Famous Drug Abusers
- Table of ContentsPrint
- Drug and Alcohol Addiction: A Disease that Touches Everyone
- Addiction through the Decades
- Drugs of Choice
- A Family Disease
- Dual Diagnosis
- Stigma Breakers
- Celebrity Deaths
Drug and Alcohol Addiction: A Disease that Touches Everyone
Addiction truly is a disease that does not discriminate.
According to data from the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 22.7 million Americans need treatment for a drug or alcohol problem. And though it may sound cliché, addiction truly is a disease that does not discriminate.
Addiction in the Tabloids
Celebrities seem to constantly make headlines for all the wrong reasons – drug-fueled binges, DUI wrecks, and tales of total public meltdowns while under the influence.
There’s a very dark side to the excess that accompanies fame and the constant media exposure can make it seem as if celebrities are more prone to addiction than the average person.
Despite fame, fortune and occupation, in the eyes of substance abuse, everyone is fair game. Proof of that can be seen in the all-too-common reports of famous celebrities who publically struggle with addiction or experiencing a relapse.
Many celebrities wage a very public struggle with substance abuse – some of these stories culminate in a tragic, often preventable ending.
When it comes to the prevalence of addiction among the famous, it might be a matter of accessibility. It’s arguable that affluent celebrities have greater access to some kinds of addictive substances, and there is an undeniable connection between accessibility and addiction.
Another difference is that celebrities’ lives – in times of success and failure – are very public. While most can deal with addiction privately, people in the public eye are not afforded that luxury.
Addiction through the Decades
With a quick scan through the history books, you’ll find plenty of notable addicts. Even more surprising, you’ll find that some of these early drug abusers and addicts are made up of the brightest minds in history. A few of those include:
- Sigmund Freud: A revered Austrian neurologist, Dr. Freud is known as the father of psychoanalysis. What’s more, he was a cocaine addict. In a letter to his fiancée, Freud wrote: “I take very small doses of it regularly against depression and against indigestion and with the most brilliant of success.”
- Paul Erdös: A Jewish-Hungarian mathematician, Erdös was one of the most prolific mathematical scholars of the 20th century. Known for regularly working 20-hour days, he credited his drive and energy to the use of amphetamines.
- William Stewart Halsted: A physician and pioneer in the field of breast cancer treatment, Dr. Halsted was the first surgeon to perform a mastectomy. He was also a morphine addict.
- Carl Sagan: The preeminent astrophysicist and cosmologist of modern history, Carl Sagan smoked marijuana regularly. He went on to become a strong advocate for its use in enhancing intellectual pursuits.
Drugs of Choice
With an ever-evolving plethora of drugs to choose from, famous people have developed a wide variety of addictions over the years. A few of the most commonly abused substances include:
Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease that has taken an equally serious toll on the famous and the not-so-famous. It creates an inability to control consumption and causes people to continue drinking – despite alcohol-related repercussions. A few famous names attached to alcoholism are:
- Jackson Pollock: One of the most famous painters in the world, Pollock was also a severe alcoholic. Unfortunately, he was never able to overcome his dependency on alcohol. Pollock’s life ended at the early age of 44 when he crashed his car into a tree just one mile from his home.
- David Hasselhoff: Known for roles in "Baywatch" and "Knight Rider," Hasselhoff struggled with alcoholism for years. After several very public meltdowns, he completed rehab in 2009 and has been sober since.
- Oscar De La Hoya: An iconic boxer, De La Hoya long struggled with his alcoholism in secret. He came forward in 2011, entered treatment and has been sober since. He credits his success to Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Michael Phelps: After a second DUI arrest, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps checked into rehab in 2014. The young athlete took to Twitter to share his decision with fans and followers. Phelps tweeted: “I’m going to take some time away to attend a program that will provide the help I need to better understand myself."
Barbiturates bring on feelings of sedation and are commonly used to treat insomnia, anxiety and seizure disorders. Due to their euphoric effects, barbiturates like phenobarbital are frequently abused.
A few of the well-known celebrity addicts include:
- Marilyn Monroe: This legendary sex symbol and movie star died of an overdose of barbiturates in 1962.
- Judy Garland: A revered star of stage and screen, Garland died tragically as a result of a barbiturate overdose at the young age of 47.
- Elvis Presley: Known as the “king of rock and roll,” Elvis died of an overdose in 1977. Toxicologists identified at least eight different barbiturates in his body at the time, according to People.
- Michael Jackson: Eerily similar to Elvis, Jackson – known as the “king of pop” – was addicted to barbiturates. In taking large doses of Propofol for insomnia, Jackson overdosed and died in 2009.
- Tim Allen: Cocaine was the favored drug of comedic actor Tim Allen before he found the path to sobriety.
- Daniel Baldwin: A famous actor, Baldwin developed a cocaine addiction back in 1989. He was even arrested for possession of the drug in 1998 after running naked through New York City's Plaza Hotel.
