“Drake has recently opened up about turning to prescription pills and marijuana to help him cope with fame. Here’s what he said (and we dare you to try and not read it in his voice): “You get artists in this position who go crazy and don’t know how to handle it. There are people who have killed themselves. There’s the overwhelming stress, how tired you are, the weight on your shoulders of going out there and giving 18,000 people entertainment… it’s a lot of pressure. Have I sipped codeine before? Yeah, of course. Have I smoked weed? Yes. Do I drink wine? Yes. But do I do it excessively? No. I’m not a reckless guy. I do it all within moderation.” Reckless or not we say that you’d probably be better off without it all. There are always much better ways to deal with stress than chemicals!”
Fame is a Dangerous Drug: A phenomenological glimpse of celebrity
Fame is a dangerous drug. I should know. I wrote the book on it — or, rather, the book chapter.
That chapter, “Ready for the Close-up: Celebrity experience and the phenomenology of fame,” describes the dead-end cycle of fame’s merry-go-round through first-hand reports of celebrity experience in the book Film and Television Stardom.
As was evidenced in the recent death of 48-year-old Whitney Houston, fame and celebrity can closely mirror substance abuse symptomology — and over time, result in actual substance abuse, isolation, mistrust, dysfunctional adaptation to fame, and then, too often, untimely death. The examples are familiar: from Judy Garland to River Phoenix, and Michael Jackson, to Whitney Houston.
The research conducted shows that fame changes a person’s life forever, and is felt more as an impact or “overnight” experience, rather than a gradual transition.
Developmentally, the celebrity often goes through a process of: first loving, then hating fame; addiction; acceptance; and then adaptation (both positive and negative) to the fame experience. Becoming a celebrity alters the person’s being-in-the-world. Once fame hits, with its growing sense of isolation, mistrust, and lack of personal privacy, the person develops a kind of character-splitting between the “celebrity self” and the “authentic self,” as a survival technique in the hyperkinetic and heady atmosphere associated with celebrity life.
Some descriptions of fame include feeling like: “an animal in a cage; a toy in a shop window; a Barbie doll; a public façade; a clay figure; or, that guy on TV.”
Famous people describe a new relationship with the “space” around them, as a component of learning how to live in a celebrity world. “It’s like fame defines you to a certain degree: it puffs you up, or it shrinks you down,” one celebrity said.
Being famous is variously described as leaving the person feeling: “lonely; not secure; you have a bubble over you; family space is violated; a sense of being watched; living in a fishbowl; like a locked room; and, familiarity that breeds inappropriate closeness.”
Yet, while the celebrity experiences many negative side effects of fame, the allure of wealth, access, preferential treatment, public adoration, and as one celebrity put it, “membership in an exclusive club,” keeps the famous person stuck in the perpetual need to keep their fame machine churning.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that for each and every celebrity, the fame machine can only churn for so long. As a former famous child star revealed, “I’ve been addicted to almost every substance known to man at one point or another, and the most addicting of them all is fame.”
The irony, of course, is the extent to which so many people in our culture clamor at some level for their own slice of fame, first noted in Andy Warhol’s prediction of 15 minutes for everyone. It has become the American way. In fact, iconic filmmaker Jon Waters believes that being famous is everyone’s unspoken desire. “Most everybody secretly imagines themselves in show business,” he says, “and every day on their way to work, they’re a little bit depressed because they’re not…People are sad they’re not famous in America.”
And so we watch Snooki, and the Kardashians and cringe at the memory of any episode we may have caught of “Being Bobby Brown,” or “The Anna Nicole Smith Show,” and quietly ask ourselves, what is going on here? Are we somehow complicit in the downward spiral of so many great talents of our time? Have their lives become an opportunity for our own vapid TV viewing, satiating voyeuristic interests, while munching junk food mindlessly on the couch? (I am as guilty as anyone.)
And, from the other vantage point, how dangerous are the blinding lights of fame to the unsuspecting and naive star? How vulnerable are famous people to fame’s addictive qualities and its ensuing engulfing pathology? The answer is: very.
The relevant question becomes how can a celebrity survive fame? How can someone take a God-given talent, like Whitney’s, or Michael’s, or Judy’s, rise to mega-stardom, and ride the merry-go-round of fame with health, grace, and perspective until it is time to finally get off? Clues to the answer lie in becoming part of something larger than oneself (countering fame’s natural tendency toward narcissism), and dedicating all one’s drives and ambitions into making a real difference, in a meaningful way, in the world.
Through such determined commitment to using life to its fullest, as a show of gratitude for all the riches and rewards, and rooted in humanistic notions of self-responsibility, meaning, values, authenticity, and mindfulness, the celebrity has a fighting chance. (i.e., see actor, Matt Damon and his H2O Africa Foundation, or rock star, Bono and his many good works to end poverty and hunger, or actor and child advocate, Goldie Hawn and The Hawn Foundation, supporting mindfulness in early education, among others).
As an older, wizened celebrity warned about the ephemeral nature of the fame experience: “It’s just so much the will-o’-the-wisp,” he said, “and you can’t build a house on that kind of stuff.”
— Donna Rockwell
Fame and Addiction
Celebrities Can Become Addicts
To those who dream of stardom it may appear as if celebrities have it all. While there are certainly some benefits to being famous there are also many drawbacks too. These celebrities are only human, but they will often be dealing with an excessive amount of pressure – they don’t usually manage to get where they are without hard work. There is also the possibility that the attributes that helped the individual achieve their fame may also make them more prone to addictive behavior.
