Addiction from the Outside Looking in


beauty girl cryHeath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Cory Monteith, River Phoenix – and other talented celebrities we had all seen and grown to love, only to later learn that these gifted individuals were are all victims of addiction. During my own active addiction I had many friends who overdosed, went to jail or passed away due to their drug abuse. Unfortunately, these crises weren’t concerning enough for me to get sober. It took more internally-driven motivation for me to straighten out and, after years of drug use, I finally got clean and am now standing on the outside of addiction looking in.

Celebrity Deaths

For most people, it is normal to not feel emotional about a celebrity who dies in tragic circumstances. Let’s be honest here: It’s not like they are family or we know them personally. But as an addict in recovery, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of sympathy and concern–not only sadness over the loss of a great human being, but for the family of the deceased. It had been almost a full year since I had chosen to get sober when I heard the news of Cory Monteith’s passing. As many people know, he was one of the stars on the hit T.V. show Glee. When I read the news on the Internet, I immediately started crying. I wasn’t sure if I was crying for Lea Michele, his on-screen and off-screen girlfriend; his family who had lost such a young member of their clan; or if it was the fact that he had overdosed alone. He died in a hotel room, by himself. The same sick, terrifying feeling overcame me when I saw the breaking news of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death. The feeling was almost a morbid sense of relief that I never had to worry about that kind of ending for myself, but it was an intense reminder that a relapse is only one step in the wrong direction. Addiction has many faces. It can afflict a celebrity, a friend or a respectable-looking passerby in the street. I often remind myself that it is humbling to feel sad when someone passes away from drug or alcohol addiction.

Personal Acquaintances

Two months after I had gotten sober, I was told that a former friend of mine had passed away due to substance abuse. It was a friend I used to use with, so it wasn’t a huge surprise, but that did not lessen the blow. It was a strange, overwhelming feeling that I had never experienced, even with the loss of other people unrelated to substance abuse. In this instance there was something about the possibility that it could have been me. I have now cut off all contact with my old ‘playgrounds and playmates’ so I definitely don’t surround myself with any negative influences, but I still pray for the sick and suffering. It doesn’t cause any less pain to know that people I used to see everyday are out there still living in the same sick cycle that I had been caught in. I have a strange sense of compassion when I think of the path I was on that many people are still traveling.

Feeling Empathy

It’s odd to discover that people you barely know or don’t know at all can affect you. When a addict you were acquainted with dies, the feeling is similar what you feel when a celebrity you like dies, except it almost seems more real, in a sense. We generally put celebrities up on a pedestal, which places them at a distance, one step removed. However, when another “regular” person dies from addiction, it engulfs you. Before an AA meeting, if a regular member of the meeting has passed, they will be recognized at the beginning of the meeting. When this happens, it seems as if a cloud has fallen over his or her friends and the rest of us who were unfamiliar still feel empathy. It took a long time for me to realize that it is okay to feel such sadness for those who fall victim to addiction and lose the battle.

I think too many people with addiction problems often feel judged by those who have not experienced substance abuse – as if it others expect that they should just be able to get clean. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that. So, if you find yourself crying or feeling upset over someone who has lost their battle with addiction and paid the ultimate price, then let it all out. When you’ve never been an addict or have a good amount of sobriety under your belt, it’s easy to forget about the small things on your gratitude list. Having empathy for others who have struggled with addiction is never a bad thing, and is a poignant reminder of how important it is to stay sober.


Cassandra Huerta is a freelance writer who lives in an extremely small Michigan town and lives life one day at a time. She enjoys regularly entertaining her six-month-old daughter and can thank her wonderful fiance and coffee for all of her work.

Addiction and Teen Celebrities

July 16, 2014 by  
Filed under People and Culture


The pressures of teen celebrity combined with privilege can lead to problems

The pressures of teen celebrity combined with privilege can lead to problems

When Justin Bieber was busted a few months ago for popping pills and drag racing in a residential community, some people seemed authentically shocked. Did young Mr. Bieber exercise sound judgement that night in Florida? He most assuredly did not. But consider the incident within the context of every destructive and expensive mistake that we’ve seen teen idols make in the past five years. Reckless and irresponsible, absolutely — but was it truly shocking?

