The Mighty Have Fallen; Here's Why

Some say creativity comes with insecurity, pressure and a need to self-medicate.


May 10, 2007 — -- He had it all -- climbing his way to the top of one of the most powerful entertainment companies in the world, only to hit what could be called rock bottom.

HBO chief executive Chris Albrecht stepped down at parent company Time Warner's request, after previously taking a leave of absence to get his alcoholism back in check following a weekend arrest in Las Vegas on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend.

Albrecht said he is "deeply sorry for what occurred in Las Vegas this weekend and for any embarrassment it caused my family, the company I love and myself."

He's part of a long list of high-profile successes who have been forced to share their rise-and-fall stories with the rest of the world. From top executives to athletes to actors, reaching the top only to be detoured by alcoholism or other self-destructive behavior is an all-too-common occurrence.

Gary Stromberg, author of "Harder They Fall: Celebrities Tell Their Real-Life Stories of Addiction and Recovery," told ABC News, "With creative people in general, I think there is more of a tendency to gravitate toward substance abuse.

"Creative people push the envelope, and there's no net," he said. "They live on the edge and that's risky. They live in a world surrounded by people who adore them and enable them. No one telling them no. ... They live privileged lives and they don't play by the same rules as the rest of the world. They are crying out for someone to say no to them."

Sarah Jessica Parker acknowledged to Parade magazine last year that she enabled former boyfriend Robert Downey Jr.

"In every good and bad way, I enabled him to show up for work," she said. "If he didn't, I'd cover for him, find him, clean him up. He was like a broken pipe with a leak that you're constantly putting tape around and tape over tape, but you can't stop the leaking."

More recently, actor David Hasselhoff could be seen intoxicated on the floor in a video taken by his 16-year-old daughter.

Ex-wife Pamela Bach told ABC News, "I don't want my daughter taping him and involving herself just so he can see himself intoxicated. She is not the parent, and I don't want her playing the parental role. It's very upsetting. This is an obvious cry for help."

Pop star Britney Spears also appeared to have it all -- talent, riches, fame and a new family -- only to shave her head and enter rehab.

Former drug addict Carrie Fisher admitted in Psychology Today that in the chaos of Hollywood and fame, "Drugs made me feel more normal. ... They contained me."

Johnny Depp blamed his speedy rise to fame for causing his debilitating alcohol addiction.

Depp told the World Entertainment News Network, "I'd go to functions, and back in those days I literally had to be drunk to be able to speak and get through it. I guess I was trying not to feel anything. My drug of choice back then was alcohol more than anything -- hard liquor, spirits. And yeah, I had a keen idea that it was not good. But you get liquored up and once you are in that spiral, you don't even get hangovers anymore. You wake up and have a drink again."

Stromberg, who works with the Hazeldon Treatment Center, is a recovering drug addict himself who has been clean for 24 years. The once high-powered publicist said, "Sometimes when people rise to the top, there also often can be an inherent belief that they are a fraud, that they are not as talented as people think. Drinking helps numb that fear and enables them to be successful. Walking out on stage takes a lot of courage, and some of these people don't have as much courage as we think."

In her book, "Looking for Gatsby: My Life," Faye Dunaway wrote of the pressures.

"To counter the stress of filmmaking," she said, "I've never stopped guarding against a return to that kind of emotional reliance on food, and as I grew into this sophisticated world, alcohol. I'm finally beyond that now, but it was the pendulum I would swing on for years."

Douglas Eby, the author of "Actors and Addiction," told ABC News the works of Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist, are key to understanding why high achievers can fall.

"Dabrowski developed a personality theory that many current researchers and writers use to help understand highly talented people. He noted that many gifted and talented people -- including actors, of course -- may experience increased mental excitability, depressions, dissatisfaction with oneself, feelings of inferiority and guilt, states of anxiety, inhibitions, and ambivalences, all symptoms which the psychiatrist tends to label psychoneurotic. Maybe one reason so many intense and sensitive people self-medicate is to dampen the internal and external condemnations of those symptoms that Dabrowski and others say can indicate a capacity for achieving higher levels of personal development."

And when it comes to recovery, luxury rehab centers seem to be the new "in-thing" for the elite crowd. Therapist Jeffrey Gardere told ABC News, "Unfortunately. it must become a show -- because you have to prove to the public and the money people who bankroll your career that you are stable and not a washed up, damaged liability. That being said, while in rehab, don't check out at night to party like Lindsay. Don't go to rehab on your own terms and rules and private space like Whitney and Britney. And most importantly never, ever check out prematurely and against doctors orders."

Gardere added that those in the spotlight have to work that much harder to recover.

"I think it is important that you have friends or a support group that will not enable you," he said. "It is also important that you do not put the need to be in the public eye before your needs as an individual who may be very vulnerable to people, places and things. Dump the drug using, alcoholic-fueled friends like a bad [drug] habit. Finally, if you are dealing with an addiction, learn to deal with personal and Hollywood stress by staying in therapy, spirituality, exercise etc. Don't quit just because you feel you are better. Addiction is a lifelong battle!"

It's a battle Albrecht knows all too well.

"Two years ago, I decided that I could handle drinking again," he said. "Clearly, I was wrong. Given that truth, I have committed myself to sobriety."