Famous Figures Who Dealt With Substance Abuse

Posted by Sarah Edwards on Jul 23, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Whether someone has fame or not, they still run the risk of addiction and its consequences. When experimenting with drugs or alcohol, a celebrity may become addicted just like anyone else. It is unfortunate because when a celebrity checks into rehab or overdoses, the general public finds out. As drugrehab.com points out, “Their actions, and the consequences of their actions are displayed in magazines, on TV, and on the internet.” 


There is a common misconception that celebrities abuse drugs and alcohol at a higher rate than the general public. The truth is that the percentage of the celebrities in recovery who are addicted to drugs or alcohol is similar to that of the general public. The reason that famous people seem more prone to addiction is because their addiction is publicized. Although they have the same risk as the general population to become addicts, there are certain factors that contribute to their drug and alcohol abuse. Famous people have high stress environments, demanding schedules, and easy access to drugs.


Throughout history and today there have been famous figures who have dealt with substance abuse in one form or another. Unfortunately, some did not make it and died of overdoses. However, some decided to change their lives for the better and seek treatment for the addiction.


Here are some celebrities and historical figures who have overcome their demons and are on the path to recovery.


An individual standing towards the end of a mountain with their hands in the air celebrating that they overcame  substance abuse.


Celebrities Who Overcame Addiction 


  • Robert Downey Jr. - Today, he is an A-list actor starring in some of the biggest blockbusters such as the Iron Man and The Avengers movies. However, in the middle of his rise to stardom, Downey Jr. was arrested for possession of heroin and cocaine. Between 1996 and 2003, he spent time in jail and eventually was ordered to a rehab center. He finally quit drugs for good when his wife gave him an ultimatum according to Harper’s Bazaar. Downey Jr. also credits 12 step programs, yoga, meditation, and therapy to his sobriety.


  • Drew Barrymore - Drew Barrymore originally got her start as a young child actress. She quickly rose to fame, but because of this began experimenting with drugs while she was still a kid. Her experimentation turned into a full-blown addiction. At age 13, she was checked into a mental institution for a year and a half to address her underlying issues with drug and alcohol addiction. She is now a happy mother of two children and no longer relies on drugs or alcohol to deal with difficult situations.


  • Eric Clapton - Famous rock guitarist Eric Clapton struggled with drugs and alcohol during his musical career. His addiction lasted for 20 years. It wasn’t until his then-manager told him to seek treatment for his addiction problems. Clapton explains, “I thought that if I stopped drinking and stopped doing drugs...I would not be able to play anymore.But my experience tells me in a long time of being in recovery, that I can be a good musician with or without that.” Even after the tragic death of his four-year-old son did not cause him to relapse. At age 73, he’s still making music and clean.


  • Britney Spears - Known for her role as a pop princess, Britney Spears had her own private demons to battle. From 2007 to 2012, she battled drug addiction, mental health issues, and custody of her two children. Today, Spears has had her comeback and is thriving in a Las Vegas with her residency shows.


  • Demi Lovato - Demi Lovato got her start as a child star on the Disney Channel. However, her transition into adulthood while remaining in the spotlight was difficult to bear. She became addicted to cocaine and alcohol in her teen years. She explains, “I couldn’t go without 30 minutes to an hour without cocaine and I would even bring it on airplanes.” She finally hit rock bottom and made the choice to seek help at 19 years old. Her addiction was a way to try and cope with her bipolar disorder symptoms. She had found a way out of the cycle of addiction.


  • Zac Efron - Getting his start on Disney Channel’s High School Musical, Zac Efron seemed to be the poster boy for leading a wholesome life. However, there was more going on beneath the surface. He was battling a cocaine and alcohol addiction. In 2013, he checked himself into rehab twice. Since then, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous and sees a therapist. Even with the support, he says, “It’s a never-ending struggle.”


  • Ed Sheeran - Singer songwriter Ed Sheeran began to slip into the pitfalls of fame which include drugs and alcohol. Luckily, he realized that he was beginning to have a problem with substance abuse and took a year off of his work to start fresh. He explains, “All the pitfall that people read about, I just found myself slipping into all of them. Mostly, like substance abuse...that’s why I took a year off.”


  • Samuel L. Jackson - Known for his roles in Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, Iron Man, and more, Samuel L. Jackson has struggled with addiction in his past. Throughout the 1980s, Jackson used crack cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol to cope with his circumstances. It wasn’t until 1990 when his family found him passed out in the kitchen that they urged him to go to rehab. He complied and has been sober ever since.


  • Ben Affleck - Famous actor with a career spanning over 20 years, Ben Affleck has his share of issues to cope with. In March 2017, he publicly announced on Facebook that he had completed treatment for alcohol addiction. He thanked his close family and friends for helping him take the “first of many steps towards a positive recovery.” He suffered a relapse the following September, but reached out for help to get back on track.


