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In the 21st century, many things seem to have us addicted- our phones, social media, Netflix, celebrity gossip, etc. We use the word “addicted” more like hyperbole. We use it to describe our dependence on such things metaphorically, not literally. So, when do we use the word ‘addiction’ literally? The first thing that pops to mind for sure, is an addiction to drugs and substances. So yes, that is where the word is given its literal meaning. Severe dependence on drugs and substances.

Speaking of the 21st century, the world has seen a great shift towards more liberal and accepting standards in recent years. As a society, we have started to validate and perhaps even encourage things that were once hushed and brushed under the carpet. One such topic and practice is that of substance use. People of all ages have started to take pride in this practice. It has become somewhat a rite of passage. Children are no longer afraid of doing drugs and adults are no longer careful of exposing such substances to the youth. Combine these two attitudes together and you end up with what you have today; opioid epidemics, increased deaths by overdose, rise in underage consumption, and so on.

Paparazzi crowding around a celebrity/ celebrities

Drugs abuse is so common and an international issue for various reasons. Societal pressure, an urge to ‘fit in’, mental and physical trauma, mental issues, and recreational use are some of the reasons why people abuse drugs and get addicted. These reasons vary from age groups, cultures, and even professions. The ambit of this article pertains to addiction in celebrities. Celebrities have become notorious for alcohol and drug abuse over the past 10-15 years, not realizing how their actions influence the masses. This is particularly alarming due to the detrimental effects of these substances. Celebrities hold a position of power and influence over the general public.

Zac Efron Drugs and Alcohol Addiction

It is common knowledge that fans try to mimic the habits of celebrities, and many diehard fans actually start adopting lifestyles quite similar to their favorite star. Thus, when the pictures and videos of celebrities partying and enjoying themselves while doing drugs are released, many start to follow in their footsteps. It gives the public and youth an excuse to start abusing drugs and makes it something “cool” in society now that a celebrity has done it. This adds to the vulnerability to addiction in youth and leads to many health concerns.

Some of the substances commonly abused by celebrities include alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and weed. Some might turn to steroids to help them achieve the body they desire. These drugs are mainly used for recreational purposes and have become inherent in the “party” culture. Parties are a huge part of a celebrity’s career and are more than just about fun and entertainment. Throwing big parties can show wealth and influence.

Similarly, arranging to do illegal or taboo activities is another supposedly proud thing to do at parties. Celebrities usually attend these parties seeking an opportunity over drinks or with a more business point of view. Nevertheless, parties are essential, and they seem to be incomplete without drugs and drinks. Whether or not addiction amongst the very famous can be attributed to recreational use or to cope with the hardships and struggles that they face as a consequence of their fame seems like a quite trivial question

Often, it is hard to connect the dots between these difficulties as a direct consequence of fame but it is fair to say that these hardships are only magnified when you’re living your life in the limelight.

To Cope with Loss or Emotions

As far as the case for recreational use, drug usage was mainly glorified amongst the ‘rockstars’. Genres like hip-hop seemed to frown upon the idea of drug addiction and braggadocious songwriting portrayed the idea of selling and dealing drugs in much positive light. However, it didn’t take long for ‘rappers’ to openly write about their own substance abuse in songs and this drug glorification didn’t take long to appeal to the mainstream audience as artists like Eminem began topping charts and winning accolades in the early 2000s.

In the case of Eminem, this casual use of the substance in a more perky sense led to serious problems later on in his career. The death of his best friend in 2006 and a second divorce with the mother of his child around the same time was evidence of how the celebrity lifestyle would take a toll on the artist. Having grown up in a black neighborhood, this white rapper stood out and was bullied. Overall, he had a troublesome youth as his father estranged him when he was just a toddler and his mom was a drug addict. Trouble followed him through his youth and even when he became a father. In 2007, Eminem (Marshall Bruce Mathers), consumed a deadly amount of methadone; the equivalent of four bags of heroin which led to a serious overdose as doctors told him that he was “two hours from dying. Fortunately, he made recovery.

This is a classic example of how emotional baggage and loss of loved ones can drive a celebrity to start abusing drugs.

Looking like a Star

Apart from problems involving close ones, celebrities also have their fair share of problems involving a much wider demographic as the power of celebrities is primarily rooted in their acceptance from their fans and followers. Trying to appease their fans and live up to expectations is something they constantly have to do and Kanye West is no stranger to that.

