The road to recovery for a veteran trial lawyer who confronted his own drinking problem has created an unexpected business opportunity -- leading interventions for families dealing with substance abuse problems.
Steven Varney has been sober since 2006. A little over two years ago, he got interested in the idea of helping families organize surprise showdowns that result in getting drug- or alcohol-addicted loved ones into treatment. Varney's motivation came from facing addiction problems of his own. "I found that in working through my own recovery program, I got enormous satisfaction or fulfillment out of helping other people who are struggling," Varney said.
The season of holiday parties is upon us, when a social drink here or there can materialize into something destructive in the nicest of families. Varney knows all too well how the good times can turn sour. He also knows that alcoholism does not discriminate. "It doesn't matter how many friends you or how much money you have," he said. "Anyone can become addicted."
For the first 25 years of his career, Varney was a profile of success, at least on paper. After majoring in political science as an undergraduate, he graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1985. His first job was as a litigator with Brown, Paindiris & Scott in Hartford, Conn., where he stayed for 24 years.
During that time, he made partner and handled many high-profile cases, including a lawsuit known as the "Tarmac Hold" case in which a Fairfield, Conn., family sued America West Airlines for being held "captive" on a jet for over eight hours during an airport weather delay. The case eventually settled favorably for his client.
In 2005, Varney left to start his own criminal defense and civil litigation practice, which he expanded to include defense of abuse and neglect charges brought by the Department of Children and Families. After work, Varney coached Little League baseball, soccer and basketball in his community of Rocky Hill, Conn.
While he did a pretty good job of keeping it secret, his alcohol addiction grew worse. "I was on top of the world," he said. "But my world was crumbling around me. I continued to go on functioning, day after day, denying to myself and my loved ones that I had a problem."
His own road to recovery was pain-filled to be sure, although Varney hesitates to publicly discuss that path or the impact it had on his own family. He said only that his family held an intervention, which led him to inpatient and outpatient treatment. "I'm living proof that interventions work," he said.
Although he found sobriety, he also found himself in trouble with state disciplinary officials. In 2010, two clients filed grievances against Varney. One alleged violation stemmed from collecting an unreasonable retainer of $5,000 for a routine case. The other was for not adequately communicating with a client. As a result, his law license was suspended for two years.