THE BLOG

Are Celebrities More Prone To Addiction?

13/12/2016 13:55 GMT | Updated 13/12/2016 13:55 GMT

One of the most common questions I am asked to comment on by the media is whether celebrities are more prone to addiction than other people. To me, when I think about what a celebrity is, I think of someone who is widely known by most people, is usually in the world of entertainment (actor, singer, musician, television presenter), and may have more financial income than most other people I know. I've always said that it doesn't surprise me when celebrities develop addictions because high profile celebrities may have greater access to some kinds of addictive substances.

Given that there is a general relationship between accessibility and addiction, it shouldn't be a surprise if celebrities succumb to addictive behaviours compared with a member of the general public. They may also be more susceptible to various behavioural addictions that celebrities have admitted having - most notably addictions to gambling and/or sex. It could perhaps be argued that high profile celebrities are richer than most of us (and could therefore afford to gamble more than you or I) or they have greater access to sexual partners because they are seen as more desirable (because of their perceived wealth and/or notoriety).

When I think about celebrities that have 'gone off the rails' and admitted to having addiction problems (people like Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr, Alec Baldwin) and those that have died from their addiction (Whitney Houston, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse) I would argue that these types of high profile celebrity have the financial means to afford a drug habit like cocaine or heroin. For many in the entertainment business such as being the lead singer in a famous rock band, taking drugs may also be viewed as one of the defining behaviours of the stereotypical 'rock 'n' roll' lifestyle. In short, it's almost expected.

In an interview with an online magazine The Fix, Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, an American psychiatrist based at the University of Florida said:

"Famous or not, people in the midst of their addiction will behave in a narcissistic, selfish way: they'll be anti-social and have a disregard for rules and regulations. But that is part of who they as an addict - not necessarily who they would be as a sober person. Then there are some people who are narcissists outside of their disease, who don't need a drug or alcohol addiction to make them feel like the rules don't apply to them - and yes, I have seen in this in many athletes and actors".

The same article also pointed out that there is an increase in the number of people who (usually through reality television) are becoming (in)famous but have no discernible talent whatsoever. In my own writings on the psychology of fame, I have made the point that (historically) fame was a by-product of a particular role (e.g., country president, news anchorman) or talent (e.g., captain of the national sports team, a great actor). While the Andy Warhol maxim that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes will never be truly fulfilled, the large increase in the number of media outlets and number of reality television shows suggests that more people than ever are getting their 15 minutes of fame. In short, the intersection between fame and addiction is on the increase.

US psychiatrist Dr. Dale Archer was also interviewed for The Fix article and was quoted as saying:

"Fame and addiction are definitely related. Those who are prone to addiction get a much higher high from things - whether it's food, shopping, gambling or fame - which means it [the behavior or situation] will trigger cravings. When we get an addictive rush, we are getting a dopamine spike. If you talk to anyone who performs at all, they will talk about the 'high' of performing. And many people who experience that high report that when they're not performing, they don't feel as well. All of which is a good setup for addiction. People also get high from all the trappings that come with fame. The special treatment, the publicity, the ego. Fame has the potential to be incredibly addicting".

Another related factor I am asked about is the effect of having fame from an early age and whether this can be a pre-cursor or risk factor for later addiction. My guess is that this only applies to a minority of child stars rather than being a general truism. However, trying to carry out scientific research examining early childhood experiences of fame amongst people that are now adult is difficult. There also seems to be a lot of children and teenagers who's only desire when young is "to be famous" when they are older. As most who have this aim will ultimately fail, there is always the concern that to cope with this failure, they will turn to addictive substances and/or behaviours.