Sadly, the list of celebrity addicts, past and present, is a long one. As with non-celebrity addicts, some have been able to overcome their addictions, while far too many have lost their lives. While the problems go back to the early days of Hollywood, the problem is receiving more publicity in these days of paparazzi and 24-hour celebrity news coverage. Recent celebrity addiction deaths in the headlines include Cory Monteith, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but addiction has plagued Hollywood since the beginning of the movie industry. Early victims of the disease include Dorothy Dandridge, Judy Garland, and Marilyn Monroe.
This increased recent publicity has some positive effects because it may scare some people away from using drugs, but for others, the news of a celebrity drug overdose is actually an attractant as people try to emulate their favorite stars. Hoffman’s recent death, for example, had heroin addicts in New York actively seeking the strain that killed him. At the same time, it is shining a spotlight on the issue of opiate addiction, which has become an epidemic in recent years. In 2010, there were an estimated 239,000 regular heroin users; in 2012, this had soared to 335,000.
In the past, celebrities tried to hide their addictions, but now drug use is being celebrated by young celebrities. Going to rehab is trendy, no longer something to hide, and many celebrities such as Miley Cyrus openly brag about their drug use in interviews. Celebrities seeking rehab in recent months include Ke$ha, Zach Efron, and Lindsey Lohan.
The roots of addiction are the same for celebrities and non-celebrities. People have voids in their lives. Some people fill it with religion, exercise, hobbies, or other healthy habits. Those who choose drugs instead need to learn healthier coping mechanisms to deal with their problems. For example, someone may not deal well with stress. Instead of taking a yoga class or going for a walk, someone may choose to numb the stress temporarily with drugs or alcohol.
Celebrities do face some additional challenges that most of the general public don’t experience. They perform in front of millions, and their performances (and looks) are constantly being evaluated, sometimes extremely harshly. Fluctuating schedules can also be an issue. For weeks or months at a time, they work long, hectic schedules, and then they have a long period without work. Too much free time and possibly worries about when or if they’ll work again can spell trouble. Travel, strange hotel rooms, and late schedules can interfere with sleep, creating a demand for somehow to relax. Early morning wakeup calls, the desire to recreate the excitement of public performance, and concerns about controlling weight may create a desire for stimulants. Both are often used in a vicious, dangerous cycle of addiction.
While far too many celebrities have died from their addictions, often before the age of 35, many are successfully battling their demons. Demi Lovato, for example, left rehab in 2011 after receiving treatment for substance abuse and bulimia. During her stint as a judge on The X Factor in 2013, however, she chose to move into a sober living house to help her recovery stay on track. Because stress can often be a trigger for relapse, this showed a serious commitment to staying healthy.
Robert Downey Jr. spent five years bouncing in and out of jail and rehab. He’d been arrested drug possession, firearms violations, trespassing, and drunk driving. In 2001, he was sent back to rehab and put on probation for three years. Downey was determined to succeed this time. By all accounts, Downey has remained sober ever since, and he has experienced a career resurgence with major hits and an Oscar nomination.
Russell Brand has been sober for more than a decade and crusades to help people better understand the disease of drug addiction. As part of his education efforts, Brand openly discusses his own addictions, which he refers to as seductive. The brand stresses that addiction never goes away, that it’s always lying dormant, waiting for something to provoke it. If you let it in, you’ll be living in the addiction again. The brand knows he can use ever again, saying that he won’t drink or use drugs because he knows he can’t control it. If he cracks open the door to his addictions, it creates a seductive idea that maybe you can control it this time if you use again. He views Hoffman’s death as further proof that addiction is a disease and hopes this latest senseless death will help others understand this illness.