Drugs, sex, and rock and roll. It’s seem you can’t have one without the other. Kurt Cobain. Chris Cornell. Chester Bennington. Amy Winehouse. These are all household names which are now synonymous with addiction and suicide. And there are countless others, including celebrities and us regular folk. As a country we lost over 50,000 people in 2015 and we’re on track to surpass that number for 2016 and 2017. Something’s not right about this. With the loss of so many of our favorite musicians and celebrities becoming commonplace we decided to ask the experts; what is going on?! Why is addiction running rampant in the lives of the elite and how can we all learn from this? Without further ado, we present The Discovery House Addiction Expert Panel for the month of August:
Michelle Beard, MA, CATC
Michelle has networked in the social services field for over 10 years and recently joined the team at The Discovery House. Having completed her Bachelor’s Degree from UC Davis in Psychology and Communications; Michelle continued to develop her skill set completing a Master’s Degree at California State University Dominguez Hills focusing on Marriage and Family Therapy. Most noteworthy, Michelle has a genuine passion to assist those who are struggling with the disease of addiction.
Allen Berger, Ph.D.
Dr. Berger is a talented psychotherapist and popular recovery author who has written extensively about the experience of recovery, the important topic of emotional sobriety, integrating modern psychotherapy and the 12 Steps, and the psychological forces operating in the Twelve Steps.
Laura Silverman, Sober Blogger
Laura is the founder of The Sobriety Collective, a digital community for creatives in recovery from addiction/mental illness. On July 14, 2017, she celebrated 10 years of continuous sobriety, which is pretty far out for someone who once wondered if she’d ever have fun sans drinking.
Drugs and alcohol are almost synonymous with the “Hollywood” lifestyle. Is environment the only component?
Michelle: No, environment is not the only component. In my opinion “using” serves a purpose for individuals. Whether its to gain courage, bandage scars or assist with pain or rejection. In the Hollywood lifestyle; there is a tremendous amount of pressure to fit a standard thats often very contradicting to what we truly are. This pressure coupled with an “unserved” purpose contributes to using.
Allen: Environment plays a role but so does our culture. There are several concepts emphasized in our culture that are a set up for becoming an addict. Ideas like take the path of least resistance, expect immediate results, or struggle means something is wrong. These types of ideas are utter nonsense and are quite toxic. Alcohol and other drugs provide immediate solutions to inadequacy, insecurity, and fear. I strongly believe we use alcohol and other drugs to make us whole. To be okay with who we are. But they don’t work. Drugs are not a solution. They become a part of the problem. Becoming okay with ourselves takes hard work and self-awareness. This is the road less traveled.
Laura: Environment plays a huge part in the acceleration of a risky behavior or addiction but is by no means the only factor; genetics definitely has a role as well. I’m sure there are the following two scenarios being played out frequently: 1) someone with alcoholism or addiction in family genetics but raised in an environment of sobriety and direct, honest communication vs. 2) someone with no genetic predisposition but exposed to debauchery on a daily basis. I believe both have an equal chance of developing problematic behaviors just as much as both have an equal chance of choosing sobriety (either from the get-go or after going through the process of recovery).
“Addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer. Celebrities are subject to the same issues we all struggle with. For many of us we turn to alcohol and drugs for a solution. We don’t know a better way.” – Dr. Allen Berger, Ph.D.
Hollywood can very much be a breeding ground but what it really does is exacerbate mental health issues – the more famous you get, the more your life isn’t truly yours anymore. No wonder there are so many breakdowns and stories of actors and musicians going to rehab – their lives aren’t private anymore. We need to change the culture of Hollywood. How? Still unsure – maybe a redistribution of wealth? Why do A-list actors get paid millions of dollars whereas teachers and folks in the non-profit sector, effecting real change, get paid peanuts? Maybe that’s another topic for another day, but regardless, something needs to shift so that Hollywood does not remain synonymous with addiction.
So many talented people are gone from us too soon. Why does this happen?
