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It is a wake-up call when news outlets report that a favorite celebrity is battling addiction. Celebrities in recovery suddenly become human to us, revealing their own struggle with a substance use disorder that may have been recently acquired, or under control for decades.
So, then, what can ordinary people learn from these famous folks? What is the takeaway? Surely there are solid life lessons to be gleaned from those who have risen to the top of their career despite having a problem with substance abuse. More likely, however, the ones who maintained that lofty status are those that got treatment and are now in recovery. These are the stories that regular people can benefit from—the examples of celebrities in recovery that offer real evidence of the possibility of succeeding through a commitment to sobriety and an effective addiction treatment program.
What Are the Factors Behind Celebrity Substance Use Disorder?
Although most of us might be star struck when we think of our favorite celebrities, in reality their lives may not be all that desirable. Regardless how much money and fame they have, sometimes what famous people have to contend with is difficult. Imagine not being able to just go out to a movie or shopping without hordes of fans and paparazzi hunting you down like prey. Being perpetually in the spotlight can cause anxiety, which may lead to self-medicating.
Celebrities by nature may struggle with unseen mental health problems. In fact, many in the entertainment business are sensitive by nature. The business is very fickle, meaning a star can be hot one year and then totally overlooked by booking agents the next. This not only makes financial planning difficult, but it is also hard on their ego. Celebrities feed off their fame and notoriety and many do not respond well when their career hits a downturn. This sometimes results in symptoms of depression and substance abuse.
Many celebrities make the decision to go public about their past issues with addiction in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same. Jamie Lee Curtis, now 20 years sober, has been very open about her past addiction to prescription pain medication and alcohol. She has been interviewed multiple times since revealing her substance abuse issues. Others who are candid about their past addictions include Johnny Depp, Eminem, Robert Downey Jr., Fergie, Matthew Perry, and Zac Effron.
Celebrities with a Dual Diagnosis
Well-publicized mental health struggles often accompany a celebrity’s substance use disorder. This is termed a dual diagnosis, or the presence of both a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health disorder. Just last year, Rene Zellweger played Judy Garland in a biopic that captured accurately the actress/singer’s final year of life. Ms. Garland suffered from a prescription pill addiction, alcohol use disorder, and depression, and sadly died at age 47 from her afflictions.
Other stars who struggle with a dual diagnosis include Demi Lovato (bipolar disorder and opioid addiction), Britney Spears (bipolar disorder, alcohol use disorder), Amanda Bynes (ongoing addiction and mental health struggles), and Justin Bieber (depression and alcohol use disorder. It is interesting to note how many of the celebrities, like these, were once child stars that ended up suffering with a dual diagnosis.
10 Famous Celebrities in Recovery
- Miley Cyrus. Recently, the child actor turned pop singer announced that she is now six months sober. Cyrus, age 27, has struggled publicly with substance abuse issues for years.
- Debbie Harry. This spring Debbie Harry, age 74, opened up about her past heroin addiction. She eventually got clean because she found it exhausting to be constantly chasing down the drugs.
- Demi Lovato. After a dramatic overdose event in 2018 following six years of sobriety, Demi Lovato, age 27, seems to be secure in her recovery at the time. Her substance abuse history included primarily cocaine and alcohol, which only made her mental health struggles worse.
- Shaun Weiss. The Might Ducks star, Shaun Weiss, age 41, has recently celebrated 170 days of sobriety. Weiss battled a longstanding methamphetamine addiction and had been homeless before entering rehab.
- Ben Affleck. Ben Affleck has battled alcoholism for several years and publicly suffered a relapse in October 2019. Affleck stated recently that he is sober and back in recovery, but noted how difficult alcohol addiction is to beat.
- Kanye West. In 2016 Kanye West, age 43, had liposuction and ended up getting addicted to the prescription opioids following the procedure. West was eventually hospitalized in November of 2016 reportedly to address the opioid use disorder.
- Wendy Williams. Wendy Williams, age 55, went public last year about entering sober living while entering a rehab program for alcohol and prescription drugs. In prior years, Williams had admitted to having a cocaine addiction. At this time, it is believed that Ms. Williams is in recovery.
