Hollywood Sobriety: Changing the Narrative on Addiction and Recovery
The Glitz, Glamor, and Silent Struggles of Hollywood
While Hollywood is the birthplace of many celebrities’ dreams, the glitz and glamor sometimes belle performers’ silent struggles. The unpredictable ups and downs of casting, employment, public attention, and professional critique inflict unique pressure that few outside the industry understand. While it’s common to cope with these stresses by using alcohol or drugs, many still experience shame when their substance use becomes public knowledge. This makes it especially meaningful when well-known Hollywood figures are open about their recovery journeys. They can increase awareness of the impact of substance use, hope for recovery, and accessible treatment options.
Behind the Lights: Celebrity Addiction Stories
Behind the lights of Hollywood are many celebrity addiction stories. Some celebrities’ substance use plays out publicly, while others’ struggles remain private until they’ve recovered and are ready to share them. Many feel a sense of purpose in sharing their story to encourage other actors and fans who want to recover from substance use or stay sober. Others who are more private may experience shame and concern about the social stigma when their use is inadvertently revealed by behavior changes or being recorded while using. Shame can cause substance use to spiral, so it makes a significant impact when celebrities in recovery share their struggles and the positive steps they took to restore their well-being.
Jamie Lee Curtis is one of Hollywood’s most famous actors who shares her long recovery journey with others. After becoming addicted to pain medication, she became sober 25 years ago. Along with many other celebrities, she says that she’s open about her recovery to keep herself accountable as well as to support others who need to abstain from alcohol and drug use at professional and social events. Her trailer on each set even serves as a twelve-step meeting space for anyone who wants to join. She says “Getting sober remains my single greatest accomplishment.” Others also recount the shame, fatigue, and brain fog they experienced while using.
Attempting to remember lines, present professionally, and immerse oneself in a role is challenging enough without the mental and physical compromises caused by substance use. Since becoming sober, Tom Holland says “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life since I stopped using. It’s honestly the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve found amazing replacements that are fantastic and really healthy.” Crediting Robert Downey, Jr. and Bradley Cooper for supporting him through his recovery process after they became sober, Ben Affleck shared “I have completed treatment for alcohol addiction; something I’ve dealt with in the past and will continue to confront. I want to live life to the fullest and be the best father I can be.” Zac Efron describes recovery as a lifelong struggle made possible by having a healthy structure in his life. Saying she doesn’t believe she would have succeeded as an actress if she’d continued drinking, Kristin Davis encourages others to consider what they’re passionate about and ask themselves if using alcohol or drugs will help them meet their life goals.
Others known for being committed to sobriety include:
- Giselle Bundchen
- Lena Dunham
- Daniel Radcliffe
- Jada Pinkett-Smith
- Jamie Campbell-Bower
- Lena Dunham
- Brad Pitt
- Drew Barrymore
- John Stamos
- Mary-Kate Olsen
- Joe Manganiello
- Ewan McGregor
- Angelina Jolie
- Jane Lynch
- Lucy Hale
- Tobey Maguire
- Cara Delevingne
- Colin Farrell
- Dax Shepard
- Oprah Winfrey
Navigating Fame: Sobriety in the Entertainment Industry
Navigating fame can challenge sobriety in the entertainment industry. The entertainment industry culture contains many obstacles for those whose substance use has become out of control. Almost all business-related events are conducted outside of a traditional office, and in the following social settings there’s often pressure to have a drink or several to relax or celebrate:
- Cocktail hours
- Award shows
- Press tours
Refusing a drink may lead to questions that cause self-consciousness and even fear for a person who struggles with substance use and is concerned about being stigmatized. The long hours and weeks away from home when filming on location can be physically and emotionally dysregulating for actors and crew members, especially those in recovery. Establishing healthy new routines is possible but more challenging when away from familiar people and places, fortunately, especially since the pandemic there has been a surge in “sober curious” places and products. It positively impacts everyone on set when healthy alternatives to drinking alcohol or using drugs are promoted and made available to all.
The Power of Advocacy: Famous Sober Advocates in Hollywood
The power of advocacy by famous sober advocates in Hollywood helps create healthier expectations on and off set, as actors aren’t the only ones who struggle in the industry’s stressful environment. Producers and crew members also suffer when the future of their position and income is uncertain, their hours are unpredictable, and their last big hit doesn’t guarantee their future work will be well received. Those in recovery can set standards that discourage unhealthy conditions and substance use, and even promote resources such as recovery groups on set, psychotherapy, and treatment for those who need it.
The executive producer of The Ellen DeGeneres Show Andy Lassner notes that even after 20 years of sobriety, it’s still important to be intentional in maintaining support in a sober community and taking self-care measures to prevent relapse. Director-producer Paris Barclay, sober for over 25 years, agrees with Lassner and Jamie Lee Curtis that it’s crucial to be transparent about recovery in order to create a supportive community and to avoid situations that create too much temptation to use. They may stay even if there’s alcohol at a party, but leave if others are under the influence and the professional benefits wane. Lady J, an actor, writer, and producer, and John Feldmann, a songwriter and producer, note that they’re thankful to see younger performers more focused on health and intolerant of the rampant drug use of previous generations.
Changing Perceptions: The Rising Embrace of Sobriety in Hollywood
Changing perceptions about substance use have created a rising embrace of sobriety in Hollywood. The historical social stigma of those who sought recovery arose from the belief that use is a result of weak character and willpower, rather than a change in brain chemistry that makes it nearly impossible to stop using. The opioid epidemic, while tragic, has highlighted the powerful nature of certain substances to cause addiction. Rather than being a result of reckless decision-making, the user’s gateway to substance use is a pain medication prescribed by a medical professional. This understanding has transformed the way many understand addiction, shifting from character-based solutions to ones based on neuroscience.
As a result of increased understanding and awareness, punitive measures are being replaced by expanded healthcare and treatment options in many settings. Entertainment industry figures note that even in the past decade, the response they receive when they share about their sobriety has changed. Support for healthy decisions around substance use and recovery continues to increase.
The Role of Hollywood in Shaping the Sobriety Conversation
The role of Hollywood in shaping the sobriety conversation is powerful. When those in and outside the entertainment industry hear that someone they admire has taken steps to address their substance use and successfully recovered, it instills hope for those who are struggling and normalizes the decision to be sober. This kind of social support is vital since recovery is centered around building transparent, healthy connections with others.