 Being arguably one of the most influential artists of the modern generation and having his influence transcends across genres and possibly decades, Kanye has established his position as a celebrity with a strong media presence. However, for someone not only meeting but exceeding expectations through his art so regularly and effortlessly, it often came as a surprise to fans when he revealed his opioid addiction and most importantly its reasons. He told TMZ in 2018 that he went through liposuction in 2016 as he points out the reason for this to be a fear of constant scrutiny about his weight and the way his body would look. “I was trying to look good for y’all” and “I didn’t want y’all to call me fat” is what he said as he shared that it was after this surgery that he started getting addicted to opioids and it, later on, went from taking 2 pills a day to 7!

Playing the Part

Hollywood actors are also no strangers to substance abuse and some even at an arguable peak of their career have had serious drug abuse problems which have also led to death. One of the most memorable and arguably one of the best portrayals of a psychopathic villain in recent history was when Christopher Nolan released “The Dark Knight” the critically acclaimed sequel to his first Batman movie, “Batman Begins”. The villain ‘Joker’ was played by actor Heath Ledger.

Related: Drug Abuse in Athletes and Professionals

In a career-defining performance and arguably the pinnacle of his career Heath delivered an outstanding and Oscar-winning performance, but just as he was apparently on top of the world, his personal life was taking a dark and catastrophic turn. Playing a psychopathic, murderous clown with zero remorse, was a role he had to work intensely for as he described his preparation routines which sounded draining, to say the least. His insomnia seemed to worsen through the process, and his split with his partner only worsened things.

Being a casual drug user in the past, this relationship with intoxicating substances was taking a turn for the worse as his drug use increased trying to cope with these problems and it wasn’t long before 28-year-old Heath Ledger lost his life to drugs shortly after the release of the film as his absence was heavily felt amongst his Hollywood colleagues when he won the Oscar for his performance.

Their character came becomes a shadow that follows them in real life, and as portrayed by the example of Ledger, it is clear that this shadow can take over and lead to the destruction of the person behind the role.

The ‘Rockstar’ Image

Sometimes, however, substance abuse can also be a consequence of conscious and voluntary decision-making. In the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene, drugs are largely seen as an aesthetic prerequisite to adhere to the demanding standards set by the image of the “Rockstar”. A heavily drug-induced subculture where listeners and artists alike, turn to the use of intoxicants mainly to fit in, is evidence of the fact that peer pressure is not just limited to the adolescent experience. When you’re seeking approval in an industry where drug abuse is so normalized and as an artist, even have the financial means to purchase these substances it just feels wrong to not do it.

Coping Physically

The driving factor behind addiction is also at times, more ‘practical’. Artists, when on tour are said to have used drugs to often relax and rest after tiresome performances on stage and constant traveling. Some also believe that drugs help with their creative process and performance. In an interview on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” lead singer of the rock band Aerosmith, Steven Tyler described how the use of cocaine gives the band more stamina when performing which makes it easier to do long shows while putting up exciting performances for fans.


 Alcohol, the most commonly abused substance by celebrities, has countless short-term and long-term side effects. Drinking in moderation and occasionally may not be that injurious to health, but consistent and excessive drinking can cause various health issues. These include comparatively less harmful side effects like behavior changes, to more problematic effects like cancer and heart disease.

The very first adverse effect of alcohol is slurred speech. The person also experiences hallucinations after the person becomes dependent and tries to withdraw. Blackouts are also very common, and the person can easily wake up with no recollection of what happened the day before. Muscle cramps occur in excessive drinkers which can lead to muscle death.

Tingling and pain in hands and feet can occur, signaling damage to the central nervous system. Liver damage is common in alcoholics, in which the person’s liver is unable to perform its function of breaking down harmful substances in the body. Furthermore, muscle coordination difficulties occur and it becomes difficult to maintain balance and even walk. Brain shrinkage, infertility, thinning of bones, as well as cancer, and heart damage as mentioned earlier, are some more alarming effects of consuming alcohol too frequently.


