High drug use in Hollywood
“It’s so obvious that this is a population that has a huge appetite for drugs.” Drew Pinsky, MD
The death of Heath Ledger – considered an accidental overdose of prescription medications – is another indication of how much drug use there is in the entertainment community.
He also reportedly had a long history of drug use and misuse.
Actor Megan Fox said in a Maxim magazine interview that she knows only five other people in Hollywood, other than herself, who do not routinely use drugs.
Dr. Drew Pinsky, of the VH1 show “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew,” affirms in an article that Hollywood drug abuse is widespread – much higher than it is in the general population, because, the article says, “those attracted to acting and fame tend to be narcissists who often struggle with various mental health issues, and then have the means to procure a constant drug supply and keep it quiet when they lose control.”
“They have all kinds of pathology,” Pinsky said, citing a study he did on narcissism among Hollywood celebrities.
“It’s so obvious that this is a population that has a huge appetite for drugs. So their behaviour, their horrible relationships, their addiction is not caused by celebrity, but is allowed to spiral into a fatal illness because of their celebrity status.”
[Dr. Pinsky has admitted his own drug use: “I did drugs and alcohol when I was 22, 23 years old…cocaine, alcohol, pot.” From radaronline.com article.]
Not all actors are narcissists or addicts
Of course, Pinsky is just expressing his own perspective. Maybe it is true that many actors who seek fame do have mental health issues such as narcissism.
But many actors are not in it for fame, and many do not have drug abuse problems. The media tends to report only problems, and perpetuates celeb rehab as another kind of titillating news.
One point of talking about substance abuse here, is to point out potential mental health problems actors can have, problems that limit their creative expression.
The media can stop enabling
The article mentioned above quotes Elizabeth Snead, a blogger for the Los Angeles Times, about seeing actor Brad Renfro at an L.A. party. He died of suspected substance-abuse causes.
“I watched a very under-the-influence Brad Renfro make quite a scene at a swanky Hollywood party several years ago. Not only did none of his celebrity friends, or the publicists throwing the bash, find his stumbling, slurring, falling down and bleeding nose unusual, but not one reporter covering the party reported it,” she wrote. “I tried to. But it was edited out of my then-newspaper’s party item.”
[Related article: Death spiral – By Rachel Abramowitz, Los Angeles Times – “Actor Brad Renfro’s sad death, despite efforts to lift him from substance abuse, was saddening but not surprising in a town that calls to the troubled as well as the talented.”]
But there may be changes coming in media, toward reportage more helpful than just TMZ-style “coverage” of drug misuse, such as DUIs and slurred celebs confronting photographers.
Several celebrities, among them Kirsten Dunst [photo], Amy Winehouse and Eva Mendes, have entered rehab since Ledger’s demise, and the above article says there are also signs that his death “has forced news outlets to examine their past tendency to keep quiet about stars struggling with drug problems.”
But it isn’t a matter of only the media “keeping quiet” – as Elizabeth Snead noted, it is family, friends, producers, coaches, publicists and others who may enable destructive behavior.
Brad Pitt once commented, “We are treated as special. We get away with things that other people can’t. And you start to believe the lie that you are special, that you’re better than other people.”
Celebrities aren’t special when it comes to drugs
Perhaps that narcissistic lie that you are “special” extends to how some people think about their drug use: that they are somehow immune from ordinary medical consequences, because they are so “powerful.”
Heath Ledger died of an accidental overdose of six prescription drugs, with a combination of painkillers, tranquilizers and sleeping aids found in his system, officials said.
Maia Szalavitz, a journalist who covers health, science and public policy, explains, “The toxicology results are in on Heath Ledger’s death — and sadly, they reveal the most common scenario in overdose fatalities. At least six different drugs were found in his system, including oxycodone and benzodiazepines. This is a combination of opioids and other ‘down’ or ‘depressant’ drugs: the most dangerous combination.”
Early lives may hold some answers
Philip Seymour Hoffman [Best Actor Oscar nominee for “Capote”] admitted he used drugs and alcohol earlier in his life. A lot.
“It was all that stuff. It was anything I could get my hands on. I liked it all.” He got sober, he says, because “You get panicked. I was 22, and I got panicked for my life.”
That is from my article Actors and Addiction, in which I also note that addiction psychologist Marc F. Kern, Ph.D. says “Altering one’s state of consciousness is normal” and that a destructive habit or addiction is “mostly an unconscious strategy – which you started to develop at a naive, much earlier stage of life – to enjoy the feelings it brought on or to help cope with uncomfortable emotions or feelings. It is simply an adaptation that has gone awry.”
William H. Macy once commented, “Nobody became an actor because he had a good childhood.”
That may not be absolutely true – and to some extent, we have all had less than ideal childhoods – regardless of what profession or creative path we take. The issue is how to deal with the anxiety and narcissistic needs that often accompany being an artist, without damaging your spirit or threatening your life.
His interesting quote is one I have used in other articles, including Artists and Addiction – which includes many actors.
Another related article: Psychologist Cheryl Arutt on Creative Artist Issues.