Many courageous celebrities are coming forward and sharing what it’s like to battle addiction with their fans, inspiring thousands of people to embrace recovery and sobriety.
Almost daily, we hear about yet another celebrity being checked into a rehab center or having a relapse. My patients often say that celebs are lucky because they have the money to get the best treatment possible, and therefore their recovery is much easier. Celeb rehabs are often imagined as spa resorts where one gets spoilt rotten with massages, eats meals cooked by high-end chefs, and hangs out with other famous people. However, while I am sure that rehabs that specialize in supporting celebrities offer luxurious surroundings and top-quality specialists, it can be more difficult for the stars to stay clean and sober when they go back to their everyday life after their treatment.
“Being in recovery has given me everything of value that I have in my life. Integrity, honesty, fearlessness, faith, a relationship with God, and most of all gratitude. It’s given me a beautiful family and an amazing career. I’m under no illusions where I would be without the gift of alcoholism and the chance to recover from it.”
Surrounded by temptations, with alcohol and drugs often normalized, glamorized, and easily accessible, without a permanent home, family, or daily routine, celebrities are more likely to relapse because it is difficult for them to break their established habits. And if you know what it’s like to feel ashamed, guilty, and discouraged when you had a relapse, imagine what it’s like for a celebrity. Their struggles and failures are instantly made public, with reporters hunting them, bloggers bombarding them with hurtful comments, and advertisers and even charities dropping them as their spokespeople.
It is a very public humiliation, and I am sure that we all still vividly remember the high-profile meltdowns of Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, Mel Gibson, David Hasselhoff, and Charlie Sheen. Drew Barrymore famously went into rehab at the age of 13, Daniel Radcliffe admitted that he drank a lot while filming the last three Harry Potter movies, and Eric Clapton counts himself lucky to have survived a cocaine addiction. Johnny Depp, who used to be a co-owner of The Viper Room, the ill-fated night club at which River Phoenix fatally overdosed, is also a recovering addict.
“I believe alcoholism is a disease. I don’t think you can mess with it. There was a time when people who didn’t know me well would say, ‘Couldn’t you just have one glass of champagne?’ And I would say, ‘No.’ I’m doing well. Why risk it?”
Sadly, many other incredibly talented people didn’t make it: Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger, Bruce Lee, Brittany Murphy, Michael Jackson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, David Kennedy, Prince, Peaches Geldof, Chris Kelly, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, and John Belushi are among the many people killed by their addiction.
“If you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict, we flirt with death. We pull ourselves to the brink of destruction and if we’re lucky we pull ourselves back. We all have that in us.”
It is always inspiring for me to see when celebrities have the courage to get treatment, are honest about their struggles, and become inspirational role models when they manage to stay sober. Ben Affleck, who famously lost his family and many acting gigs because of his alcohol addiction, for instance, has been very open about his challenges and is encouraging others to seek help:
“If you have a problem, getting help is a sign of courage, not weakness or failure.”
The list of celebrities who struggle with alcohol and drugs is enormous. It is therefore very inspiring that many of them become advocates of getting help and demonstrate that it is possible to battle the illness: Kirsten Dunst, Megan Fox, Russel Brand, Lana Del Rey, Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, Stephen King, Nicole Richie, Matthew Perry, Demi Lovato, Ed Harris, and Kelly Osborne. Unlike it was the case in the past, these celebrities do not glamorize drugs and alcohol making them ‘cool’; on the contrary, they try to raise awareness of the illness and its grave consequences among their fans.
My battles with addiction definitely shaped how I am now. They really made me deeply appreciate human contact. And the value of friends and family, how precious that is.”
Bradley Cooper has also been a great advocate of sobriety since 2004 when he gave up drugs and alcohol. His personal history with alcoholism and drug abuse was one of the reasons why he decided to make the Oscar-winning film A Star Is Born (2018), where he plays Jackson “Jack” Maine, a famous country rock singer who is battling an alcohol and drug addiction. Maine eventually commits suicide because he is unable to overcome his addiction and it ruins his life. Cooper famously stated that the story really resonated with him, and he is very grateful that he has been able to stay sober since his recovery.
“Recovery from alcohol and drug addiction is the greatest accomplishment of my life.”
Jamie Lee Curtis
Some celebrities even openly celebrate the anniversaries of their sobriety, showing that life without alcohol and drugs is possible – and wonderfully exciting: Eminem (12 years sober), Sir Elton Jones (30 years sober), Rob Lowe (30 years sober), and Samuel L Jackson (44 years sober). Congratulations, and thank you for inspiring so many other people to give up alcohol and drugs and embrace sobriety!
