Celebrities who are battling drug addiction seem to be everywhere, don’t they? Stories of celebrity overdose or overindulgence used to be confined to the pages of tabloids, but that is no longer the case. Overdose and addiction seem common, and every year, we lose more and more of our beloved stars.
Why is this? Are celebrities simply more prone to addiction than other people? Well, perhaps. Perhaps not. It’s a complex issue. In this post, we’ll delve into this fascinating mystery and come away with a few concrete conclusions.
Ready? Let’s get started.
What is Addiction?
Once thought of as a moral failing, addiction is now understood to be a brain disease. Addiction is characterized as an individual’s compulsive use of a substance regardless of consequences. People suffering with severe substance abuse disorder have a fierce focus on their substance of choice, and this obsession can take over their lives.
They will keep using alcohol or drugs, even though they know their use causes problems.
It’s possible to develop an addiction to a wide variety of drugs, including:
- Inhalants such as paint thinners and glues
- Opioid painkillers
People first try drugs for a wide range of reasons, including to get high, to feel better, or to perform better. They may also give in to peer pressure or try a drug out of curiosity. It’s important to note that no one chooses to become an addict. Addiction occurs in the brain.
Another characteristic of addiction is distorted thinking. Distorted thinking takes the form of certain thought distortions that, if unchallenged, can lead to disruptive or destructive behavior. Examples of thought distortions include:
- FOMO. Fear of missing out is a powerful motivator that leads susceptible individuals to seek the other side of the coin, so to speak. Someone engaging in FOMO thinking tends to be impulsive and may be more open to taking risks.
- Catastrophizing. This thought distortion is one of extremes. The person imagines the worst case scenario and fails to consider the positive aspects of abstaining.
- All or nothing thinking. This thought distortion leads people to consider only two alternatives. They either score, or they utterly fail. Nothing else matters.
How Addiction Impacts a Person’s Life
As you might imagine, addiction can have a marked impact on a person’s life. They may experience loss of income as they struggle to maintain their habit. They may lose friends and loved ones as they spiral out of control, and, sadly, they can even become homeless.
This extreme loss of stability illustrates just how insidious addiction is. As the drug becomes the primary focus, the person loses all perspective and becomes willing to jeopardize aspects of life that are much more important.
Addiction and The Brain
Drug use may start with the first joint or injection, but addiction is a complex process that develops in the brain over time. Dopamine, responsible for feelings of pleasure or satisfaction, is one of the brain’s main neurotransmitters. When you use drugs, dopamine levels in the brain increase. This is why drugs produce a high in the first place.
Drugs activate the brain’s reward pathway, and this sets up a behavior loop, driving the person to repeatedly seek that reward. However, dopamine in the body is a finite resource. The brain, in an attempt to reduce the release of dopamine in response to repeated drug use, becomes less sensitive to it.
This is how tolerance develops. A drug user will notice that they have to use more of their drug of choice to get high. At this point, a vicious cycle of tolerance and dependency ensues.
Are Celebrities at Higher Risk for Addiction?
If you look for news stories about celebrities who are battling drug addiction, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that these folks are simply more prone to addiction than others. But, as we shall see, this is a complex topic. Yet anyone vaguely familiar with Hollywood has heard the stories. People in Hollywood often behave…badly. Sometimes, they pay the ultimate price for this behavior.
- In 2014, we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Kelly, Cory Monteith, and Joan Rivers.
- In 2015 and 2016, Scott Weiland, José Fernández, Chyna, and Prince.
- In 2017, Tom Petty and Lil Peep.
- In 2018, Art Bell, Dolores O’Riordan, and Mac Miller.
In 2014 alone, Josh Brolin, Trace Adkins, Zac Efron, David Cassidy, Chris Brown and Lindsay Lohan sought treatment for drug or alcohol problems.
Some of these casualties are, tragically, suicides. Robin Williams, who struggled with drug and alcohol for decades, committed suicide in August 2014. Verne Troyer, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Mini Me in the Austin Powers films, committed suicide in 2018 via intentional alcohol intoxication.
Sometimes, its barbiturates that hook these celebs, other times its cocaine or heroin. Sometimes, it’s alcohol. More recently, it’s been opioids.
Accompanying the habit are activities the tabloids are all too eager to exploit: rehab that didn’t hold, DUIs, public fights, messy divorces, infidelities, and the list goes on. There’s mugshots, candid photos of celebs looking worse for wear and other scandals galore.
At this point, it may be prudent to take a step back.
Addiction isn’t a Hollywood problem, it’s a societal problem. This has come to light much more since the onset of the opioid crisis. But even before that disaster reared its head, there were over 20-million Americans addicted to some substance or another. This, according to a survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration from 2012.
Why, then, does it seem that so many Hollywood stars are afflicted?
You can boil the issue down to three main components:
- Access. People working in Hollywood tend to earn larger salaries than other people. Consequently, they’re able to experiment with a wide range of substances, if they’re so inclined. Remember, becoming addicted is not a conscious choice. That first conscious choice to try heroin, cocaine, PCP or some other drug does not equate to a conscious choice to become hooked on it. Powerful changes to brain chemistry occur with even minor drug use.
