Famous & Addicted: What Can We Learn From Their Experience?


Addiction does not discriminate against gender, race, culture, religion, or socioeconomic status. Many famous people from television, movies, politics, social media, etc. have been addicted to various substances.

According to statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 22.7 million Americans need drug or alcohol treatment [1]. For many celebrities within our society, their addiction struggles are played out publically along with their recovery and then their relapse.

Past Historical Addicts

Throughout history, various famous individuals have been addicts [1]. One such person was Sigmund Freud, an Austrian psychiatrist who was addicted to cocaine.

Paul Erdos, a Jewish-Hungarian mathematician, was addicted to amphetamines, and William Stewart Halsted, a physician, and pioneer in the field of breast cancer treatment was a morphine addict.

Star Wars

The late Carrie Fisher, best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies, stated in an interview about mental health and addiction that, “happy is one of the many things I’m likely to be over the course of a day and certainly over the course of a lifetime. But, I think if you expect that you are going to be happy throughout your life or if you have a need to be more comfortable all the time, well, among other things you have the makings of a classic drug addict or alcoholic” [2].


Daniel Radcliffe, the star of Harry Potter, was often drunk during later years of filming, and he reported in interviews that he developed the addiction in response to his very public success and pressures to maintain it.

After five years of sobriety, he stated that he continues a quiet life and enjoys new routines and sobriety. He said in an interview that he was ‘living in constant fear of who he would meet and what he might have said to them’ when asked about his previous alcoholic days [2].

Neurological Changes

We know that addiction and alcohol alter the way the brain works. It changes the reward and pleasure signals in our brain when substances are used. Alcohol and drugs over a brief period can lead to further abuse and addictive behaviors.

Man Dealing With Sexual Temptation and Impulses

Addiction is often part of co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders.

Many people who struggle with these mental disorders use alcohol and drugs to minimize the symptoms and behaviors of these illnesses.

High Achievers?

A Johns Hopkins’ School of Medicine professor and author, Dr. David Linden looked at addiction research.

He wrote that he feels some traits that make a good successful person, one who is a risk-taker, has a strong drive for success, obsessive, dedicated, and novelty-seeking is also what makes for a ‘good’ addict [4].

In his book, he writes that the qualities use the same pathways that affect the reward and pleasure center in the brain for both addicts and successful people.

Dr. Linden also found that the genetic variation that predisposes a person to be an addict seems to dampen the dopamine system, whether it’s the enzymes, transporters, or receptors.  Dr. Linden goes on to say that individuals who are addicts seem to derive pleasure from their substance of choice, just as they derive pleasure from high-risk behaviors.

Another researcher, Constance Scharff, Ph.D. author of Ending Addiction for Good, states that those who are high achievers are that way because of stress or trauma that occurred early in their life and this tends to drive the success just as it drives an addiction.

She theorizes that these high-achievers are often lacking a fundamental need in childhood and are pushed very hard to succeed for, but are also self-medicating the pain of childhood through addiction [4].

Does Education Have a Role?

A study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that 20% of alcoholics are high functioning and well-educated [4]. They also found that prescription medication addiction is on the rise among the most successful people.


Many times famous individuals, whether a movie, T.V. star, successful CEO or an overnight social media star tend to have people around them who enable the addiction.

These individuals work to keep the successful addict functioning within their environment to continue their success going.

Addiction is a primary and chronic disease that affects the reward and pleasure area in the brain activated [5].

It changes the brain’s regions responsible for motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these areas can lead to characteristic biological, psychological, social, and spiritual issues.

When a person has an addiction, they cannot consistently abstain from drugs or alcohol. They struggle with behavior control, cravings, diminished recognition of significant problems in daily functioning and interpersonal relationships.

They often struggle with dysfunctional emotional issues as well.

What We Learned and Continue to Learn

Those battling addiction struggle with relapse. For those who lead a public life, their addiction is open for all to see.

Often when addiction is not treated, it can lead to further decline in brain functioning and health. Addiction does not discriminate between famous or non-famous. It can affect any person.

Any one person can be affected, but we all can support each other through an addiction. We can help a loved one through treatment or through a difficult day with a friendly text or phone call to let them know you are thinking of them.

Even though we may be different in terms of being famous or not, we still all want to be known and supported in times of need.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.
Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] Famous Drug Abusers. (2017, January 06). Retrieved December 19, 2017, from https://drugabuse.com/library/famous-drug-abusers/
[2] What 11 Now-Sober Celebrities Want You to Know About Addiction. (2016, February 23). Retrieved December 19, 2017, from https://www.elementsbehavioralhealth.com/culture-media/11-now-sober-celebrities-want-know-addiction/
[3] Lathan, S. R. (2009, October). Celebrities and substance abuse. Retrieved December 19, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2760168/
[4] Walton, A. (2013). Pharma & Healthcare #LiveLong AUG 6, 2013 @ 11:20 AM 55,849 The Little Black Book of Billionaire Secrets Why The Brains Of High-Powered People May Be More Prone To Addiction. Retrieved December 19, 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2013/08/06/why-the-brains-of-high-powered-people-may-be-more-prone-to-addiction/
[5] https://www.asam.org/resources/definition-of-addiction

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on February 7, 2018

Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.