Marijuana also called weed, pot, and dope is smoked by numerous celebrities (e.g. Seth Rogen, Miley Cyrus, Snoop Dog, and Brad Pitt) quite openly. Cannabis, the plant where Marijuana is extracted, causes hindrances in our ability to balance, perform reflex actions and properly coordinate our movements. It also causes nausea and creates memory formation difficulties. Insomnia is common, and so are breathing difficulties similar to tobacco smoke. Circulation is greatly affected and it raises heart rate sporadically. If a pregnant mother engages in cannabis-smoking, her baby will suffer from birth defects like trouble concentrating. Lastly, marijuana weakens the immune system overall.

Celebrities and Cocaine

Cocaine, yet another highly addictive celebrity favorite, is also called coke, snow, rock, and crack. Daniel Radcliffe, Robert Downey Jr., Zac Efron, Oprah, Mathew Perry, and Demi Lovato are among those who have battled with cocaine addiction. Short-term effects of the drug include paranoia, irritability, and decreased appetite. More intense side effects from long-term use include heart disease and stroke, seizures, lung damage, memory loss, low attention span, and loss of smell.

Cocaine Abuse and its Side Effects

If it is administered via injections, HIV and hepatitis are major risks. Initially, cocaine causes minor side effects like dizziness, abdominal pain, chest pain, restlessness, breathing difficulties, and extremely low blood pressure. That said, these “minor” sided effects are still extremely dangerous, especially if they persist. The mother can potentially guarantee her child having a premature birth and different neuronal defects while being pregnant.

Xanax Abuse in Hollywood

Xanax is another common drug amongst celebrities. It is medically prescribed as an anti-anxiety drug. Since celebrities are so vulnerable to stress and pressure, it could take a toll on their mental health and lead them to turn to such drugs. One can easily develop tolerance to anxiety requiring them to take more and more of the drug to achieve certain effects. Once addicted, the user loses internet in other activities and becomes obsessed with the drug. Withdrawal symptoms are also quite scary and could be deadly. Abuse and overdose can lead to difficulty breathing, fainting, and entering a coma. From 2005 to 2010, emergency room visits due to abuse of Xanax doubled (57,400 to 124, 902).

Steroids in Celebrities

Steroid use has also been common in celebrities. They have used the drug to fit into their roles. Celebrities like Dwayne the Rock Johnson and Sylvester Stallone have fessed up to taking steroids. They use these performance-enhancing drugs to have their body look a certain way. Misuse of anabolic steroids can lead to kidney failure, liver damage, and even strokes and heart attacks.

Demi Lovato and Substance Abuse

The first time Demi Lovato opened up about her drug herself use was in 2017. In her documentary Simply Complicated, she mentioned how befriending a popular girl at school introduced her to the life of drinking and drugs. She experimented with cocaine for the first time at the raw age of 17, when she was one of Disney’s prized possessions. Despite her mom warning her, Demi loved how it felt and did it anyway because she was looking for what her father found in drugs. The Camp Rock star was also battling an eating disorder and self-harm alongside drug use and sought help for the first time in 2010. In January 2011, she left rehab and was not ready to stay sober.

 She was also later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She reports sneaking cocaine on planes, bathrooms, and her room without anyone finding out. Despite having sober companions, as part of the rehab program, she continued abusing. Even the night before her performance on American Idol in 2012, she had gotten drunk.

From the beginning of 2013, Sonny with a Chance star was sober and this lasted long enough for her to realize the mess she had created for herself. She explains in Simply Complicated how tough it was to stay sober, so much so that she had to sit on her hands to prevent herself from reaching for drugs. In March 2018, Demi marked her 6 years of sobriety.

In July, she was rushed to the ER after a life-threatening overdose. She had 3 strokes and a heart attack, as well as brain damage after this. She is still not able to drive, and only recently stepped back on stage in 2020. Currently, the popstar is focusing on herself and her career- she released a YouTube documentary called Dancing with the Devil in which she gives viewers an in-depth view of her life, including her battle with substance abuse.

Robert Downey Jr. and Drug Addiction

Standing amongst some of the highest-paid actors, Robert Downey Jr. has had trouble staying out of rehab since his career began. The Iron Man actor began indulging in drugs before hitting his teens when his father let him try marijuana at the age of 8 at a party. He has disclosed in an interview how doing drugs with his father was a form of bonding. He was frequently using whilst his career was merely kicking off, and even got arrested for engaging in reckless behavior due to substance abuse.

