There are no shortage of celebrities who have fallen victim to alcohol and drug abuse, and while some managed to overcome their addiction, for others it sadly cut their lives short. With substance misuse common among artists and scientists, a link between creativity and addiction has been suggested. You only need to think about the number of singers, actors and painters who have struggled with an addictive habit, and how drugs are thought to have influenced the success of people like Sigmund Freud, Francis Crick and Steve Jobs, for this to seem plausible. However, according to neuroscientists the connection isn’t as simple as that. Addicts are typically people who feel pleasures less strongly, so are more likely to have compulsive behaviors, seek out risks and look for novel experiences, all of which can boost creativity and success. Curing an addiction doesn’t eliminate creativity either, as there is no change to the genetics that encourage creative behaviors. The creativity hypothesis is not the only explanation for greater alcohol and drug use among successful people though.
There are various other theories for why heavy drinking and drug taking are common among the rich and famous. In a report for abcNews one addiction specialist summarizes some of the factors that place celebrities at particular risk. Firstly, there is a genetic predisposition to substance misuse, and people drawn to an exciting lifestyle or environment are often those who are more likely to misuse alcohol and drugs. The pressures of fame can also get to some stars, which encourages them to turn to drink and drugs to cope with the stress, and the stress of being in the media spotlight can make it more difficult to successfully recover. As an addiction is not necessarily a barrier to a career in the arts, there is additionally not the same incentive to get help, and the publicity they can get from maintaining their habit can strangely boost their success. If they do decide to enter a treatment program, famous people can often struggle in recovery, as their success can make them expect special allowances and finding it difficult to take responsibility for their actions is a major stumbling block.
Celebrity Drug Addicts
From Bob Marley’s abuse of marijuana to Elvis Presley’s connection with meth and Kelly Osbourne’s problem painkiller use, the range of drugs misused by celebrities is diverse. Among the most famous addicts are those whose drug habit contributed to their death. For instance, Judy Garland is well-known to have used amphetamines to control her weight and an unintentional overdose of sedatives led to her death aged 47. More recently cocaine was implicated in the death of Whitney Houston, which most likely triggered a fatal heart attack, though traces of various prescription pills commonly abused were also found in her body. Owing to the lethal nature of heroin, its use is also implicated in the death of various famous artists. For instance, one of the famous heroin addicts whose drug use proved fatal was Kurt Cobain, the lead singer and songwriter of Nirvana. Cobain survived several heroin overdoses and although he shot himself at the age of just 27, his drug habit is believed to have contributed to his poor mental state and death. The Oscar-nominated actor River Phoenix also lost his life to heroin, after taking a deadly mix of heroin, cocaine and Valium when he was only 23. However, heroin misuse does not always end badly for celebrities and some are able to overcome their habit, as Robert Kennedy Junior demonstrated. He turned to heroin following the death of his father, but after an arrest for possession and a spell in rehab he turned his life around and is now a keen environmental activist.
While alcohol might be viewed by some as less harmful than drugs and a more acceptable substance to turn to, it can damage every body system and is just as addictive. Many stars have found this out the hard way, with the writer Dylan Thomas, the singer Billie Holiday and the actor Errol Flynn among those whose drinking habit led to their early death. However, famous people can recover from alcohol abuse even if they do have additional pressures to the rest of us. For instance, one of the alcoholic celebrities that overcame his habit is Elton John. During the 1980s he lived in a drink and drug-fueled haze, but he realized how destructive his substance abuse had become and sought help for his addiction. He found that throwing himself into campaign work to stop the spread of HIV was a helpful distraction and has not touched either substance for 25 years. Stephen King is another former alcoholic, but thanks to an intervention organized by his family in 1987 to show him the extent of his addiction, he received the wakeup call he needed to get treatment and has been sober since then.
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