Addiction problems plague celebrities

By Daniel Gatlin, Ph.D.
July 1, 2008



A phenomenon has emerged in the alcohol and drug treatment field that has recently received much media coverage: Celebrity Rehab. There have been public figures participating in treatment programs from the beginning but increased interest and the willingness of some celebrities to discuss their personal lives has evolved to the point where it is difficult to pick up a tabloid and not read of some troubled celebrity entering “rehab.”

For a number of years I have worked with and lectured about this population. I often find negativity and misperceptions stemming from beliefs that this population, by virtue of access to money and public acclaim, should not be treated as “different” since this only contributes to the grandiosity and entitlement already common with this group. This belies, to a large degree, attitudes based on cultural and media-driven beliefs that “money and fame can fix your life” and that celebrities need to realize what they have, stop complaining and get on with their lives.

As a treatment provider it is also imperative that you be aware of assumptions you may also have about this population. What are your beliefs regarding wealth and fame? What would you do if you possessed them and how would your life be different? What do you think would be the challenges you would face? How would you respond if you were surrounded by enterprising individuals whose job was to get you whatever you wanted, to indulge you and, in return, to establish and maintain their livelihood?

If you treat this population, in addition to the usual assessment areas, a critical area is identifying support systems. Besides family members and friends, others may include managers, agents, personal assistants, domestic help, lawyers, physicians and therapists. From these you must determine if any are enabling the client’s drug use and insulating them from the consequences of their addiction and other pathological behaviors.

It is not uncommon to find celebrities surrounded by “assistants” and “managers” whose primary purpose, and source of their livelihood and position in this entourage, is to procure drugs to keep the celebrity content and functioning as well as possible. Needless to say, these individuals can be a major threat to treatment success and ongoing sobriety.

Most addicts have limits on drug use based on lack of funds, having to procure drugs (and risking legal consequences) and needing to try to function in society. This is not an issue for wealthy clients who can enlist others to do these things. This may include professionals who, knowingly or unknowingly, contribute to exacerbating the client’s deterioration and result in their coming into treatment, if they make it at all, in a very debilitated state.

Some specific assessment areas I have found important to address are the beliefs and expectations derived from their family of origin. How was the client seen by the parents, how was love and support defined and what were the beliefs regarding success, money and status? What are the effects of being objectified and held up as a standard for others, as well as the media’s and public’s scrutiny of their personal life and the judgments, projections and expectations of the celebrity’s current predicament?

It is not uncommon to find that celebrities have very different public and private personas and may live out much of their lives pretending to be someone they aren’t and yet maintaining this false persona is integral to their livelihood.

The world of celebrity can be very short-lived and once an individual no longer brings in an audience or functions as a media commodity they will be cast off for the next “greatest or newest.” Many I deal with are struggling with the process of having once “had it” and now being perceived as having “lost it.”

The interface between the experiences of the “rich and famous” and their reflections in a culture where some individuals live out lives of vicarious identification with celebrities provides an interesting vantage point for a psychologist. Unless you are aware of the additional issues I’ve identified it can be very enticing to bask in the reflected glow of celebrity and feel that it somehow enhances your standing.

It may go without saying, but working with this population, with their ready access to funds and lawyers and the sometimes conflicting agendas of their support systems, may bring threats of litigation. It is critical always to remain professional and ethical in all of your interactions and be thorough and accurate in all documentation.

Living in southern California provides exposure to a unique media environment where dreams are quickly manufactured and yet the fragility of these dreams becomes readily apparent.

Having more money does not always make you happier; being known by others on the street does not necessarily make you feel special or loved. Being identified and approached by strangers who assume familiarity with you based on characters they have seen you play may result in feelings of vulnerability and, in extreme cases, paranoia.

Working with those who possess much of what this culture values allows me to see daily the high price individuals can pay for achieving celebrity.

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Daniel Gatlin, Ph.D., CADCII, is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified alcohol and drug counselor who has worked in the chemical dependency field for more than 20 years. He is clinical director of Renaissance Malibu in Malibu, Calif., and is an instructor in the AOD (alcohol and other drugs) Certificate program at UCLA. He may be reached at Birch411@gmail.com.

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