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.

Drug Abuse among Artists: Why Is It So Prevalent?

July 28, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, People and Culture


The pressures of celebrity can be heavy for artists, leading to problems

The pressures of celebrity can be heavy for artists, leading to problems

With every high-profile celebrity who dies prematurely because of drugs, the world is reminded of the prevalence of addiction amongst celebrities and artists.

What propels someone toward creative self-expression (a yearning for acceptance, the need for an escape, or simply the compulsion to express potent emotions) are the very same things that can propel someone toward alcohol and substance abuse. We see the modern day manifestations of this all over the Internet. Think about the social media response to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s recent heroin overdose, or to the Twitter frenzy surrounding Justin Bieber’s recent incarceration after he was caught drag racing while intoxicated in Florida.

Think back just a few decades, to Hollywood’s golden age, when the public would have been reading stories about celebrity addicts like Judy Garland and her drug and alcohol problems. And later, Marilyn Monroe and her drug overdose. Or later still, when people were reading about Janis Joplin and her drug overdose. And then it was Jim Belushi. More recently, it was Whitney Houston. If you really think about it, the list of artist-drug-addict names extends on and on. So many creative celebrities struggle with their dependency on substances. Like everyone else who struggles with substance use, these celebrities also likely suffer from underlying causes such as anxiety or mental illness.

Where Creativity, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Converge

Author Kay Redfield Jamison wrote Touched With Fire, a book which examines the correlation between mental illness and the creative temperament. According to Jamison, many visual artists, writers, and musicians displayed symptoms characteristic of bi-polar disorder long before such a diagnosis existed. Jamison makes the case that writers like Lord Byron, Mark Twain, and William Faulkner all displayed symptoms characteristic of bi-polar disorder. And, incidentally, all three of them were known to drink heavily. Many experts now believe that Marilyn Monroe suffered from undiagnosed bi-polar disorder or borderline personality disorder. She also drank heavily (reportedly, champagne) and popped pills.

Drugs Are Perceived as Enhancing Creativity

One reason why artists gravitate toward drugs is likely because they feel that drugs diminish their inhibitions. They use substances to tap into their creativity. Many musicians, including Carlos Santana and Willie Nelson, have publicly expressed their fondness for marijuana. Comedian/writer George Carlin also advocated for it as a creative aid, if used “judiciously,” but also went on to concede that compulsive drug users inevitably reach a point of diminishing returns, and they either muster the strength to beat their addiction, or they succumb to it.

The Trappings of Fame

It can be difficult for the average person to understand why creative celebrities are prone to self-destruction. These are people who are revered for their artistic talents and have seemingly greater agency over their lives than most people. But the reality is that celebrities are as vulnerable to self-sabotage as anyone else.

For some celebrities, substances become a means of dealing with the anxieties caused by the lack of privacy that comes with fame. The onslaught of public attention is too much for some artists to deal with. A profession in the arts is also typically less stable then your conventional nine to five job, so that must create its own set of anxieties which might propel someone towards using substances. Conversely, many artists seem to panic when they reach the pinnacle of their success. It’s one thing to become famous for doing what you love — it’s another thing to sustain a fruitful career in the arts. For some, like former Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, the problem seemed to be that the profession itself didn’t yield the joy he had expected, and that the guilt he felt over his depression, compounded by drug abuse, might have propelled him towards suicide.

For some celebrities though, bad behavior seems to be largely the product of hedonism and a propensity to act upon impulses without fear of consequences. Many live by the sword, and many of them die by it.

The Silver Lining

People come to rely upon different substances for different reasons, and it stands to reason that people who experience pronounced shifts in mood frequently or endure stresses consistently, would be especially at risk. Artists are people easily tempted by a source of instant gratification, whether that is in the form of cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, or other substances. And, while the public is quick to pass judgement, let us remember that a famous person is still just a person. They have foibles. They have weaknesses. They make mistakes. Celebrities are idolized and revered — both celebrated and vilified by the public — but we should remember that they are fallible people with their own, unique set of problems. When one of them succumbs to addiction, that can be a wake-up call and lesson for us all.


Author Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based blogger 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 because he has himself struggled with them in the past — alcohol and marijuana in particular. However, Brandon is sober and in good health today, mentally and physically, and eager to help those who are struggling with drug addiction.



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.


Some Signs You May Need Rehab


Are There Signs That Rehab Is the Right Decision?

Are There Signs That Rehab Is the Right Decision?

Most addicts will enter treatment on the heels of a crisis situation. For some, this will be personal. For others, it will be legal or financial. And some people have health crises that motivate them to get help in quitting their addictions. While most addicts believe these are reasons for using or drinking more, they are really outcomes of the behaviors of addiction.

