"He went on and on down the road,
finally coming to a blackwoods,
where he hid and wept as if his heart would break.
Ah, what agony was that, what despair,
when the tomb of memory was rent open
and the ghosts of his old life
came forth to scourge him!"
-Upton Sinclair, The Jungle
Is there a fatal attraction between
celebrities and controlled substances?
Why do some survive and some die?
How do you step away from addiction
when the spotlight is always on?
"It's that caustic mix of sudden celebrity and being strung out and it being condoned by the people around you," says Duff McKagan, 48, the original bass player for rock band Guns N' Roses and a longtime drug and alcohol addict who had to nearly die from an exploding pancreas in 1994 at age 30.
He was told by his doctors that he would be dead within a month if he did not stop drinking. Although McKagan had made previous attempts to curb his alcoholism (which had become so notorious that, according to his autobiography, the fictional product Duff Beer on The Simpsons was named for him) this health crisis was his incentive to become sober for good.
What contributed most to his getting help? McKagan cites his mother weeping in her wheelchair over her youngest child, and his eventual discovery of the physical and spiritual strengths of martial arts for being his prime motivations.
McKagan is author of the revealing memoir, It's So Easy (And Other Lies). McKagan’s last ten years provides ample fodder for a separate book. Here’s a guy who was a drug addict and high school dropout, bloated from booze, mentally incapacitated by drugs and emotionally wasted from decades of self abuse.
That this man physically recovered is literally amazing, given the abysmal recovery rate of addicts and alcoholics. That he continued playing music, started another platinum-selling band (Velvet Revolver), scored a college degree and founded a wealth management company strains the definition of credibility.
Addiction experts say it's a misleading assumption that celebs are more prone to addictive behavior, because anyone can inherit that DNA. "Addiction does not discriminate, it cuts across all socioeconomic classes," says Kevin Hill, addictions psychiatrist in charge of drug abuse treatment at Harvard Medical School's McLean Hospital. "People use according to psycho-social stressers. Celebrities might have slightly different stressers, such as fame, but they use drugs like regular people — they just use better drugs." (Maria Puente, "Celebrity Addicts: Who Dies, Who survives, and Why?" USA Today, March 25 2012)
What actors, singers, athletes, even CEOs have
that regular people might not have is
more access to drugs, more time to indulge,
more money to pay for it,
and often a horde of enabling hangers-on
who are financially dependent on them
and thus more motivated to supply substances for them.
It adds up to a situation hard to walk away from, McKagan says.
"Some can do (drugs) and move on and some do it and get stuck," he says. "In the last year before ending up in the hospital, I had given up, I said I can't stop this," says McKagan, "I had to be scared to death."
Life coach and family advocate Lisa Nkonoki, who says she helped Ray Charles Jr. overcome his addictions, reports that celebs, like anyone else, can become addicts because they don't feel strong or good about themselves at some level. (Maria Puente, "Celebrity Addicts: Who Dies, Who survives, and Why?" USA Today, March 25 2012)
"It's an escape (from) the persona people want them to be instead of the person they truly are," she says. Successfully stepping away from addiction, she says, comes only after accepting that it's a disease. "No one wants to wear this badge, no one wants to go through this struggle. But when you get this disease, you have to deal with it, manage it, emerge from it and move on."
The key factor in treating addictions, celebrity or otherwise, is recognizing that there's usually an underlying mental-health issue, says Kathleen Bigsby, CEO of The Canyon at Peace Park, an expensive, exclusive and super private comprehensive treatment center in Malibu that has treated celebrities (no names, she says) for addiction and "co-occurring disorders."
"Just addressing the addiction isn't enough — there's anxiety, depression, trauma," Bigsby says. "Addicts need a new skill set to learn how to manage their stress."
My Bottom Line
It is up to all of us to help teach these new skills to those in recovery. Health professionals must help them manage the stress they feel. Without this help, even the most popular celebrity or the richest individual who becomes addicted will likely fall and eventually perish. History has proven time and time again this outcome is true. Encourage people you know to become involved with the healing process by contributing their time and money to saving lives.
Society imposes stigma - and its damage - on addicts
and their families because many people still believe
that addiction is a character flaw or weakness
that probably can't be cured.
The stigma against people with addictions is so deeply rooted that it continues even in the face of the scientific evidence that addiction is a treatable disease and even when people know others in their families and in their communities who live wonderful lives in long-term recovery.
Stigma explains why addicts and their families hide the disease. Stigmatized people internalize other people's hatred of them and transfer the hatred to shame.
Too often, people with alcohol and drug problems and their families begin to accept the ideas that addiction is their own fault and that maybe they are too weak to do anything about it.
In many ways, hiding an addiction problem
is the rational thing to do because
seeking help can mean losing a job and medical insurance,
or even losing a child when a social service agency
declares a person an unfit parent
because he/she has an alcohol or drug problem.
Stigmatized people are excluded from rules that govern "normal people." For example, insurance companies get away with refusing to pay for alcohol or drug treatment, or with charging higher deductibles and co-pays than for treating any other disease.
Though studies have found that helping employees to recover is more cost-effective than termination, some employers believe that firing an employee with a substance abuse problem is a lot easier than providing rehabilitation. A firestorm of protest would erupt if employers treated workers with cancer or heart disease the same way. (David L. Rosenbloom PhD., "Coping With the Stigma of Addiction," HBO Addiction, www.hbo.com)
What can you do today?
* Demand equal medical insurance coverage for alcohol and drug treatment.
* Tell your state lawmakers to remove the legal barriers that prevent people recovering from addictions from getting jobs.
* Give more than lip service to the reality that addiction is a disease, not a character weakness.
* Be an advocate for an individual or family with an addiction problem.
Duff McKagan on Addiction and Recovery
Duff McKagan on Dr. Phil