Celebrity drug addictions are an open secret in Hollywood. The exact cause of the abuse and addiction varies wildly. As unbelievable as it may seem, many people that seem to have the world at their fingertips still suffer from heavy depression. Celebrity drug use has steadily increased since the ’70s. However, so has drug use in the general public.
Celebrities also have a much higher level of access to drugs. The celebrity drug culture, which isn’t to say that all celebrities deal with drug abuse, has a trickle-down effect on the surrounding neighborhoods.
This article provides a detailed description of addiction in the film industry.
Hollywood is full of tragic tales where the most promising entertainers deal with addiction. Most people can name at least a handful of musicians, actors, and comedians who were known to drink too much or abuse heavy drugs at one time or another. But, you don’t have to be a celebrity to develop an addiction. From a production assistant to an executive producer, every job in Hollywood comes with stress and access to drugs.
Something could be said as well for the seemingly circular nature of Hollywood drug use. Celebrities help shape the culture, and as such, they have unbelievable influence, especially in youth. Hollywood tends to make drug use seem cool, sleek, and sexy. There are thousands of movies of smoking protagonists, drunken heroes, and more than the occasional shiftless stoner. This illusion of drug use where the hero still succeeds has a great time doing it, and never truly faces the repercussions for heavy drug use can draw many people in.
Addiction and homelessness are a severe socioeconomic issue in L.A. Skid Row, a poverty-stricken neighborhood in L.A. is thought to have over 80,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night. Most of which are youths and runaways. In 2008, over 41,000 people were arrested for drug-related offenses. 37% of California students in grades 9-12 have admitted to trying marijuana, which is just shy of the national average.
These numbers serve to paint a stark picture of addiction in L.A. Addiction can be inherited. However, for many, it is a dependence that comes from a combination of trauma, exposure, and culture.
The exact number of people in L.A. struggling with addiction is unknown. In 2009, L.A. County listed the number as approx. 60,000.
Marijuana, alcohol, meth, and cocaine are the most commonly abused drugs in L.A. Alcohol and marijuana are also in no short supply in California.
Assistants have one of the most valuable roles in Hollywood. Multi-million-dollar studios, events, and personalities require people to help manage the thousands of moving parts required to accomplish this artistic endeavor. Assistants in Hollywood are put through a gauntlet of ever-changing demands. However, these constant stressors can open the door to severe substance abuse issues.
Assistants face several challenges in their day-to-day life. These are the most common:
Movie assistants are under constant pressure to prove themselves to their bosses. Unrealistic expectations, lack of validation, low pay, and lack of upward mobility can drive many high-level assistants to anxiety and depression. These feelings can lead to drug abuse to dangerously self-medicate. In some cases, assistants may abuse caffeine or illegal stimulants to increase alertness and productivity and then develop an addiction.
Entertainment assistants have reported verbal, emotional, and physical abuse at the hands of their bosses. There are many examples of objects being thrown, micro-aggressions, and sexual abuse. The #MeToo movement has brought the rampant sexual coercion in Hollywood to the attention of the general public. Being abused at work can lead to varying degrees of psychological trauma. People who’ve experienced trauma are more likely to abuse drugs. Hollywood is a place where the practice of being black-balled is still a risk. This means that assistants risk their entire career, and as such overall life earnings, by speaking out.
Hollywood is a social machine. Every day, there are thousands of new people all looking for their shot at fame and fame-adjacency. This makes all but those at the very top replaceable. Assistants receive repeated threats of replacements for seemingly minor mistakes. This can lead to a lack of self-worth and a heightened sense of anxiety. What makes it worse is that in many situations, the severe punishment of being replaced is not equal to the reward for success.1
Hollywood assistants and other jobs considered “low-tier” in Hollywood can face extreme examples of being overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. It’s no wonder Hollywood assistants are part of addiction in the film industry.
Several other factors play into the high rate of drug use in Hollywood. Here are the most common:
There are billions of dollars circling Hollywood any given day. But very small amounts make it into the hands of all but the highest-paid. This gap in wealth drives down working wages. Simply put, most people are willing to do hundreds of hours of hard work for less than the minimum wage just to get their foot in the door. Studio executives are willing to let them. Wage disparities in Hollywood have been a source of contention for years. As costs of living continue to rise, the average wage remains stagnant. Poverty increases the chance of someone using drugs, especially alcohol.