Michelle: Everyone serves a purpose on this earth; some of us have multiple. When its our time then its our time. Its a simple as that. Death sucks by all means but its necessary. Oftentimes it forces us to re-examine our own purpose; even if only for a second.
Allen: Most of the time these deaths are accidental, in one sense, but are the result of an arrogance that makes us believe we can control our using, we can handle it. This is an extremely toxic attitude and for many in recovery is a secret reservation that they don’t share with anyone.
Laura: Obviously I don’t have the answer, but I can speculate. The culture of idolizing people and putting them on pedestals probably makes their personas larger than life and them, as real people behind the Hollywood facade (I’m using Hollywood as a catch-all term for ultra-fame, including the music industry), victims of a strange paradox. We idolize their personas but we don’t know who they are as real people; more often than not, they are people with the same struggles we have – except their struggles (addiction, mental illness, infidelity and divorce, other scandals) are splashed on the news ad nauseam. This amount of pressure is probably too much to bear, and as we all know, addiction and mental illness knows no socioeconomic barriers.
What if Amy Winehouse or Corey Monteith or Janis Joplin or Kurt Cobain asked for help? Would we have taken them seriously? I hope we, as a people, would have…but there are so many others who doubt that celebrities are even real people, so clearly they must be able to shoulder all their problems on their own. Better/worse yet, they can’t possibly have problems. They have all the money anyone could ask for so they can surely deal. As The Beatles said, “Money can’t buy me love.”
Especially in recent years, we’ve seen a lot of overdose deaths among celebrities and regular folk alike. Is there any way to prevent drug or alcohol addiction?
Michelle: Absolutely not. Addiction does not discriminate at all. There are a variety of factors that influence our ability to overcome and obtain sobriety; but unless someone lives in a bubble prevention is not possible.
Allen: Abraham Maslow stated that we must consider something a basic need if it meets the following criteria: 1) absence creates illness, 2) presence prevents illness, and 3) restoration cures illness. I believe that being our true-self is a basic need and when we compromise ourselves to become who we think we should be we open up the door for lots of trouble. If we focused more on helping our children learn how to cope with their emotions and send them the message that who they are is OK – we can go a long way in the prevention of drug addiction.
Laura: There’s no catch-all prevention cure that will work for everyone. But what does work is an honest conversation about what drugs and alcohol can do to a person’s potential. Sharing our stories of recovery is a HUGE method of prevention – and if our future generations see talented, intelligent, amazing, courageous people (famous and John/Jane Does alike) living lives without using substances, they will feel more inclined to live substance-free as they age.
I don’t condone blanket drug use but I do believe there are safer ways, if someone is going to use, to prevent overdose or alcohol poisoning. Educating ourselves on overdose signs and getting naloxone training, taking mental health first aid courses, knowing our genetic predisposition and environmental factors, taking calls for help seriously, advocating for harm reduction, stopping the over-prescription of opioids [pharmaceutical industry and modern medicine will need to be drastically looked at to address this], de-criminalization of the marijuana industry, which could potentially cause a reverse in some opioid deaths as medical marijuana use can combat pain in a much safer manner. Again, I’m not a doctor and I don’t even remember the last time I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, but there are multiple solutions to this problem and now is the time for creative out-of-the-box thinking.
Are celebrities more susceptible to addiction? Why or why not?
Michelle: No, they aren’t. Celebrities are just forced to experience their addictions in the lime light and oftentimes not quietly protected by HIPPA laws. I commend individuals who have a certain level of privilege, such as celebrities, use their platform to bring awareness to issues such as addiction.
Allen: I think addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer. Celebrities are subject to the same issues we all struggle with. For many of us we turn to alcohol and drugs for a solution. We don’t know a better way. We are all ignorant when it comes to knowing how to deal with life on life’s terms.
Laura: Celebrities exist in a bubble that perpetuates certain myths of the lifestyle of the rich and famous. The environmental factor in Hollywood, is so incredibly strong that it could, in theory, take the place of the genetic factor, for a “regular” American citizen. While the culture of Hollywood can make addiction more likely, it does have to be reality. We can slowly change the narrative by working together.
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