very, very lucky. They have been so supportive," he said. "We're all celebrating this year that I get to get married. This is something that I'm very excited for, feel very at peace about… I'm excited for it. I'd marry her tomorrow if I could."