Signs You Might Need Rehab

Those who are ready to stop the cycle of dependence, abuse and addiction frequently go into treatment or rehab. One indicator or sign that you might need rehab could be that you are having trouble at work or home because substance abuse is interfering with these relationships. Your troubles at work or home may manifest as chronic lateness to work, important appointments, and personal engagements or just skipping out on any of these altogether.

Other signs you may need rehab include:

  • being hungover or high at work or during important family occasions
  • saying or doing inappropriate things during these events
  • co-workers, boss or family members telling you that you are drinking/using too much

Perhaps there have been legal consequences, such as getting DUI or Reckless Driving tickets, missed court appointments, or failure to pay fines, alimony or child support

Financial signs that you need rehab might include things like spending so much on partying that there is not enough money to pay rent, car payments, utilities or food.

Health issues are another common area of recognition that drugs and alcohol are a problem. If any of these are happening for you, perhaps you might consider a rehab situation.

Stumbling Towards Rehab

Most addicts will maintain their conviction that they can control the situation by stopping, slowing down or otherwise controlling their use. This is certainly the way the addicted mind works. After numerous failed attempts to quit, addicts will most often remain convinced that they are “just fine, thank you.” One of the most difficult things to do that will occur in the life of an addict will be when they finally reach the point where they will actively ask for and accept help from outside sources. At that point, they may have already paid a very high price for their addiction. Some addicts have lost jobs, significant relationships, custody and visitation rights with children, their health may be seriously compromised, and jail may be a real possibility.

When Rehab Makes Sense

Rehab makes sense for most people, because an addict has created a structure in their life that supports their use and abuse of substances. Therefore, an interruption in that structure or routine may be the necessary tool that allows them to make the behavior changes and alter the mindset of active addiction. This can be done in 30, 60 or 90 day programs. Some rehab centers offer either residential or out-patient programs to allow for other responsibilities to be maintained. While it may be a hardship for the addict to seek and receive treatment, it is usually the best route to halt the ongoing cycle of abuse and dependence.

Rehab: The Road to Recovery

Relapse will likely be a part of early recovery for most addicts. This is like learning to ride a bicycle. While some riders will be very cautious and not fall off the bike, most will have a crash or two while they are developing skills for staying upright and riding easily. Family and friends who understand recovery are helpful, but most often they have been so negatively impacted by the addict’s behavior that they are not able to be supportive. Most of time, family members have their own feelings and issues around the addiction as well. Family programs are very useful for those who have an addict in early recovery. Knowing how and when to provide support and when to stand firm are difficult navigating tools family members need to learn. Ongoing support for early recovery is essential for addiction treatment. Those who know and understand both the addiction and the recovery processes are your best bet when you are looking for help with getting treatment for a possible addiction.


Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

Zac Efron: Not Your Typical Drug Addict?

October 25, 2013 by  
Filed under General Topics, People and Culture


zac-efronWhat does a drug addict look like? Unkempt, homeless and whacked out of his or her mind? This indeed is the profile of some addicts—and the one that that readily come to mind when we think of an addict. But what about handsome, physically fit, adored and rich? For some reason, we forget that this can also be the face of addiction, which is why we are fascinated and constantly surprised when another celebrity makes headlines. How could this happen to him? Doesn’t he have it all? But that’s the thing about addiction: It doesn’t discriminate or stereotype. People from every ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and intelligence level can (and do) become hooked. There is no typical profile—addiction touches all.

Latest famous case in point: Zac Efron. Despite his outwardly enamored life, the 26-year-old was secretly struggling with an addiction to cocaine—and quite possibly oxycodone and the new “it” drug Molly. When fans and critics found out that the young celebrity slipped into rehab earlier this year under their noses, the news not only turned heads but smudged his squeaky-clean persona.

Perhaps, America could have seen it coming. Efron is not the only Disney kid who has battled with addiction over the years. He adds to a lineup of young celebrities—including Brittany Spears, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Lindsay Lohan—who have turned to drugs to help cope with the rise and fall of fame, strained relationships, depression, and being pigeonholed by the entertainment industry.

As with many up-and-coming young stars, fame and fortune have their price. They do not always mend a broken heart, strip away depression, or obliterate self-loathing. Sadly, for Cory Monteith, help did not come soon enough. Monteith was found dead this year after overdosing on heroin and alcohol. His struggle with drugs was long and hard-fought despite television success. And the Glee cast is constantly reminded of this, which may be what spurred Lea Michele, Monteith’s ex-girlfriend and former co-star of Efron’s, to reach out recently and offer support to Efron.

With more celebrity addictions coming to light (and as more stars celebrate their sobriety), the once black-and-white spectrum that defined drug users as being of a certain ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and intellect, or looking a particular way, is becoming increasingly gray. Drug addiction can strike anyone—no one is immune—even those who seem it have it all.

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