- Jeff Conaway: One of the stars of the TV show "Taxi," Conaway claimed to have struggled with cocaine addiction for more than 40 years.
Known as “meth,” this drug is an extremely addictive stimulant. According to the NSDUH study, over 12 million people have tried methamphetamine at least once. A few notable names attached to meth addiction include:
- Adolph Hitler: Hitler was leader of the Nazi Party, chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945 and a methamphetamine addict. A report in the Daily Mail states that Hitler abused crystal meth before a 1943 meeting with Mussolini, where he ranted for two hours. Additionally, the Fuhrer took nine shots of meth while living out his last days in a bunker.
- Jodie Sweetin: Star of the wholesome family sitcom “Full House,” Sweetin would go on to develop an addiction to meth.
Made up of powerful substances like LSD, mushrooms and other drugs, psychedelics were extremely popular in the ‘60s. Several famous authors have admitted to using LSD while creating stories and fictional worlds.
- Charles Manson: American criminal and cult-leader, Manson was frequently known to take LSD, mushrooms and other drugs, passing them out to his "Manson Family" followers as well.
- Aldous Huxley: Author of Brave New World, Huxley experimented with LSD and other psychedelics while writing the novel and was even injected with the drug at his death.
A Family Disease
For years, scientists have warned that addiction is genetic. Children of addicted mothers and fathers seem to be at a much higher risk of developing their own chemical dependencies. Famous examples of this genetic effect have been passed down via musical icons, legendary screen actors and athletes, including the following:
Jack and Kelly Osbourne: With the famous musician and long-time addict Ozzy Osbourne for a father, it’s not altogether shocking to learn that Jack and Kelly Osbourne both struggled with addiction. Jack knows from experience. Jack and Kelly are both recovering OxyContin addicts.
“I love and respect that he’s honest enough to say, ‘Yes, I did this. It was my fault,'” Kelly told Cosmopolitan in 2013.
Drew Barrymore: By her own admission, actress Drew Barrymore had her first drink at 9, began smoking marijuana at 10 and took up cocaine at 12. By the age of 13, she had twice undergone extensive rehab treatment.
Grandfather John Barrymore, a Shakespearean and movie actor of the ‘20s and ‘30s, drank himself to death at the age of 60. Drew's father, actor and poet John Drew Barrymore, also had a history of alcoholism and drug arrests. Tragically, Drew’s half-sister, Jessica Barrymore, was found dead in 2014 due to possible “drug misadventure.”
Tatum O'Neal: Tatum O’Neal, daughter of actor Ryan O'Neal, claims her father was a horrible addict. She blames him for her own drug problems later in life, adding that she was repeatedly molested by his drug dealer. Despite denying Tatum’s allegations, her father was arrested in 2008 after police found a large supply of methamphetamines in his home.
Most recently, Tatum’s own son has been struggling with addiction. Kevin McEnroe, son to Tatum and tennis legend John McEnroe, was arrested last year for a list of drug offenses.
Dual diagnosis is a term used to describe people struggling with mental illness and coexisting addiction problems. Common mental illnesses associated with dual diagnosis are bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. Recently, a number of famous people have come forward to reveal they have been diagnosed with this condition.
- Mel Gibson: Actor Mel Gibson has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and alcoholism. In a documentary called Acting Class of 1977, Gibson is quoted as saying that he has bipolar disorder. Gibson’s life began to publically unravel after a 2006 DUI arrest in California. With a blood-alcohol level of 0.12-percent (California's legal limit is 0.08-percent), Gibson was reported to have made disparaging remarks against Jewish people and women. Gibson later apologized for his comments and entered an alcohol abuse rehab clinic where he spent three months. In 2010, recorded phone conversations of the 54-year-old leaked on the Internet. The tapes caught Gibson screaming racial slurs and threatening to kill the mother of his child. On the tape, Gibson can be heard huffing and puffing as if he’s having a panic attack.
Amanda Bynes: Actress Amanda Bynes gained fame for her roles on the Nickelodeon television network for children. Unfortunately, her life has been somewhat of a circus over the past several years.
She has displayed such odd behaviors as strange and vulgar public tweets to other celebrities, driving recklessly under the influence, extreme paranoia of being watched and even getting in trouble with the law for setting a pair of pants on fire with gasoline in a California driveway.
Bynes reportedly suffers from both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, two mental illnesses that can severely affect a person’s life. In addition, she has struggled with an eating disorder and drug and alcohol abuse.
Britney Spears: Britney Spears became one of the most influential pop stars in recent memory with multiple hit singles. Shortly after divorcing Kevin Federline in 2006, revelations began surfacing about her drug addiction and mental health issues. After entering a rehab facility, she reportedly attempted suicide and was claiming to be the anti-Christ.