- Genetic predisposition. It may be the case that folks who are drawn to a life in the limelight may be more susceptible to risk taking behavior. Research on this is ongoing, but researchers have identified genes associated with risk taking .A propensity to take risks may prove a boon to other endeavors, such as perusing a career as a standup comic or actor.
- Psychological impact of being in the limelight. Once one obtains celebrity status, it can be difficult to relate to ‘normal’ people. Indeed, even making new friends can be a challenge. When a celebrity makes themselves vulnerable, there may be a part of them that’s worried about being taken advantage of. Consequently, some celebrities turn to drugs—often alcohol at first—to cope.
Finally, there may be a correlation between drug use and Impulsivity, and individuals who seek fame tend to also display at least some degree of Impulsivity. This may mean that people who seek fame may be more likely to try drugs in the first place.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that whenever we select a subset of the population, we’re likely to find common traits among members of that subset. Hollywood has a culture all its own, and its members share that culture. If we look at another subset of the population, prison inmates, we find that drug use is quite common there as well. Needless to say, the glitz and glamor of the Hollywood life is more than a stone’s throw from the life of the prison inmate.
It may be that a certain percentage of the population is more susceptible to addiction than others, and that Hollywood is disproportionately inhabited by these folks.
Celebrities Who Have Grappled with Addiction
Addiction is an extremely complex, chronic condition. There are several celebrities who have overcome, but there are many more celebrities who are battling drug addiction. Let’s explore.
Jamie Lee Curtis
According to actor Jamie Lee Curtis, overcoming her addiction was the greatest feat she ever accomplished. After a cosmetic procedure, the actor became addicted to prescription painkillers. She credits her recovery to the rehab program she went through, and to support from friends and family.
Robert Downey Jr.
Introduced to marijuana at an early age by his father, the American actor has struggled with drug addiction for much of his career. The actor entered rehab in the early 2000s after a stint in jail. In 2002, he declared himself recovered. It was years before he regained the trust of major studios, but he did eventually land a role as Iron Man, which revitalized his career.
Only 17 when she first used cocaine, the actress struggled with addiction throughout much of her career. She first sought treatment in 2010, after her singing career was threatened by her spiraling drug and alcohol consumption. The singer is open about her struggle with addiction in interviews and on social media.
In the ‘80s, when AIDs was a poorly understood, but devastating disease, one thing was clear: sharing needles and using other drug perihelia seemed to be one vector for the disease. Consequently, in 1990, the British singer sought treatment for drug addiction. In 1992, Sir Elton John founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Affleck, an academy award-winning actor—Argo and Good Will Hunting—is open about his struggle with alcohol. He first went into rehab in 2001. The actor describes alcoholism as an ongoing, and lifelong, struggle.
Though he’s been nominated for a number of academy awards, Bradley Cooper had a rocky road to success. In 2004, the actor decided to end a disastrous flirtation with drugs and alcohol by seeking treatment.
Rob Lowe was one of the so-called “Brat Pack,” a group of up and coming actors in the 1980s. Like many such actors, he experimented with drugs and alcohol at a young age. First consuming alcohol as a teenager, his drinking became problematic the more well-known he became. Lowe sought treatment in 1990.
Australian country singer Keith Urban wasn’t always as well-known as he is today. When his career stalled in the ‘90s, the crooner turned to alcohol and drugs to cope. Even as he dropped his first No. 1 single, he was caught in a vicious cycle of relapse and recovery.
When the model and actress turned 40, she decided to become more open about her drug and alcohol use. According to Valetta, she began taking drugs when she was a child. She says that at the height of her career in the ‘90s, her addiction was out of control. She sought treatment at the age of 25.
Each of these individuals recognized that they needed to get help, and that is the first step to living a richer, more fulfilling life. If you think you might have a problem with substance abuse, you probably do. But there are several other ways to judge this. Have you:
- Lost relationships?
- Lost your job, or income?
- Lost your home?
As addiction takes root, you may find it harder to maintain relationships. Despite the fact that you care about them, the people in your life may seem to slip from your grasp. At the same time, your obsession with your drug of choice will grow until it’s all you can see. You do what you must to get your fix, and often, this causes conflict with friends and family. Sound familiar?
Or, maybe your drug or alcohol use has caused you to miss work, or maybe you even lost your job. As addiction changes the brain, things that should be important and fulfilling, like work, take a backseat. Bills go unpaid.
Sadly, this can sometimes result in foreclosure, or even homelessness. If you recognize any of these in yourself, it may be time to seek professional treatment. Though addiction is a long term condition, recovery is possible.
If you’re trying to get addiction treatment for yourself or for someone you love, reach out to The Hills for comprehensive and caring treatment that will help patients detox and learn the skills to cope with their triggers and their addiction. You have options, let The Hills be one of them.