Beyond Addiction: Jodie Sweetin on Acting, Social Media, and the Gifts of Sobriety
Jodie Sweetin, 37, is best known for her role as Stephanie Tanner in Full House (1987-1995). During the TV show’s eight-year run, Sweetin appeared in every episode, becoming one of the most famous child actors in the country. Off set, she was a good student, skipping a grade in elementary school and later earning a scholarship to college. However, the transition to a more normal life after her Hollywood childhood proved difficult.
When Full House came to an end when she was 14, Jodie’s young life skidded off the rails. She started drinking, and the alcohol use opened the door to drugs. Over the next decade, she bounced between the occasional Lifetime movie or comeback attempt and drug abuse, using ecstasy, methamphetamine, and crack. She said in an interview that she struggled with a sense of identity after the show ended and was “looking for other things to, to fix that and kind of fill that void.”
After sinking deeper into methamphetamine addiction, Jodie realized she was headed towards catastrophe and checked herself into rehab. She got sober in 2008 at age 26. After discovering a path of recovery, she started taking professional classes and became certified as a drug and alcohol counselor.
While working in the treatment industry in 2009, Jodie published unSweetined, a memoir chronicling her downward spiral into addiction. She also rediscovered her first passion, acting. In 2016 she joined the cast of Fuller House and her career took off once again. Jodie was the third most Googled actress for that calendar year.
On February 28, Jodie Sweetin was honored at the 10th Annual Experience, Strength and Hope Awards presented by Writers In Treatment at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The award recognizes individuals in the entertainment industry who share their honest journey from addiction to recovery. The event is “an all-star night of humor and sobriety.”
Given Jodie’s inspiring journey, The Fix was thrilled and honored to have the chance to interview her.
The Fix: According to The Panther, the school paper of your alma mater Chapman University, you told students, “I love coming out and sharing my story, because I’ve made it to the other side and it’s continual work, but getting to come to a place where I am happy with my life is amazing.” Would you describe sobriety as a cornerstone of your life? How does being in recovery help?
Jodie Sweetin: Sobriety is absolutely the cornerstone of my life. It’s always said in the rooms that anything you place before your sobriety will be the things you lose, and I absolutely believe that. Even though my life and my schedule can sometimes be crazy, I still make it a priority to be active in my program. Whether it’s daily prayer and meditation, working with sponsees or just staying connected to my sober family, I know that it’s only because of how hard I’ve worked in my recovery that I get to have the life that I have today. Recovery also helps me deal with the stress and chaos that often comes with getting back a full and busy life in sobriety. Without it, I’d be completely overwhelmed!
After getting sober in 2008, you worked in the treatment industry, successfully obtaining your CADC as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. What did you learn about staying sober by working in that industry?
I loved working in treatment, it was incredibly fulfilling and I’ve always said that I was so lucky to find a second career path that I loved. While my own recovery was always separate from my work in the field, it was because of what I learned on my own journey that I was able to connect with clients. I eventually worked more in the operations side of treatment, running staff and houses, but without a program of my own, I wouldn’t have been as effective in handling the pressure of it all.
With the final season of Fuller House on the horizon, what do you plan to do next as an actor? If you could wave a magic wand, what would you most want to do?
I would love to be able to move into some more dramatic work, as it’s something that people haven’t seen me do yet. It’s an exciting time in this industry right now, with so much fantastic work out there, so as much as I’ve loved getting to come back to my Full House family, I think that the opportunity to do something different is out there and I’m looking forward to it!
You have been very vocal about the negative impact of social media on children. Do you think social media is fueling the national drug crisis? Do young people use drugs and alcohol to escape social media pressures?
I think social media tells us, particularly young people, that we’re not “enough” and the rates of depression and suicide among youth is most definitely a direct correlation of comparing our insides to other people’s outsides. We see edited, perfect versions of people’s lives that don’t really exist and then feel our lives can’t possibly compare. I’ve always tried to be “real” on my social media. Posting pictures—without makeup or filters—of me at home with kids and living my normal life alongside the more glamorous parts of my job is something I try to balance in my online life. I don’t know that social media is fueling the drug crisis, but I definitely think it’s leading people to feelings of inadequacy that make them feel hollow inside.
In your 2009 memoir UnSweetined, you wrote candidly about your struggles with alcohol and methamphetamine addiction after Full House went off the air in 1995. Was it difficult to come clean with your public? What was the response like, and did it surprise you?
It’s always terrifying to be brutally honest about your mistakes. But the beauty that I’ve found in it is that there’s no longer anything I’m afraid of. When you reveal your own secrets, there’s no longer anything hanging over your head and the sense of freedom is enormous. The response has been amazing and I’m constantly receiving messages from people who’ve heard my story or read my book, who say that my courage to speak out has helped them to overcome their own demons. For me, that is a gift. To know that my story has helped someone else is the true essence of sobriety and it reminds me that even though I had to go through pain to get here, it’s worth it if I can help someone else.
The entertainment industry has a nasty tendency to chew up and spit out many talented young performers. From Dana Plato and River Phoenix to Brad Renfro and Brittany Murphy; examples of these talents lost later in life seem countless. Given such brutal conditions, do you think the entertainment industry needs to install more safeguards to help young actors with the roller coaster ride of their careers? From your personal experience, what could be done to increase the positives and reduce the dangers?
I think the best defense against the craziness of this business is a solid family life. Unfortunately, many people are not blessed with that foundation, whether in this business or not. The difference is that those of us in the spotlight have our stories and our failures made public, where those living in the rest of the world go through it all relatively unknown. I’ve had an amazing family support system and never blamed my addiction on growing up in the business. I know that I would’ve struggled with addiction whether or not I was a child actor, it just made my story much more public.
In a 2019 interview with TODAY, you said, “My kids know that I’m sober… They know that I don’t drink.” Since your two daughters, Zoie and Beatrix, are 10 and 8 respectively, drugs and alcohol have yet to enter the picture in their lives. Do you believe the awareness you have provided about your recovery will help them avoid pitfalls in the future?
I’ve always been incredibly open and honest with my girls. We have a wonderfully communicative relationship and as they get older, I’ll be able to share more of my story. At the end of the day, I can be an example of a sober woman for them, whether they have to go through their own struggles or not. I know that being in recovery has made me a better, more patient and understanding mother and it’s something that I am incredibly grateful I get to use in my life as a mother.
What does it mean to be honored at 2019’s Experience, Strength and Hope awards? Are you proud to be recognized by Writers in Treatment on the tenth anniversary of this prestigious award?
I am so honored by this, it’s hard to really imagine. When I got sober, I didn’t do it to get recognition or acclaim. I did it to better my life and find a little bit of hope. To be chosen by Writers in Treatment for such an award is incredibly humbling. I am so proud to be a sober member of recovery and am proud to carry the message of the 12-step community!