Does Fame Fuel Celebrities' Addiction?

ByABC News

May 4, 2001 -- Baseball legend Darryl Strawberry — in court today to explain his recent absence from a drug treatment center — is part of a long, lamentable legacy of celebrities unable to escape the grip of addiction.

Judy Garland, jazz great Charlie Parker and actor Robert Downey Jr. are other stars who've battled with drugs and alcohol. Some doctors believe their fame and success factored into their addictions.

"Entertainment, rock stars, pilots, race car drivers; these kinds of environments tend to have a high predisposition for addiction," says Dr. Drew Pinsky, an addiction specialist who has treated stars such as Scott Weiland of the rock group Stone Temple Pilots.

Pinsky says this is, in part, an issue of genetics: some people are biologically more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. And these people are often drawn to thrilling environments.

Strawberry was in court because he was absent from St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Fla., where he was under house arrest. Prosecutors are seeking a prison sentence for Strawberry, saying he has several times violated the terms of his 1999 sentence on drug possession and solicitation of prostitution.

Recipe for Relapse

Pinsky also says that celebrities face special barriers to recovery. For one, success may make them feel invincible.

"Humility is one of the first principles of recovery. And someone who doesn't have such a humble position in life — it's very difficult for them not to expect special treatment," he says.

That can prevent the famous from taking the responsibility that all addicts must take for their own recovery.

Add to all this the stress of media scrutiny and the ready availability of drugs from fawning hangers-on, and you have a recipe for relapse, say doctors.

Furthermore, there is often no professional penalty for stars with addictions. Doctors or pilots can lose their licenses, but performers often benefit from a perverse sort of publicity buzz.

When Downey was released from prison last summer after serving two years on drug charges, he was offered acting roles almost immediately.

Taking Measures

The sports and entertainment worlds are now doing more to fight drugs and alcohol.

Television and movie producers allow Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on set. The National Basketball Association has a rigorous program of testing, penalties and treatment.

The music industry has organizations that fund rehabilitation for addicted performers.

Wayne Kramer, who played in the 1960s rock band the MC5, was in a spiral of drugs and crime until he received help.

"By hitting that bottom, I was able to realize that I needed help. When I reached out for help, help was there. And for that, I'm really grateful," he says.

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