The word fame refers to reputation and renown. It is quite a subjective idea, but to say that somebody is famous implies that they are known by many people. It can also mean that the famous person is known by many people who they have never even met. Fame is closely related to celebrity which can be defined as being celebrated, and this usually applies to people who are well known because they receive attention from the media. It is common to associate with fame with wealth, but these two don’t always go together.
Reasons Why Fame Can Lead to an Addiction
There are a number of reasons for why famous individuals fall into substance abuse including:
Many of these individuals may have already been abusing substances before they became famous. For some people the decline into addiction occurs over many years.
Many of the careers that lead to fame involve a strong drinking or drug using culture. This means that those who join such professions may feel pressured into substance abuse.
Famous people will often have more disposable income to spend on recreational drugs.
The personal characteristics that help people become famous can be similar to those found in the addictive personality. This may mean that some of those who achieve some type of stardom may be prone to addictive behavior.
The pressures of fame can be used as an excuse to abuse alcohol or drugs. The individual feels that they deserve a respite from all the pressure surrounding their work.
There are many famous people who would be classified as high functioning addicts. The fact that they are doing so well in life means that they feel entitled to party hard.
Those who receive the star treatment are allowed to get away with much more than the average person.
It is suggested that those who achieve stardom can lose their humility. This means that they feel sure that the normal rules should not apply for them – this is something referred to as terminal uniqueness.
Many famous people who develop an addiction may have followed the same path even if they had not had success.
It has been suggested that those who abuse alcohol and drugs and those who need fame may enjoy higher dopamine spikes as a result of such behaviors. In other words they get higher feelings of pleasure than the average person.
Those individuals who achieved celebrity at a young age may have missed out on important elements of human emotional development. They may be turning to alcohol or drugs because they feel unable to cope with things.
It can be incredibly difficult to be in the public eye, and some of these people can’t even visit their local shop without being hounded by reporters. This can be used as justification to abuse alcohol or drugs.
Fame and the Addictive Personality
Many of those who become addicted to alcohol or drugs will tend to share certain character traits. These shared characteristics are sometimes referred to as the addictive personality. It has been suggested that those individuals who manage to find outward success in life may do so because of the same characteristics that lead people into addiction. The addictive personality involves traits such as:
The individual needs to be the centre of attention, and this means that they are prone to attention seeking behavior.
Such people tend to value nonconformity. They don’t like to go along with the herd but prefer to express their own individuality, and they also like to think outside the box.
They have a high tolerance for deviant behavior.
These are individuals who will often act impulsively. Such impulsiveness will often get them into trouble, but it can also open the door for new opportunities.
Those people who have the addictive personality are more willing to take risks. Achieving fame often involves risk taking along the way.
One of the most common traits of the addictive personality is low self esteem. The individual may try to overcome their feelings of low self worth by seeking the approval of other people.
They struggle to delay gratification. This means that they find it difficult to wait for pleasure.
Such individuals will believe that they have a high degree of stress in their life. They feel that this gives them justification to abuse alcohol or drugs.
They have a feeling of alienation from other people. They may alternate between feelings of being better than everyone else to feeling that they are worse than everyone else – or they just might feel like they do not fit in.
These people tend to be insecure in their relationships.
They have a tendency to act in ways that would be considered antisocial.
Such people will often suffer from depression or anxiety problems.
The Famous as High Functioning Addicts
Many of those who are famous but turn to substance abuse can be described as high functioning addicts. The fact that these individuals are doing well in their life means that they can hide the excesses of their addictive behavior. They have an outward appearance of success and accomplishment so other people are unlikely to even view them as having a problem. The individual can ignore their substance abuse problems because they do not fit the profile of the stereotypical addict. The individual with a well maintained addiction like this is in serious danger because:
Most addicts quit their addiction because they have hit rock bottom. Those who have a great deal of outward success may take much longer to hit their bottom, and this can mean that they end up suffering more than those addicts who lost everything quickly.
The individual may worry that they have too much to lose by admitting that they have an addiction problem. This can mean that they feel trapped in their misery and unable to ask for help.
Such people may have higher than normal financial resources, and this means that they can afford to spend a great deal more on drugs or alcohol than the average person.
Many of these individuals will belong to a profession where there is a culture of substance abuse. This means that such behavior will be accepted and condoned.
The fact that the individual has the money to feed their habit means they are less likely to have to face withdrawals. This means that they may not even realize that they have developed a physical dependence on these substances.
How Famous People Can Tackle Their Substance Abuse Problems
Those individuals who attract media attention may feel like they have fewer options when it comes to treating their addiction, but this is just a justification to not do anything about the problem. The reality is that they do have many possible paths into recovery including:
There are many rehabs that specialize with dealing with the rich and famous. Such programs will understand the special needs of those who are in the public eye.
Many of these rehabs do not require that the individual uses their real name. This can help them protect their anonymity.
Although fellowships such as AA are open to anyone there is an expectation that anonymity is respected. Considering the nature of these groups it is surprising how well anonymity is respected – this is why so many famous individuals have no qualms about joining 12 Step groups.
Those who are put off by the spiritual aspects of the 12 Steps will find that there are more secular alternatives such as SMART Recovery.
Just giving up alcohol or drugs is often not enough in itself to ensure that the individual will have a fulfilling life going forward. There is usually an underlying reason for why they turned to substance abuse in the first place, and so it is important that once people become sober they deal with this root cause.
In order to remain sober the individual needs to make this their number one priority in life. In some instances the individual may need to make changes to their career, and they will almost certainly have to make major changes to their lifestyle.