- Danielle Bregoli. The teenage rapper, Danielle Bregoli, has entered a rehabilitation program in recent weeks. Bregoli struggles with prescription pill addiction.
- Jessica Simpson. Fashion designer and singer Jessica Simpson, age 39, has recently penned a memoir detailing her battle with alcohol and pills. Simpson got sober in 2017 and is in recovery.
- Brad Pitt. Follow the highly publicized divorce from Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, age 56, revealed that he entered a recovery program for an alcohol use disorder. He found Alcoholics Anonymous to be a safe place to solidify in recovery.
Untimely Celebrity Deaths Due to Addiction
We often get emotionally attached to our favorite musicians and actors, so when one dies due to an overdose it is very unsettling. America has lost many celebrities to drug or alcohol-related deaths, such as Amy Winehouse, Prince, Tom Petty, Michael Jackson, Mac Miller, Whitney Houston, Chyna, Scott Weiland, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Infamous celeb overdose deaths include Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Belushi, and Jim Morrison.
As tragic as it is to lose a treasured celebrity to an overdose of drugs or alcohol, we can all learn something from these sad occurrences. These shocking deaths can serve as a wake up call if we ourselves are struggling with a substance use disorder, hopefully inspiring people to get treatment before losing the battle to addiction. Drug overdoses are not limited to the rich and famous, with the US losing 71,000 people to overdose in 2019 alone. Celebrity overdose deaths may shine a spotlight on the problem of substance abuse and addiction, which may motivate someone who is struggling to seek treatment.
Treatment Options for Addiction Recovery
One benefit of following the stories of celebrities in recovery is seeing how they motivate others to seek their own professional help. Knowing which type of treatment setting is most appropriate depends on the individual’s unique problem, how severe the substance use disorder is, the level of impairment, and practical considerations such as financial resources needed for treatment.
Thankfully, the addiction field offers a wide spectrum of treatment options, allowing the individual to research the best fit for them. The primary types of addiction treatment include:
Outpatient rehab. Outpatient programs are offered in three levels of care, basic outpatient services, intensive outpatient programs, and partial hospitalization programs, with the PHP being the highest level of care. Outpatient rehabs offer the individual more flexibility in scheduling, and the cost is substantially lower as the individual will reside at home during the treatment program. Most outpatient programs are 3 months in duration.
Residential rehab. When the substance use disorder is more engrained, such as a moderate to severe disorder, the residential rehab option is a better fit. These programs provide on-site housing for the individual, detox services, and daily classes, meetings, and therapy sessions. Residential programs range from basic to luxury, and are priced accordingly.
Dual Diagnosis treatment. A dual diagnosis program is usually found in a residential setting but is staffed with a resident psychiatrist in addition to the psychotherapists, clinicians, and addiction specialists. This allows individuals with a co-occurring mental health condition to get additional therapy and support so that both disorders are treated simultaneously.
Treatment Elements in Recovery Programs
Most addiction recovery programs provide the following interventions:
Intake and assessment. A thorough intake process will initially be conducted to determine the individual’s needs. The clinician will gather important information using the interview process and clinical assessment tools to help design a tailored treatment program that is specific to the person’s recovery needs and goals.
Medical Detox and withdrawal. Detox and withdrawal should be completed through a supervised medical detox program where vital signs, withdrawal symptoms, and progress will be monitored throughout the process. Detox professionals will provide medications to ease the withdrawal symptoms, keeping the person as comfortable as possible.
Therapy. Therapy underpins the treatment experience, using evidence-based approaches that have been clinically proven to be effective in treating individuals in addiction recovery. Individual therapy sessions and group therapy often involve the use of cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy.
Psychosocial education and relapse prevention. Most people are unaware of the powerful impact that addiction has on the brain. Learning about the changes the brain has made to accommodate the constant exposure to the substance and how brain health can be restored in recovery is an important element in the treatment program. In line with that knowledge, developing a well-defined relapse prevention plan can help solidify recovery through the use of new coping skills and other recovery tools.
Adjunct Therapies. Treatment results are enhanced when the program provides enjoyable activities that promote relaxation and complement the therapy sessions. These might include holistic activities, such as massage, yoga classes, mindfulness training, equine therapy, art therapy, as well as recreational activities.
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