 To narrate one of the incidents in 1996; the rising star was caught speeding under the influence and also carrying heroin and cocaine, after which he was sent to rehab. In 1999, he was sent to rehab for 6 months, after a few imprisonments and consequent paroles. Around this time, he hit his “rock bottom”, as the actor calls it himself when he lost all his money and was close to bankruptcy. He got fired from his ongoing show Ally McBeal, and even his wife left him, taking their son with her. This was his turning point and the future Iron Man set on his road to recovery.

Although his good behavior was set in motion, albeit gradually, Robert Downey Jr. gave it his all when he got involved with one of his movie producers Susan Levin. Soon-to-be Tony Stark in Marvel’s Iron Man successfully beat his addiction and now lives a happy sober life, relatively away from cameras and at home (when he is not filming).

Johnny Depp and Substance Abuse

Like Demi Lovato, Johnny Depp also has a family history of drug use which contributed to his substance use as well. Another reason why the Edward Scissor-hands’ became dependent on drugs was due to living in an abusive home. In an interview with People Magazine, he revealed that he began smoking cigarettes at the age of 12 and it was not long before he started doing drugs and drinking alcohol.

Despite landing good roles on screen, like in 21 Jump Street, he was still doing drugs off the screens in an attempt to not “feel things”. In 1993, he stated that he was poisoning himself beyond belief. He attempted to remedy his behavior after marrying his (now ex) wife Vanessa Paradis in 2008. He has admitted to giving his daughter marijuana when she was only 13 and argued this was only because he was being a “responsible parent”.

By 2014 Johnny Depp had fallen deep into the realm of drugs, so much so that he communicated how he had blackouts with no recollections of all that happened during them. Furthermore, he also appeared drunk at the Hollywood Film Awards, despite denying it, and gave a very muffled and slurred speech. He got married twice, but ultimately, both wives filed for divorce, the first in 1985 and the second in 2017. During his court hearings over the case against a UK publisher called him a “wife-beater”, several photos of him have surfaced showing him passed out due to excessive drug use.

The Pirates of the Caribbean actor has denied using cocaine but has admitted to alcohol and “medications”. Most recently, his drug use is out of the radar and is being honored at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain.

Matthew Perry and Addiction

Well-known actor Matthew Perry became a sensation after landing a lead role in the American sitcom Friends, playing Chandler Bing. In 1997, Perry had an accident while jet skiing, leading him to take Vicodin. He was already drinking, and now drugs also made their way into his life as he kept taking the pills despite recovering from his injury. He admitted being “out of control and very unhealthy”. He got himself into rehab, but a mere 28 days later he returned home. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with pancreatitis due to alcohol abuse. Matthew Perry was so severely dependent on alcohol that even such a deadly illness was not enough for him to let go of his addiction.

During the same time span, he smashed his car into an empty house. The entire cast of Friends, who are real-life friends as well, tried their best to help him recover, but Perry was not ready to become sober. He says he does not recall three entire seasons of the show due to his drug-loaded behavior.

Eventually, his own fears helped him achieve sobriety in2001 when he quit because he was afraid of dying not because of wanting to be sober. He entered rehab again, this time with full concentration on becoming clean. He created a sober-living facility called Perry Home in 2013 and still works tirelessly to help others grappling with sobriety.

Rehabilitation is of many types, but the ultimate goal for any of these is to show a healthy path to the person seeking treatment and helping them recover fully successfully. A few of these types include:

  1. Psychological rehab- where the person’s mental image of themselves is restored as well as their anxieties and fears
  2. Psychosocial rehab- includes improving a person’s emotional and social skills
  3. Medical rehab- helps the person improve in their daily activities and functions
  4. Neurological rehab- it is for people recovering from diseases and illnesses
  5. Drug rehab- this involves helping addicts let go of their dependency and lead healthy

We will focus only on drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers for purpose of the topic at hand. Rehab and treatment sessions differ in duration, intensity, and plan to depend on what and who it is for. For example, someone struggling with alcoholism for the past 10 years is likely to have a firmer and more extensive regimen than someone who became dependent last year.

There are different types of centers for treatment as well. For example, a short-term residential program is only a 3-6 weeks hospital-based phase, after which the person is sent to a residential treatment home and aftercare programs occur that aim to keep the person out of destructive actions even after rehab.