It’s a huge burden to live with an alcohol or drug addiction, as this illness affects all areas of your life. However, like almost any other illness, chemical dependency can be treated.
There are three stages of chemical dependence: The early, the middle, and the chronic stage. The early stage of chemical dependency is often difficult to recognize as the signs are not as obvious. Your body is developing a tolerance to the drug, which causes you to need more and more to get the same feeling of pleasure as you did in the beginning. Sometimes, you may be able to realize that you are developing a chemical dependence if you notice that you are using drugs to deal with your problems or that getting a high is not as easy as used to be. However, the change in tolerance level is often so gradual that many do not have any idea that they are becoming addicted.
It becomes more apparent when you reach the middle stage of chemical dependency that you have an addiction, because more serious symptoms arise. You might blackout. You have an irresistible urge to use and experience painful withdrawal when you do not give in to that desire. When you are not using, you feel anxious and depressed. You have difficulty handling the easy, mundane things that you always could take care of in the past. Something as simple as dressing into fresh clothes may even seem impossible. In fact, your appearance in general may begin to suffer. It is during this stage that others really start to notice that something is wrong.
Once you reach the chronic stage, you are physically, socially, and mentally a slave to your chemical dependency. Your relationships may be suffering so greatly that friends and family become estranged. Your tolerance level is to the point where you need your drug just to barely function. Many addicts wind up losing their jobs during this stage, because the careful balance of using just enough to get by but not to be high becomes harder and harder to find. Your body will also suffer. Your heart, lungs, and liver become diseased or infected. Your brain usually experiences damage as well.
Different treatment approaches
There are several ways to treat chemical dependency. One thing that most people consider is detoxification, in which your body gets rid of the drugs in its system. However, there is much more to it than that. That is not enough to keep you from making the same mistakes in the future. Also, detoxification can actually be life-threatening if not handled in the right way. Medication may be necessary to safely treat an addiction, especially if you have a dependence on opioids, tobacco, or alcohol.
Behavioral counseling is usually needed. Many addicts simply do not know healthy ways to respond to the difficulties of life, and behavioral counseling can help with that. However, counseling is helpful for other reasons. Trauma is often at the root of how people wind up with a chemical dependency. This needs to be dealt with. Also, as mentioned previously, withdrawal from a drug can result in problems with depression and anxiety. In-patient counseling is sometimes necessary. Out-patient counseling can be done in group settings or one-on-one. Long-term counseling on a predictable schedule is helpful in preventing a relapse.
Types of behavioral counseling for treating chemical dependency include: Cognitive therapy (leaning to recognize what causes you to use alcohol and drugs and how to deal with that); multio-dimensional family therapy (helping addicts and their families work together); contingency management (using positive reinforcement to reward an addict for staying sober).
Accepting, believing, and taking action
Chemical dependence can be treated. However, you will only start to heal from this disease if you accept that you have a disease, believe you can recover, and take action to begin the recovery process. You would not expect someone suffering from cancer to experience remission if they refuse to admit they have cancer and never receive any treatment. Your addiction is not going to disappear if you hide from reality.
No one chooses to be an alcoholic or a drug addict. No one chooses pain and danger of addiction or withdrawal. However, you can choose to treat your chemical dependence.
You need to believe that recovery is possible. You have to be determined to stay sober. You must have a strong reason to give up alcohol. And you can never give up. Ever.
The foundation to recovery from alcohol dependence is to find out what is the problem. It is a waste of time and energy to try to stop or control drinking without understanding the exact nature of the problem. There is overwhelming evidence to prove that lack of understanding of the problem leads to unsuccessful efforts at trying to drink like normal people. Some of the methods include drinking “beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never drinking in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties/weddings, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking only natural wines etc. etc.”
In spite of the failure to stop or control drinking, many alcoholics continue to believe that “I can stop anytime I want to”, or “It’s no big deal I can manage my drinking”, or “That I can drink some more because today will be different and better than yesterday.” This kind of thinking is a license that allows the alcoholic to continue drinking despite mounting problems at work, home, school, relationships, marriage, legal and financial. Underlying the above thought patterns is ignorance of the exact nature of the problem of alcoholism which in turn leads to more failed attempts at stopping temporarily or quitting completely.
In order to understand the exact nature of the problem, the alcoholic should go no farther than doing the experiment of controlled drinking. In other words, try many times to drink and stop abruptly if you haven’t tried so already. This experiment is useful in that it will help you decide if you still have the ability to stop drinking when you want to. If you are honest enough with yourself it should not take you long to decide.