Historical Figures Who Faced Addiction


Addiction is not a new or recent phenomenon. In fact, many people throughout history struggled with drug or alcohol problems. However, according to the Foundations Recovery Network, “Addiction wasn’t as widely recognized as disease as it is today.” Some drugs were even administered as over the counter medication used to treat a variety of ailments. Many of these historical figures did not even realize that they had a problem because of society’s view on alcohol and other substances. Many historical figures battled addiction and some lost the battle and their lives. Here are some notable figures throughout history who had problems with drugs or alcohol.


  • Benjamin Franklin - Although Benjamin Franklin died at the old age of 84, he heavily depended on a mixture of opiates and alcohol. This mixture was widely accepted in society as a kind of tonic to combat pain and various ailments. Many people habitually used this tonic as a kind of medicine at the time. Franklin’s drug use never tainted his reputation as one of America’s founding fathers.


  • Ernest Hemingway - One of the most famous American writers of the 20th Century, Ernest Hemingway was quite open about his obsession with alcohol. He is quoted with saying, “Modern life, too, is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief.” Although critically acclaimed and winner of the Nobel Prize, Hemingway suffered from severe depression. The alcohol exacerbated his condition and he eventually committed suicide.


  • Charles Dickens - Charles Dickens was the prolific writer of famous books such as A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities. Despite his popularity and talent, Dickens had an addiction to opium.During the 19th Century, opium was widely available and widely prescribed to treat pain or other ailments. Others went to places called “opium dens” to use it recreationally. Dickens frequented these opium dens. Ultimately, Dickens died of a stroke which may have been caused by opium use.


  • Vincent Van Gogh - Known for his most famous painting, “The Starry Night,” Vincent Van Gogh was a tragic figure in the artistic community. He is also notorious for cutting off his own ear. He battled with mental health issues and turned to both alcohol and absinthe to deal with it all. During his lifetime, he was not a successful artist. Inevitably, he committed suicide at age 37. It was after his death that he gained the recognition he deserved.


  • Thomas Edison - The most famous inventor in America, Thomas Edison also relied on a mixture of cocaine and alcohol as inspiration while he was working. He invented the light bulb, phonograph, and motion picture camera. However, because of his intake of cocaine and alcohol, he experienced serious problems with chronic insomnia. Again, cocaine was an acceptable substance during the time.


  • Edgar Allan Poe - Edgar Allan Poe is known for writing some of the best pieces of literature in the American Romanticism movement. His stories and poems deal heavily with death, mystery, and the macabre. Like other artists and writers, Poe turned to alcohol to deal with the personal and financial difficulties of his life. He was found stumbling around the streets of Baltimore until someone found him and took him to a hospital where he later died.


  • Winston Churchill - Winston Churchill was the prime minister of Britain during World War II and helped defeat Nazi Germany. He was known for being outspoken and resilient during a tumultuous time in world history. During his time as prime minister, he drank alcohol heavily and used amphetamines to stay up late into the night planning for the war. He ultimately died of a severe stroke in 1965 which some believe was due to high stress and substance abuse.


  • Adolf Hitler - One of the most despised and notorious dictators in history, Adolf Hitler was also addicted to various drugs during his occupation of Europe. Historians have found that Hitler used both cocaine and opiates. At first it began as his doctor giving him “vitamin shots” for energy. However, these shots contained opiates. He even administered methamphetamines to German troops during the war.


  • Thomas Jefferson - The writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson is an important figure in American history. In his life, he suffered from various medical issues. A friend recommended laudanum, which is derived from opium. He liked it so much that he grew his own white opium and made his own at his home. Jefferson used the drug until his death.


Despite the fame, notoriety, and talent of these celebrities and historical figures, they are not immune to drug or alcohol abuse. After all, they are just human beings like the rest of us. Sometimes it may even be more difficult for celebrities since there is a drug culture surrounding fame. Drugs and alcohol are easy to come by in the industry. Anyone can fall into the cycle of addiction and just because these people are famous does not mean that we should idolize their drug use. Instead, we should learn from their actions which become so easily public. Although drugs and alcohol can provide a temporary relief or high, the long term effects can be both debilitating and deadly.


Some of the celebrities that were not mentioned were people who ended up dying of overdoses such as Whitney Houston, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley. They and others like them exchanged the rest of their lives for drugs and alcohol. Addiction is a disease that is treatable with outlooks such as rehab or vivitrol, but only if the person is willing to seek treatment in the first place. No one can make that decision for them.



Next steps

For those celebrities, their addiction ultimately took their lives and we at Landmark Recovery do not want to see that happen to anyone. Our drug and alcohol recovery program is multidimensional which means we look beyond the standard 12-step program. Along with the usual 12-step program, we also offer SMART recovery, teaching individuals what's an intervention, and other forms of recovery so that you or a loved one can get a well-rounded approach to treatment. Our facility is welcoming and so is our staff. If you or a loved one is suffering the effects of alcohol or drug addiction, please contact us right away for a consultation. We are here to help.



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