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Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll - Celebrities, Fame, and Addiction

Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll - Celebrities, Fame, and Addiction


When it comes to partying, no one gets more attention than celebrities. It seems the shenanigans of Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, Robert Downey, Jr., and countless other celebs are as much a part of American culture and media as cheeseburgers and reality T.V. When Paris Hilton’s recent appearance at a popular club in my hometown drew the attention of the local media, I began to wonder: did Paris really party any harder than other club-goers that night? If she was a D-lister, would she have received any press at all? And, most importantly, does being a celebrity make Paris or anyone else more likely to have an addictive personality?

Fame and Substance Abuse – the Psychology of Celebrity Addiction

According to a study reported in Current Research in Social Psychology, celebrities are twice as likely as non-celebrities to have alcohol-related problems. Since addiction is an equal-opportunity problem, being famous in and of itself cannot cause an addiction. However, certain components of fame – including personality and environment – can make it a risk factor for addiction.

Personality – the Danger of Having Star Power

Dr. Alastair Ross, a psychologist at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, believes that personality type plays a role in the link between star status and addiction. He commented that stars are more likely to have strong neurotic and extroverted tendencies. While these traits can provide the “star quality” that is so appealing on T.V., they also make individuals more likely to derive their sense of self from what others think of them, resulting in emotional highs and lows that can trigger compulsive behavior.

There also appears to be a link between fame, self-consciousness, self-esteem, and, by conjecture, substance abuse. A study of Kurt Cobain, Cole Porter, and John Cheever – all famous addicts – found that these individuals became more self-conscious, and more self-destructive, as their fame increased. Subsequent studies found that high self-consciousness and low self-esteem, which go hand in hand, predict increased substance use – a recipe for disaster for almost anyone under media scrutiny.

Environment - the Nature of Stardom

Becoming a celebrity can be like diving into the ocean: it is difficult to “jump into” stardom without getting wet. The pleasure-seeking environment of the entertainment business can be consuming – impossible not to absorb to some degree, especially since stars are expected to be the life of the party. On the road, a celebrity is often cut off from the support of family and friends, surrounded instead by people with a stake in the star’s success and who may prefer to maintain appearances by concealing the addiction. Conversely, coming out with a drug habit can jump-start a star’s career (think Amy Winehouse) or keep a celebrity from sinking to has-been status (think Rob Lowe).

Conclusion – Giving “Celebrity Rehab” New Meaning

While no single factor can cause a person’s downward spiral into addiction, the combined factors of personality and environment, as well as genetics, mental health, wealth, and social support, can make being a celebrity a risk factor for addiction.

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