When Philip Seymour Hoffman died earlier this year from a drug overdose, it sparked quite a bit of discussion about addiction: Its causes, consequences, and potential treatments.
I think this discussion is a vital one for anyone involved in acting or filmmaking. The fact is that addiction is a major problem among actors. Hoffman wasn’t the only one who suffered, and died, from it. Other notable actors and actresses who struggled with drugs, alcohol, or both, include Drew Barrymore, Lindsay Lohan, and Johnny Depp. Actors afflicted by addiction also often struggle to make rehab stick, relapsing again and again.
It seems to me that there are a few reasons that actors in particular are prone to abusing drugs and alcohol. First off, actors are prone to the very same types of problems that everyone else is. They are just as likely to fall prey to the seduction of alcohol or drugs as anyone else. When faced with the excess of money, freedom, or power that often accompanies a successful acting career, however, they can become more capable than the general public of pursuing their addiction.
Actors also tend to possess a sensitive, creative, personality that, while making them compelling on screen, also makes them more vulnerable to addiction. Upon such a personality, the stresses and emotional upheavals of life can wreak such havoc that the escapism provided by addiction becomes too alluring to resist. This escapism can become even more appealing when the actor experiences dissatisfaction with the more important aspect of his or her life: The acting. Hoffman himself described this kind of dissatisfaction as a factor in his own addiction.
The stresses and emotional upheavals of life also tend to be greater for actors and actresses. The very nature of acting puts the actor in front of others, where he or she is expected to literally perform. Well-known actors face even more pressure to succeed, to set good examples, and to please the public. If these stresses become too great, they can force the actor to look for release somewhere else. Unfortunately, the most effective form of escape often looks like a liquor glass or painkiller.
Finally, being famous can itself be addictive. If performing or being well-known becomes a driving force in the actor’s life, then he or she desires the powerful feeling of fame all the time. Whenever they lack this feeling, either when not performing or when falling away from the public eye, they may seek those same feelings through drugs or alcohol. While drugs and alcohol cannot provide a lasting replacement for the high of fame, they can dull the loneliness or uncertainty the actor faces when not performing or not receiving public accolades.
Fame itself can also lead actors and actresses to perceive of themselves as free from the normal constraints faced by other people. Child actors, who never experienced the same limits and boundaries as their peers, can be especially prone to perceiving themselves this way. Feeling free of these constraints, feeling powerful, can delude the actor into believing that they can handle drugs and alcohol without consequences. Just look at Justin Bieber!