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Celebrity Addiction: Hangover and Beyond

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Bradley Cooper was so downright hilarious in his role in the “Hangover” that it seemed as though he wasn’t even acting at all. He fitted the role to a T probably because he had so much “practice” in real life. Bradley, 37, star of the A Team and Hangover has been sober for eight years but still recalls the days when he hit rock bottom. He has recently become more vocal about his struggle with addiction and alcoholism: Hollywood’s common malady.
Bradley graduated with honors from the prestigious Georgetown University and earned a Master’s from Actors Studio Drama School. He went on stage as “John Merrick”, the Elephant Man and landed a major role opposite Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City. Momentum was definitely on his side with TV roles in “The Beat” and “Alias” as well as starring roles opposite Ben Affleck and other A-list stars.
A case of “having too much, too soon” changed Cooper into an addict-alcoholic that he hardly recognized himself. Fortunately for Cooper, he was able to kick the habit and moved on to become one of Hollywood’s most popular actors and was even voted by People Magazine as “World’s Sexiest Man” in 2011.

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Who could forget Amy Winehouse and her almost autobiographical “Rehab” reverberating with the famous line, “They wanted me to go rehab but I said no, no…”? Cooper’s recovery saved him from tragic endings; a fate not shared by Amy. Not everyone who checks into celebrity rehabs comes out unscathed. A lot of celebrities who led messy lives (including bad relationships) that got them into mind-altering drugs and painkillers go into a phase of intense apologizing for “bad behavior” prior to rehab but majority of them need to go through the wringer more than once for sobriety to sink in.
There are 8,000 or more programs for treatment and rehabilitation. Celebrities make up just a small percentage of patients yet leave the public hungry for news of the quintessential rise, fall and redemption – with a strong dose of shame and rejection in between. News of stars’ drug and and alcohol problems has a telling effect on teens who at an impressionable age are easily affected by role models, good or bad. Teens mimic fashion, style and conduct in an effort to rub off the fame of the rich, famous and messed-up.


Relapse among addicts who underwent rehab in an in-patient facility is high. According to the study of Jane Powell and colleagues at the Institute of Psychiatry, National Addiction Centre, Maudsley Hospital, London, majority of addicts relapsed at least once six months after treatment. Though less than 1/3 used drugs daily, it is estimated that the relapse rate around this period is close to 80%. In a similar British study, 71% of the subjects started drugging shortly after discharge but 41% were abstinent within six months. Another study published by BMC Psychiatry showed that self-help recovery programs increased the rate of abstinence to 81%.
It is said that addiction is a disease of memory – that as one remembers the associated “high”, drugs become even more difficult to forget. This sense of euphoria is difficult to beat and once triggered causes the “sleeper” effect long after the addict thinks he has fully recovered. There is no real breakthrough in terms of treatment and the only thing that can be done is to suppress the thoughts which in self-help 12-step parlance translates to “one step at a time”.
Logically, those with higher risk for relapse should be identified early and given more intense treatment. Surprisingly there seems to be a lower rate of abstinence among women – interpreted as having lower confidence that one could cope without using drugs. In contrast, those who were confident that they would beat drugs usually did. Those with a good support system, especially stable spousal relationship reportedly did even better.
A good predictor is degree of closeness to the family. In a study published in Contemporary Family Therapy An International Journal (2001), addicts who were close to dysfunctional or unhealthy families suffered relapses. In contrast, those who were closer to healthy families remained practically drug-free. Though addiction is a social disease and is strongly peer-influenced, this study proves that the family is a big factor in recovery.

Beating the Stigma

While it is fashionable for celebrities to admit their addictions and seek treatment without censure, this does not hold true for every Tom, Dick, Harry or Jane. The addiction festers because of the stigma attached to it and the failure of insurance companies to provide the necessary support.
In 2003, a study conducted at the George Washington University Medical Center showed that having employees with alcohol problems treated was a sound and cost-effective. Despite the results, employees with alcohol problems continued to be discriminated in the workplace instead of helped. This takes on many forms and nuances from not getting hired at all, being put in the freezer with no career progression in the horizon or summarily fired. According to a 2004 study, roughly half of American companies did not have a sound treatment program for employees with alcohol and substance abuse problems.

From Hangover to Hung

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported that there are more than half a million emergency room visits due to misuse of prescription drugs by dependents and addicts. The thin line that separates addicts from dependents is the loss of control over their lives and their compulsion for the drug.
Overall, the financial cost of America’s dependence on drugs is $484 Billion annually. The health cost is a staggering 40 million people who have been injured or developed debilitating diseases due to the drug habit. Much has changed since opiate agonists were used: a case of lesser evil substitution. Currently, addicts treated opiate antagonists such as Naltroxone had better results, especially when assessed according to psychological parameters such as mood, craving, anxiety and depression. Depression was a main issue especially for recovering addicts in the 17-29 and 50+ age groups with those relapsed experiencing more depressive episodes. The question is: did the depression push towards relapse or did the relapse seed depression?
Statistics show that while the younger generation are susceptible to street drugs, it is the 60+ group that are most addicted to prescription drugs. However it is the mix of prescription and street drugs that is most lethal, addictive and difficult to treat. America’s strategy thus far has been to educate, treat and rehabilitate. However the sale and distribution of prescription drugs and the implementation of health insurance policies pertaining to detoxification and rehabilitation should be looked into since these are areas where reforms count most.

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