How Celebrities are Helping to Break the Stigma of Addiction

Written by Chloe Nicosia


The stigma of addiction prevents many people from getting the help they need. Some celebrities are speaking out about the stigma associated with drug use.

A recent Johns Hopkins University study found that in general, people are considerably more likely to have negative attitudes about drug addiction than mental illnesses. The researchers found that people are generally unsupportive of policies related to insurance, housing, and employment that benefit people with an addiction, but they’re supportive of these policies when they benefit those with a mental illness. The study attributes this discrepancy to the stigma of addiction, which leads people to believe that someone with an addiction is a bad or weak person, that addiction is a choice, and that people with an addiction simply need to exercise their willpower to stop using drugs.

The truth is, addiction is widely regarded by the medical community as a disease that has genetic, biological, and environmental underpinnings, much like heart disease and diabetes do. And just as lifestyle factors contribute to diabetes and heart disease, they also contribute to the development of addiction, in the form of substance abuse. Addiction itself is a result of brain changes that affect thought and behavior patterns and lead to intense cravings that are driven by the same mechanisms that lead us to seek out food and sex. The stigma associated with drug use and addiction is a major barrier to treatment for many people, and for many of them, coping with the stigma of addiction means keeping the addiction a secret.

Celebrities Fight the Stigma of Addiction

Stories of addicted celebrities certainly aren’t rare. It’s well known that drugs and alcohol are often central to the “celebrity lifestyle,” whether we’re talking about rock stars, movie stars, or famous athletes. But one thing celebrities have that the rest of us don’t is an enormous audience of admirers. And some celebrities who have struggled with addiction have taken their stories to their fans to inspire hope for recovery and to reduce the stigma of addiction. Here’s what some celebrities have to say about the realities of addiction.

Addiction is Not a Choice

Demi Lovato, former Disney protege and award-winning musician, speaks out often about her struggle with cocaine addiction in an effort to reduce the stigma of addiction. Her 2013 book, Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year,¬†chronicles her struggles and serves as an inspiration to her young fans who may be coping with the stigma of addiction. She stresses that her addiction wasn’t a choice, as some people believe addiction to be. “Being a former addict, looking at it as I had a choice–at some point in my disease I didn’t. I physically and emotionally couldn’t live without it.”

Addiction is Progressive

Drew Barrymore warns that addiction is progressive. “What I did,” Barrymore told People in 1989, “kept getting worse and worse, and I didn’t care what anybody else thought.” Fergie, who was addicted to crystal meth and weighed 90 pounds at the worst point in her addiction, echoes Barrymore’s sentiments. “With any drugs, everything is great at the beginning, and then slowly your life starts to spiral down,” she told Oprah in 2012. Steven Tyler agrees. He told Dr. Oz in 2013 that he lost everything. “It’s serious when you lose your kids, your children, your wife, your band, your job–and you’ll never understand why, because you’re an addict. You can’t figure that out.”

Denial is Easy

Robert Downey Jr. describes his cocaine and heroin habits as similar to having his shoelaces tied together: “The only way out of that hopeless state is intervention,” he told Rolling Stone in 2010. Eminem, who overdosed in 2007 and almost died, advocates for getting professional help for an addiction. He admits that his biggest problem with getting help was not wanting to admit that he had a problem. “Nobody wants to admit that they’re not in control of something,” he says.

Recovery is Possible, and Medication Can Help

Kristen Johnson, who starred as Wilma in The Flintstones and enjoyed a long-lived role in 3rd Rock from the Sun, openly discusses her alcohol and drug addiction in her book GUTS, which brought her national recognition. Johnson is a vocal advocate for medication-assisted treatment, which helped her kick her own opioid addiction. She also appeared in the documentary film The Anonymous People about addiction and Alcoholics Anonymous, and she started a charity called SLAM NYC (Sobriety, Learning, and Motivation), which helps high schools drive home a drug-free message.

The Truth About Addiction

Now in recovery, these and other famous former addicts are preaching the truth about addiction: That addiction is a disease, that it gets worse with time, that denial is an addict’s worst enemy, and that treatment is the way out. They work to encourage fans who may be struggling with their own addiction to seek help. Celebrities hope that by sharing their own stories, they can help others see that anyone can become addicted, and once an addiction develops, it requires treatment, just like any other disease.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.