Inspired by his family’s experience with addiction, Stephen D’Antonio is now helping educate others about the disease
Re: Steve D’Antonio (MBA 1986)
Topics: Personal Development-GeneralHealth-Health Care and TreatmentSocial Enterprise-Nonprofit OrganizationsCareer-Career Changes
In 2014, Stephen D’Antonio (MBA 1986) was living the life he had always envisioned. He’d been a partner at Morgan Stanley for nearly two decades. He sat on the firm’s management committee and was the COO of the global fixed income division. D’Antonio and his wife were raising five kids, all of whom were attending good schools; the eldest was working on Wall Street. Then, suddenly, late one Saturday evening, their youngest child, age 16, returned home in tears. He’d been about to take his own life, he told his parents, driven by an alcohol addiction he had hidden from them. It was a night that would change both his son’s life and D’Antonio’s.
Today, both men work in the field of addiction treatment. D’Antonio’s son, now with more than six years of continuous sobriety, is trained as a peer recovery coach, supporting others who struggle with addiction. D’Antonio, trained as a parent peer coach for families, is using his years of business experience to build the tools he wished had been available when his family was confronting addiction and is sharing his own experience of the recovery path. He recalls an early speech he gave about his son’s disease at his 35th reunion at Dartmouth College. “People thanked me for telling their story,” he recalls. “There is so much stigma around addiction, and people don’t really share that they have this problem going on in their family. That creates a sense of isolation and keeps people from getting help.”
After D’Antonio retired from Morgan Stanley, in 2016, to focus on his family, he quickly realized the need for more accessible information on addiction. What was available felt scattered and dense—written for experts, rather than laypeople. “Even for people who are used to cranking through cases and getting down to the essence of what the problem is and what the solution is, it was just maddening,” he observes. In response, D’Antonio cofounded the podcast series My Child & Addiction to educate and support parents with children who are struggling with addiction. The podcast, which grew out of an in-person support group and was launched in conjunction with the Caron Treatment Centers in 2017, tackles tough topics, including relapse, shame, secrecy, and fear, with insights from experts and parents.
That feeling of frustration also prompted D’Antonio to enroll, in 2018, in the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, a program designed to help established leaders create scalable social change. D’Antonio knew he didn’t want to start a new nonprofit, as there are many respected organizations already working in the field. Instead, he wanted a deeper understanding of the social impact sector, psychopharmacology, neuroscience, and public health, so that he could best apply his experience to enhance an existing nonprofit’s work.
In 2019, D’Antonio joined the national nonprofit Shatterproof as executive vice president, with a focus on family education. One of his first projects was an electronic learning platform, Just Five, which was marketed to major corporations. The program provides five-minute, online lessons that offer the most essential information about addiction, including the crucial understanding that addiction is a brain disease, rather than a personal failing.
“It turns out that, in the average company in America, 25 percent of employees are directly dealing with addiction; 9 percent have an addiction problem themselves and 16 percent have a dependent or immediate family member with the problem,” D’Antonio says. JPMorgan Chase was the first to adopt Just Five; about 60 other employers use it today.
D’Antonio is also helping to fund research into the treatment of addiction, and he recently penned a moving collection of essays—”Love the Kid, Hate the Disease”—that he released as a website (https://addictionlessons.com) and is being integrated into the family education programs of treatment providers like Hazelden Betty Ford and Caron Treatment Centers.
His ultimate message is one of hope. That’s what he didn’t know at the beginning: “I wish I had known that there was hope, a lot of hope, and that recovery was likely to happen for my son,” he writes now, “I wish I had known that my son could live an amazing life, drug and alcohol free.”