Celebrity Culture: Normalizing Addiction, Recovery and Relapse

Celebrity Culture: Normalizing addiction, recovery and relapse.

If you are the type of person who uses any form of social media, follows the news or listens to the radio, there is a good chance that you have heard about the recent relapse of Demi Lovato. The celebrity was found unconscious after an apparent overdose.  And this is not the first time someone in the public eye has had their addiction brought to the attention of the masses. In the last few years we have heard of celebrity deaths because of overdose – Heath Ledger, Prince and Carrie Fisher,  just to name a few.

Many celebrities have been honest and open about their struggles and successes in recovery. Russel Brand wrote several books chronicling his struggles in addiction and recovery, Eminem has released an album titled Recovery, and then later another called Relapse. Rob Lowe even received an award titled The Spirit of Sobriety after he celebrated 25 years sober. So many people are “out” of the recovery closet. But what does this mean for the average alcoholic or addict in the world?

Celebrities Speak Out

In many ways these people are the yardstick by which we have to measure our recovery. They stand as an example of what addiction does, what it looks like and how healthy normal recovery looks. But as all things with celebrity culture, we never know the full picture. With tabloids, social media, gossip websites and new outlets releasing conflicting stories, partial statements, and click bait headlines, we receive silhouettes of the truth.

I was quite alarmed when I came across the following headline. “Demi Lovato may relapse again and that’s part of drug addiction recovery, expert says”.   Doctor Drew Pinsky is the expert in question, he has spoken to the media regarding this incident but is not treating Lovato in any way. Doctor Drew is best known for being the mind behind Celebrity Rehab. And after watching this video my blood began to boil, probably because of my own  experience in recovery – especially early recovery. As an addict in recovery it seems like everyone is cheering you on to succeed and yet it also seems like no one truly believes that you will.

Relapse being advertised as just part of recovery is dangerous and irresponsible. Yes, it is true that many people do relapse after undergoing a treatment process. However, the narrative that this is part of a recovery process is untrue.  It does not have to be the reality for a recovering addict – it can be a learning experience, a wake-up call, or even a call to action, but it does not have to be a part of the process.

What Do We Do?

So, if media is constantly giving us these false images and misinformation, what is the point? Well maybe it is the fact that celebrities and people with a strong public image have the ability to advocate for mental health issues, along with issues related to addiction. Maybe it helps give us positive role models to look up to. But for me, the key value these people add is the fact that they are open about their struggles. It has been said that the opposite of addiction is connection. Maybe feeling connected to the world at large, knowing that we are not alone, knowing others share our struggle may inspire us. And perhaps motivate us and push us to be stronger in our own recoveries.