Hollywood is home to any number of dangerous production sets, unsafe situations, and volatile influences. These factors, combined with the additional anxiety, threats, or abuse, lead to poor working conditions. Many workers undergo trauma and injury during their jobs.
We’ve all heard stories about the demands of celebrities. Assistants, sound-technicians, novice actors, and more all face the brunt of these demands. Because Hollywood is full of big names, it’s almost impossible to tell which one demand may lead to a future career or is a mistake wait-ing to happen. The stress and anxiety of this system can rapidly degrade mental health.2
Executives decide the fate of production and often the fate of workers trying to establish a career. This means that many studio executives wield absolute power within the confines of Hollywood. However, they too have quotas to meet and their own bosses to satisfy. When every deal might be worth millions, the level of stress increases.
Burnout affects almost every job in Hollywood. Plenty of A-list celebrities have been admitted into rehab for exhaustion, depression, and drug use. Studio executives’ draft deals, have meetings, run events, satiate big-name clients, etc. A studio executive may have better resources than lower-tier jobs, but the tasks they have to accomplish are almost astronomical in comparison. This constant franticness can lead to mental and physical exhaustion that leads to drug abuse. Executive burnout is a large part of addiction in the film industry.
Pulling double duty as a producer and entertainer requires filling several roles. This leads to burnout. Chances are the actor playing the main character on your favorite long-running tv show is also a producer. This may explain why many actors who play long-running tv characters tend to step back from the public eye for an extended period.
Addiction in entertainers is the most visible part of addiction in the film industy. Between 1970-2015 over 220 celebrities died from complications resulting from drug use.
Generally, actors and directors possess an artistic mindset. Studies have shown a connection be-tween artistry and drug use.3
Science has shown a link between intelligence and addiction. The prevailing theory is that intel-ligent people are more susceptible to trauma. Trauma, in turn, leads to addiction. In terms of art-ists, this trauma is then funneled into art as a way of confronting and understanding traumatic events.4
Creative and intelligent people are acutely aware of their mortality and the continuous passing of time. Even at a young age, creatives may develop depressive thoughts regarding the monotony of everyday life. These thoughts are anxious in and of themselves. This creates a psychological need to collect experiences.4
Creatives are generally more empathetic and sensitive than their counterparts. This openness to the world can lead to abusing drugs to dull the senses as a way to deal with criticism or over-stimulation.
Creatives seek experiences, new outlooks, and variety. These impulsive and thrill-seeking habits can lead to abusing substances.
Celebrities, especially A-list celebrities, lead a vastly different life than the general public. This means they have their own specific set of setbacks. Here are the most common:
Hollywood is a place of high highs and low lows. Even one public misstep to overwrite years of success and end a career. Celebrities are aware of this and must attempt to put their best foot forward, mince their words, and live with a healthy amount of suspicion. These added factors can cause severe stress, insecurity, and depression.
Many celebrities bring in millions per year with royalties. However, this also means they adapt to a high cost of living. Multiple homes, vehicles, ventures, and other expenses can increase to millions per year over time. In many situations, celebrities have to keep working year-round to maintain their financial status. Losing even one endorsement deal or having a project flop can cost them millions of dollars. The need to always be on top can cause overwhelming stress levels.
The upper echelon of society tends to have more leeway with consequences. For example, the average cost for a DUI is approx. $5,000. A relatively small amount for most well-to-do celebrities. This lack of true consequences can warp perception.
Bollywood, the entertainment organization of India, has long been rumored to have rampant drug use. Recently, the death of major Bollywood stars due to drugs has sparked a renewed interest in Bollywood substance abuse. Hollywood is not the only place dealing with addiction in the film industry.
Bollywood star Sushant Sing Rajput died in 2020 from suicide. Unfortunately, after his passing, it was discovered that he might be linked to the illegal drug trade. Following this controversy, actress Kangana Ranaut released a statement saying that 90% of Bollywood is dealing with drug use.
The use of drugs in Bollywood has been steadily increasing over the last 10 years.5 This shows that drug addiction is not limited to the American entertainment industry. It is a serious risk for any environment that imposes similar conditions.
Historically, drug addiction has been a source of shame for many. Societal views of addiction attribute to this. Even in modern times, addiction is still misunderstood. Creating an open and honest conversation about the disease model of addiction and the steps needed to overcome it is crucial to the future health of not just Hollywood but many environments.
Past generations of Hollywood, specifically the ’90s and prior, had a habit of encouraging or ignoring drug use on set. This practice set the groundwork for the nature of addiction in the entertainment industry today.
Many entertainers have hidden or had their addiction hidden by studios. Here are a few:
Elvis Presley (1935-1977) – Elvis Presley died from a chemical concoction of prescribed medications. However, a drug overdose would’ve ruined his family-friendly image and cut into post-mortem record sales. The studios, coroners, and his family conspired to destroy the autopsy results to preserve his image.
Marilyn Monroe ( 1926-1962) – Is suspected of having died from barbiturates overdose. However, this finding was covered up by the local police department at the behest of her studio.
Judy Garland (1922-1969) – Died from a lifetime of barbiturate consumption. Most of which she became addicted as a child to keep up with rigorous studio demands.
In the “Golden age” of Hollywood, it wasn’t uncommon to be prescribed a variety of stimulates and depressives to meet studio expectations for workloads.6
Discussing addiction in the film industry will help several groups. Here are just a few:
Having a comprehensive conversation about addiction with young actors can provide them the tools and information they need to avoid drug use when the opportunity arises. It also helps to un-romanticize drug use.
Talking with entertainment workers about the prevalence of drug addiction and the stressors of the job can help set reasonable expectations.
Ensuring that fans understand the full consequences of illicit drug use can help remove the stigma surrounding addiction recovery. Major fans of celebrities spend a lot of time consciously emulating them. Helping fans understand that what they see on screen isn’t the whole picture can help curb the craving to try drugs.
Celebrity drug addiction is often hidden to preserve an image. However, hundreds of celebrities have spoken openly about their past or current drug addictions, including:
Actor Dax Sheppard is outspoken about his journey to sobriety. In his late teens and early twenties, he suffered from substance use disorder. However, recently after 16 years of sobriety, he relapsed. He is reportedly back in therapy and again practicing sobriety. His openness towards his battles serves as a reminder that relapsing is a real potential. Relapsing is common. Seeking out help and committing to a new plan is vital to rejoining the fight against addiction.7
Actress Jamie Lee Curtis held a serious prescription drug addiction for over a decade before she realized she needed help. Now she routinely practices sobriety and urges others to do the same. She maintains an open and honest discussion about her addiction and how she overcomes it.8
There are several options for addiction treatment in the film industry. Here are the most recommended:
Inpatient treatment is a 24/7 stay in a supportive medical environment. Medical professionals monitor patients and administer medication to help treat the symptoms of withdrawal. Inpatient care is a solid option for those that need intensive care.
Outpatient treatment is structured around weekly or monthly check-ins and long-term care plans. Outpatient treatment sometimes involves random drug tests to verify sobriety. Outpatient treatment is good for individuals who can’t leave their day-to-day life.
Detox treatment involves allowing the body to filter out illicit drugs and treating withdrawal symptoms. This process happens naturally but can be aided by medicinal practices.
Residential treatment resembles community living in which an emotional support system is paramount. Residential treatments often offer extended stays. This treatment option is good for those that need to entirely disconnect from their environment to begin the healing process.
Therapies help build the emotional tools necessary to overcome addiction. They also create a safe space to gain a better understanding of addiction. Therapy is a great option for anyone living with substance abuse or mental illness.
Addiction in Hollywood closely resembles addiction in the general public. In the end, regardless of profession, substance abuse frequently requires outside help for a successful recovery. And it’s not always easy to admit that addiction is a problem. Remember to be patient with yourself and others in terms of achieving long-lasting sobriety.