You may also recall reading about Selena Gomez’s recent public displays of drunkenness, Miley Cyrus’s various shenanigans, Lindsay Lohan’s various car accidents, or seeing the tabloid photographs of a freshly shorn Britney Spears assailing a car with a folded umbrella. There is a well-documented history of teen idols, and famous people or celebrities behaving recklessly or abusing drugs and alcohol into their early adulthood. It may confuse some because these are celebrities who have accomplished so much by such a young age, and who are beloved by millions of (mostly) young and impressionable fans. Shouldn’t more be expected of these young celebrities? That could be part of the problem itself: more is expected of them.

The Garish Glare of the Spotlight

Teen celebrities are under constant scrutiny. Everything they do and say is monitored, recorded, photographed, and tweeted about. They are simultaneously loved and ridiculed by the media and different sects of the general public. They are under constant pressure to meet the expectations of rabid fans, and the constant stream of jeering, taunting and ranting that takes place in the public sphere (and on a larger scale than ever, thanks to Twitter and other social media) at their expense.

How do teen celebrities reconcile their own personal needs and desires–especially at this early stage in their lives, developmentally–with the expectations put on them by their careers and the public to uphold some ultra-sweet, wholesome, milquetoast image?

And the only thing potentially more dangerous than the inordinate amount of pressure placed upon these kids is the inordinate level of privilege that they become entitled too.

Boundless Power Can Be Their Own Undoing

Famous people can presumably afford to buy whatever they want, including substances both legal and illegal. If they want to purchase a Porsche and drive it off of a cliff, they are in a position, financially, to do so. The world is their candy store, and they are forced to learn about the law of diminishing returns the hard way. And there are few things more dangerous than limitless funds in the hands of a young person with access to nearly everything. People who have not yet come fully into maturity and haven’t yet had to learn anything about the virtue of self-restraint, and are accustomed to getting whatever they want, might not stop until they’ve gone too far. This can certainly be the case with drugs and alcohol.

Reckless Behavior

Let’s not forget that, while teenage celebrities may seem particularly reckless and destructive, ordinary teenagers are also historically prone to bad behavior. This could be attributed to so many things, such as the fact that teenagers are still maturing and developing–even their brains are still developing. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, which governs organization, impulse and planning, is still developing into adulthood. When you pair poor impulse control with unlimited cash and entitlement, the end result can be lethal.

You may recall the rather heart-breaking story of 1970s teen heartthrob Leif Garrett’s car crash. An intoxicated Garrett, a mere five days before his 18th birthday, flipped his Porsche after hitting another car. Garrett suffered scrapes, bruises, and a concussion. His friend Rowland Winkler, 19 at the time of the accident, was left permanently disabled and bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

It’s rare that teens who go out and party do so with the conscious intent to do harm. It’s not that teenagers are inherently amoral. They can, however, be inherently reckless. It is still tragic, nevertheless, when a teenager’s “wake-up call” comes in the form of a catastrophe that causes harm to himself and others.

The Unspoken Truth

It may be our first instinct to sneer in disgust or roll our eyes at young celebrities’ antics or ridiculous behavior, but we should remember that these are not fully matured adults. They don’t yet have any worldly experience. If everything is handed to them, and they are enabled by “yes men” who always get them with what they want, and they have the power to purchase whatever they want, it is not surprising that they will have a meteoric rise and fall. And, instead of our glee and derision, perhaps we should look at them with empathy and glean wisdom from their mistakes. After all, there are teenagers or twenty-somethings engaging in reckless and destructive behaviors all the time — you just rarely hear about it in the news if it doesn’t involve someone famous.


Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based author who writes about a variety of topics — everything from vintage horror films to energy legislation to drugs. Drugs are of particular interest to Brandon, partially because of the politics surrounding them and partially also because he has experimented with them and has struggled with certain substances in the past–particularly with alcohol. Brandon is sober now and eager to help others overcome their addictions.


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