Conversely, long-term residential treatment involves attention 24/7 in settings other than a hospital. The average stay time is 6-12 months. The effect of addiction on a person’s psychological as well as social life is studied before arising with a plan. Individualized counseling tries to alleviate other areas of disturbed functioning such as family relations and job, besides eliminating drug/alcohol use.

Treatment options have also been modified for people with special needs, adolescents, women, criminals, and those with mental disorders. Outpatient treatment options are less costly than the options aforementioned and are better for those with jobs, but may not be as reliable due to the lack of extensive monitoring.

Group counseling is yet another form of treatment. Here, group discussions and reinforcement techniques help to improve the addicts’ life. Combining group therapy with individual counseling and/or cognitive behavior therapy is shown to be more effective in abstinence.

Depending on each case, drug rehab may also include sessions that help in anger management, stress management and improve the ability to handle various issues. In a conventional center, there are two 12-step sessions a day that focuses on addiction and recovery.

Although the general structure of each rehab center is the same, its extravagance varies and the addict chooses a suitable one based on their financial status. A celebrity is likely to seek admission in luxurious centers, e.g. Promises where Lindsay Lohan went, and Crossroads where Britney Spears went.

Celebrities in Rehab

In recovery, celebrities in recovery include Ben Affleck who took to social media and stated “If you have a problem, getting help is a sign of courage, not weakness or failure.” Drew Barrymore also was an addict who is in recovery. After the success in High School Musical, the star Zac Efron started drinking and became addicted to drugs. In 2013, he began rehab. Known as Rachel for her iconic role in the Friends series, Jennifer Anniston was also one of the many Hollywood stars addicted to drugs. She underwent intense rehab and now copes with addiction by focusing on exercise.

As seen so far, many reasons existing behind celebrity addiction make it so common. It seems like a web entangling you on all sides and you have no way out. We also saw how there is a way to get out. Rehab options exist and can be very effective. Celebrities like Eminem successfully underwent rehab and emerged sober, without turning back to drugs.

As noted earlier, celebrities carry a heavyweight of keeping up their image as well as knowing that their life is not private anymore. Every move they make is being watched by glaring eyes. Some of these moves are surely imitated by fans. Actions such as drug abuse make it more acceptable in society and inspire vulnerable people to start doing drugs, ultimately leading to addiction.

Amongst celebrities, drug abuse has been common for numerous mental and physical factors. This has led to abuse, addiction, and some serious long-term damage. Celebrities put their lives at risk just for a few minutes of pleasure. They are prepared to keep up with their image of being “cool” at the cost of their health. They are willing to sacrifice what they have just to feel or look a certain way. It is not only scary and unfortunate to society; it is also worrisome and concerning from the celebrity’s point of view as well. A human being having to go through all this. Singers like Demi Lovato have conveyed their struggles to their fans through songs such as a recent one called “Sober” where she apologizes to her fans and loved ones after having another episode of relapse.

We saw that instances of addiction and drug abuse is more common nowadays. Only recently, the famous rapper Juice Wrld lost his life after a painkiller overdose at the age of 21. “Higgins died as a result of oxycodone and codeine toxicity,” according to the medical examiner. These drugs he used are used as painkillers and contain opioids. Another rapper called Lil Peep died after a Xanax and fentanyl overdose, in 2017. He was just 21 years old too.

We have discussed the addiction of many other famous celebrities above and some names have shocked us. Given the circumstances and the social attitude today, it seems quite difficult to control this issue. Society is moving towards such practices faster than before. Cases and deaths being caused by abuse and overdose age are getting more common. Decisive action needs to be taken.

The authorities and lawmakers have the power to bring a drastic change in order to see change. Schools need to educate students about the harmful effects of drugs thoroughly so that all the burden is not just on parents. The parents too must be careful towards this sensitive issue, paying attention to any changes in their child’s behavior as well as ensuring they are not getting exposure to content inappropriate for their age. Celebrities must appreciate the responsibilities they carry.

The famous country singer Taylor Swift has publicly appreciated this responsibility in an interview in December 2014, narrating how she never had a drink before the age of 21. She talks about how she does drink now and then and that she was “paranoid about getting in trouble or setting the wrong example or sending the wrong message”. This shows that celebrities do have what it takes to steer clear of what they know is not just harmful to them but to the public at large.

Fame is a fickle friend. The price to pay is not a small one, but it’s not worth your life.


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