Luckily, Spears was able to get her life together after receiving a proper bipolar diagnosis and successfully completing rehab.
One of the most common barriers that prevent people – famous or not – from coming forward and seeking addiction-related help is the stigma attached to the disease. In an effort to pay it forward, recovering athletes, fashion models and even shy musicians have graciously opened up about their own struggles in hopes of helping others.
Theoren Fleury: While other athletes have likely experienced traumas that put them on the path to addiction, few of them had it as bad as hockey star Theoren Fleury.
Fleury failed multiple drug tests while in the NHL. After games, he reportedly hung around with drug dealers, strippers and even the homeless. Fleury’s hockey career ended after a drunken brawl in a strip club. Shortly afterward, Fleury held a gun to his head and came close to pulling the trigger.
After that rock bottom moment, Fleury sought treatment and life-long sobriety. According to his website, his stated mission is “To help as many people get to where they need to go.”
Amber Valletta: Though it’s easy to assume beautiful models have lives of perfection, Amber Valetta is a perfect example of how false that assumption can be. The model-turned-actress recently revealed her battle with addiction.
"I suffer from a disease called addiction," the model-turned-actress told the wellness website MindBodyGreen. "I've had it for as long as I can remember." By the time she was 22 and her modeling career was at its peak, Valletta was abusing cocaine and alcohol. She eventually sought help because she "didn't want to die" and has been sober since.
In a brutally honest interview with People, Valetta said, "I am not a victim. My hope is that someone, somewhere in this room, out of this room will hear something that will help them and perhaps get them out of the shadows and the darkness of addiction and bring them into the light."
Pete Doherty: After over ten years of heavy drinking and drugging, musician Pete Doherty finally completed rehab and has racked up serious sober time. What’s more, he has an honest message to others battling addiction demons.
In an interview with The Independent, Doherty said: “This is the first time I've chosen rehab for myself, and got clean. Now I want to help others do the same. To anyone struggling with addiction, just hang on – for more than ten years I've been powerless, but there's a way out.”
Credit: Partnership for Drug-Free Kids
Addiction has claimed the lives of way too many talented souls through the years. Whether it was from multiple failed attempts at sobriety or an inability to get the disease itself under control, addiction can – and does – consume lives without hesitation.
- Carrie Fisher: This pop culture icon starred as Princess Leia in the Star Wars film series. Fisher suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 60 in 2016. She wrote memoirs and novels about addiction, and she spoke out about her own battle with drug addiction and mental illness. Fisher served as an advocate in the mental health community and she did not shy away from speaking about her addiction, or her bipolar disorder.
- Prince: This popstar died at the age of 57 from an accidental overdose on Fentanyl. Fentanyl is an extremely dangerous drug that can be lethal even in small amounts (the drug is 50 times more potent than heroin and 50-100 times more potent than morphine). Prince was reportedly first prescribed opioids for knee pain from jumping on stage and he soon became addicted to the painkillers.
- Philip Seymour Hoffman: Acting in multiple box office hits, fans were stunned to learn of Hoffman’s death in February of 2014. He died from a heroin overdose, despite being in recovery for more than two decades. Reports indicated that Hoffman had slipped back into prescription opioids and, ultimately, relapsed with heroin.
- Whitney Houston: This extremely talented singer struggled with a cocaine and crack addiction. Unfortunately, she died in 2012 as a result of drowning in her hotel bathtub from complications of cocaine and heart disease.
- Andy Irons: Athlete and surfing extraordinaire Andy Irons struggled with poly-addictions. Hotel maids found his lifeless body in 2010, lying in a bed with the sheets pulled up to his chin. Autopsy results showed Irons died of cardiac arrest from a mixture of cocaine, methamphetamine, alprazolam and methadone.
- Cory Monteith: The Glee star died at age 31 from a mixed drug toxicity of heroin and alcohol. The young actor had entered rehab to address his addiction. After rehab, Monteith relapsed and reportedly overdosed by shooting heroin and drinking champagne alone in his hotel room.
- John Belushi: For years, funny man and “Saturday Night Live” icon John Belushi struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. He eventually lost the battle, dying from a speedball overdose in 1982 brought on by a combination of heroin and cocaine.
- Robin Williams: A superb comedian and actor, Williams was open about his battles with cocaine and alcohol. After being sober for over 20 years, he relapsed into drinking in 2004. He checked himself into rehab in 2006 and, in 2009, had heart surgery that is said to have affected him deeply.Unbeknownst to most people, Williams had also been struggling with severe depression for a large portion of his life. The Oscar-winning actor was tragically found dead last August – the result of an apparent suicide.
- Amy Winehouse: Less than 5 years after releasing the hit song "Rehab," Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning. The singer suffered from an eating disorder, as well as an addiction to drugs and alcohol. She tried multiple attempts at rehab and treatment, but she died at the young age of 27. She joined other members of the "27 club" who had died at that age such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison.