It seems that almost every week there's a new celebrity, another story of substance abuse, or one more humiliating mug shot pulling back the curtain on a member of America's royalty. Substance abuse itself knows no borders of wealth or fame. From Camden, N.J., to Beverly Hills, Calif.; it reaches all races and classes. Yet the hot pops of the paparazzi cameras leave no celebrity embarrassment uncovered. Flipping through the tabloids, Hollywood looks like a town that revolves around clubbing, drinking and, when the celebrities are caught, drugs.
There's Lindsay Lohan's vicious circle of addiction, arrest, rehab and relapse. Britney Spears is teetering on the edge for the entire world to see, rumors of drug use and mental instability swirling around her. Never has a hamburger been given so much attention as when David Hasselhoff comically mangled it after a night of drinking in a moment that shot to viral stardom. But when his daughter's voice can be heard behind the lens, pleading with her slurring, shirtless father to get help, it doesn't seem that funny any longer.
Imagery like that is all too familiar and indelible. Just this week Bon Jovi lead guitarist Richie Sambora was the latest star to get snared for drunk driving.
"We're seeing it explode," Dr. Drew Pinsky said to ABC News. "It's a pandemic right now. We're seeing younger people get more serious addiction, more rapidly with multiple substances."
Pinsky is a radio host and a doctor, who has treated and studied celebrity addicts for more than 20 years.
He says that a dangerous cocktail of money, power and the ability to give both to others particularly puts celebrities at risk for not getting help for addiction.
"There's not a boss, not the legal system, there's not a family there to capture them and contain them and refer them for treatment or to help contain their behaviors," Pinsky said. "They have too much money and power, and it spirals out of control."
Hollywood has always been a place where drugs and fame intersect at disaster. The list of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their addiction is long and tragic: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, John Belushi, Chris Farley, River Phoenix, to name a few. In the past year alone Anna Nicole Smith, Ike Turner, Brad Renfro and Heath Ledger, all had their lives cut short.
Ledger died of an accidental overdose of six different prescription drugs. Unlike other celebrity drug users, his problems were not widely known. For Pinsky that was a major factor in Ledger not getting the proper help.
"You're adding to the stigma by shrouding it in secrecy," he said. "You're as sick as your secrets when you have addiction and it is fueling other people to keep their secrets and end up where he ended up."
At the opposite end of that spectrum is Amy Winehouse. Her battles with drug addiction were daily tabloid fodder, all of which came to a head when a video of her reputedly smoking crack, and openly talking about taking too many tranquilizers, hit the Web.
"Amy Winehouse has severe, profound, life-threatening addiction," Pinsky said. "She has made a career out of resisting treatment. I don't know what it's going to take to turn her around. I really fear for her life."