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The Effect of Celebrity Stories on Drug Addiction Treatment

Posted on August 25, 2009 in Addiction in the Media

It should come as no surprise that celebrity addiction is prime fodder for the news media who gobble up sensational stories to hype to an eager audience – us. When a famous actor stumbles and falls down in public, ranting and raving, or gets arrested after an airport luggage search reveals drugs, we watch in semi-detached curiosity to find out all the details. Why this fascination with addiction by the rich and famous?

We only have to look to ourselves for the answer.

Addiction Can Happen To Anyone

Daily life carries numerous stresses: get a good job, keep a job, get a raise, get good grades, do well at sports, be popular, be thin, be successful, raise the kids, multi-task, do this, do that ad infinitum. It all takes a toll on an individual. Some are better equipped to deal with it than others, but we all need help at times just to keep up.

Sometimes that help comes from a bottle, or a few pills, or a line of cocaine, or from smoking a joint or a crack pipe. Sure, it starts off with just a little, and it doesn’t seem like much, surely we don’t have a problem. That’s what all the addicts tell themselves.

The list of celebrity addicts who have publicly battled their demons includes actress Drew Barrymore (alcohol, cocaine, marijuana), singer Whitney Houston (cocaine, alcohol, marijuana and pills), supermodel Kate Moss (cocaine), actress Nicole Richie (alcohol, heroin, marijuana, Vicodin), rocker Eddie Van Halen (alcohol, cocaine, crystal meth), actor Gary Busey (alcohol, cocaine, GHB), actor Nick Nolte (alcohol, GHB), singer-actress Courtney Love (heroin, Oxycontin), actor Samuel L. Jackson (alcohol and drugs), actor Matthew Perry (alcohol and Vicodin), singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse (alcohol, drugs and sex), actor David Hasselhof (alcohol), rocker Ozzy Osbourne (alcohol and drugs), musician Anthony Kiedis (alcohol and cocaine), actor-director Mel Gibson (alcohol), musician Keith Urban (drugs and alcohol), actress Lindsey Lohan (cocaine and alcohol), musician Pete Doherty (drugs), and many more.

Some have successfully completed drug and alcohol treatment and are in recovery. Others have relapsed one or more times. All are examples of what happens every day in countless situations across the country and the world.

I Hear about Celebrities Relapsing after Rehab – So Does Rehab Even Work?

The stories that make the news are the ones where the celebrity has messed up once again. The celebrity blogs focus on the negative – they believe happy stories without lurid elements are not going to get them readers. For this reason, those celebrities who have successfully stayed off drugs and alcohol slowly slip below the radar, while those who continue to use drugs and create drama stay in the public eye.

Sometimes the gist of these negative stories is that rehab doesn’t work, or that “celebrity rehabs” pander to their famous clients and do not offer true treatment. However, high-end rehabs rarely have celebrity clients and have many success stories that involve both ordinary people and celebrities. Unfortunately, the few celebrities who are not ready for recovery grab the headlines and give a negative impression. If these rehabs did not work, they would go out of business – there simply aren’t enough celebrities to keep them open. They must give effective treatment or clinicians and doctors will stop recommending them to patients and clients.

Is Drug Addiction Different for “Ordinary” People?

The homemaker who needs a little help from some pills to overcome pain, the stockbroker who pops stimulants to keep going, the athlete who takes steroids to get bigger, the young people that mix party drugs and alcohol in rave and club scenes – are they any different? Sooner or later, when use becomes abuse, they’re all in the same boat: they’ve become addicted.

Addiction doesn’t happen overnight. And it doesn’t respect gender, ethnicity, age, social circumstances or occupation. What may have started seemingly innocently enough soon manifests itself as a full-blown addiction.

The trials and tribulations of celebrity addicts in recovery shows us – everyman and everywoman – that the road to recovery isn’t easy, it isn’t fun, but it is necessary.

Some Examples of Celebrity Recovery

As rocker Eminem has said, “It’s no secret I had a drug problem [with Valium and Ambien and later, Vicodin]… the numbers got so so high I don’t even know what I was taking.” He turned to Elton John, who himself had experienced a substance abuse problem in the 1980s. Through phone conversations, Eminem said Elton helped him in his decision to quit drugs, since he understood the “pressure, other reasons people come up with for doing drugs.” Eminem and Elton have become friends and talk regularly.

Singer Fergie, of the Black Eyed Peas, has been very public about her addiction to crystal meth. In 2006, she told U.S. Weekly that “ecstasy led to crystal meth and… people don’t know how addictive that drug is.” She went on to say, “It’s such a fun drug at first. You lose weight and look great for a while, but … if it takes six months or five years, it will creep up on you. Don’t be fooled and think you’re special.” Fergie turned to hypnotherapy to help her stave off her drug cravings and to relax. She is now married to actor Josh Duhamel.

Actor Robert Downey, Jr.’s addiction started with marijuana at age 6. By the time he was 22 he had a serious drug problem. The media covered his multiple arrests for drug and weapons charges in 1996, and his subsequent stints in and out of rehab. But the actor still wasn’t out of the woods and needed further help to quit. Today, Robert Downey, Jr. has been sober for several years. As he told Parade Magazine in 2008, “I’m not a poster boy for good behavior and recovery in Hollywood. I’m just a guy who knows he has a lot to be grateful for.” He credits his current wife, producer Susan Levin, with helping him overcome. Finally, he really cared about someone, cared enough to quit the drug dance. The most poignant statement from the actor may be this: “People rise out of the ashes because, at some point, they are invested with a belief in the possibility of triumph over seemingly impossible odds.”

When country singer Keith Urban entered the Betty Ford Center for a 3-month alcoholism program in October 2006, it came after previous addiction in 1998 to cocaine, which he has publicly admitted. Urban, whose wife is actress Nicole Kidman, talked about rehab in his website in 2007. He praised his wife who “stayed extraordinarily strong and loving” and for “my friends and family.” Why did he enter rehab? As Urban says, “It was a lot of small things that were happening in my life, a lot of small moments that were starting to accumulate that were telling me very loud and clear that I was a long way from my program of recovery, and they were making my life unmanageable.”

How Does Celebrity Recovery Help Us?

Don’t think that only celebrities can make it through recovery. The easy argument is that they have money, people to look after them; they have it easier than everybody else. That’s a fallacy on all counts. True, treatment and recovery don’t come cheap, but there are federal, state and local programs to provide some financial assistance. There are community support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous, as well as others that are free. In fact, following treatment, recovering addicts are strongly encouraged to continue participating in support group meetings.

Recovering addicts do need the support of friends and family – whether or not the addicts are famous actors, musicians, politicians, or other headline grabbers. With the glare of the spotlight, it is undoubtedly harder to maintain recovery than it may be for others of less well-known status. All recovering addicts have to continue to fight the cravings, the temptations to return to their former crutches – especially when depression hits. That’s something everyone faces. That’s why it’s important to continue to seek the help and counseling support available.

What celebrity addiction and recovery teaches us is that we are all human, we all are subject to incredible stresses and sometimes we’re all prone to succumbing to the easy way out. It also shows us that there is a path to recovery, and it’s up to us to walk down that road of our own accord with confidence and hope in the future.

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