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Addiction and Fame: What’s the Connection?

Addiction, divorce, Jennifer Lawrence’s newest hairstyle: Wait in line in a drug store and chances are you’ll see at least one of these headlining the magazines that, just below, promise to reveal the season’s new lip color. Seeing Jennifer Lawrence on a magazine cover is common enough—I mean, it’s JLaw.

Perhaps divorce isn’t all too surprising among the rich and the famous—constant travel and high-pressure careers have never been key ingredients for a successful marriage. But why is it that so many celebrities are plagued by addictions? And what, if anything, can the non-famous learn from the trend?


Among other things, substance abuse represents a major drain on a person’s wallet. And whereas many abusers have to be creative when it comes to finding ways to sustain their habit, celebrities often need look no further than their plus-sized bank account. Simply put, the rich and the famous can afford to feed an addiction in a way the average nine-to-fiver can’t.

“Money, power and fame give individuals avenues to behaviors that can be very self-destructive that other people just don’t have access to,” Dr. Dale Archer, the medical director for psychiatric services at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital in Louisiana, said in an interview.

The New York Times bestselling author has worked with celebrities from the TV industry, including reality TV, through the years. The way he sees it, “Most people working a 40-hour a week job with two kids aren’t going to have the money to head out to Las Vegas for a five-day weekend on a whim.”

But as studies show, money can open up doors to addiction even in the absence of fame.

Suniya Luthar teaches psychology at Arizona State University and is the author of a number articles on substance abuse among youth from affluent communities.

Through these studies, Luthar has repeatedly proven that, contrary to prevailing stereotypes, children from upper-class communities face just as much risk—if not more–as their peers raised in poverty when it comes to substance abuse.[2]

There are a number reasons for this, Luthar said. Included in them is money. “They can afford it all, including the very sophisticated fake IDs,” Luthar said in an interview. “It’s very disturbing.”


Whether a person is between shows, seasons, or tours, long stretches of downtime offer powerful motivation for stimulation. In fact, according to Steve Taylor, a senior lecturer of psychology at Leeds Beckett University, this may be the biggest culprit lurking behind many celebrities’ addictions.

“I believe that the main reason why so many pop musicians are so prone to drug problems is very simple: because of the unstructured, inactive lives they lead, with a lot of traveling, hanging around and empty time,” he writes.[3]

Nor does it stop with pop stars. The same is true for actors, athletes, and “even CEOs,” Duff McKagan, the original bass player for Guns N’ Roses, said.[4]

There is power in the kind of structure found in a steady regular job, Archer explained. “If you have to wake up every morning and go into work, there’s an external restriction that helps protect against impulsiveness.” This is in contrast to someone who may work for four or five months on a film only to have the next six months stretch in front of him or her like a blank canvas. In those situations, Archer said, it can take a stronger individual to resist the temptations that money and fame are only likely to compound.


Be it the reason or the result of whatever fame-seeking career a person may be pursuing, narcissism and the isolation it breeds can leave a person especially vulnerable to addiction.

The DSM-5 lists the following symptoms for Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

“You see a trained narcissism with young celebrities—especially with athletes,” Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, the vice chair of the University of Florida’s Department of Psychiatry, told The Fix. “They have been taught since seventh grade that they’re different, special, or better. You have it in the entertainment business as well, particularly with young stars. When they grow up, that narcissism becomes a real barrier to recovery.”[5]

Part of this has to do with one of the central tenets to overcoming addiction. “Humility is one of the first principles of recovery,” according to Dr. Drew Pinsky, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Southern California’s School of Medicine. “And someone who doesn’t have such a humble position in life—it’s very difficult for them not to expect special treatment.”[6]

Keeping the High Alive

Running errands, catching up with friends—in short, daily life—doesn’t pack quite the adrenaline rush as performing before a crowd of thousands. This in turn leaves those who pivot between the two extremes vulnerable to finding ways to maintain the high that comes with the mundane life that may follow the rush.

“There’s a tremendous dopamine rush that’s involved with performers and all the trappings that go along with being famous,” Archer said.

That means that much like alcohol, gambling and drugs, there is a rush to which a certain subset of the population is at risk of becoming addicted.

In 2009, researchers Donna Rockwell and David Giles published a study based on interviews with 15 celebrities from a variety of industries. Among their findings was that once a person became famous, he or she had a hard time imagining life as anything else. “’It is somewhat of a high,'” one interviewee said. “’I kind of get off on it,'” explained another. And then there was this: “’I’ve been addicted to almost every substance known to man at one point or another, and the most addicting of them all is fame.'”[7]

That said, a person’s job doesn’t have to pack paparazzi and adoring fans in order to leave a person craving the rush, Archer noted. High-level CEOs making lucrative deals, stock brokers betting big and coming out on top—all of these experiences as well as others like them can leave a person craving more.

You and Me

Whether or not celebrities are actually more prone to addiction or whether their struggles are simply more public, that, Archer said, is the million-dollar question. “I don’t think anybody knows.” Nevertheless, he personally believes “they are more primed, just because of the nature of the work they do.”

Still, money, unstructured time, narcissism, a sense of needing to live from high to high—none of these are specific to the rich and famous. The same goes for anyone facing addiction.

As Kevin Hill, an addiction psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School, put it:

“Addiction does not discriminate, it cuts across all socioeconomic classes. People use according to psycho-social stressors. Celebrities might have slightly different stressors, such as fame, but they use drugs like regular people—they just use better drugs.” [8]


1. Luthar, S. S., & D’Avanzo, K. (1999). Contextual factors in substance use: A study of suburban and inner-city adolescents. Development and Psychopathology, 11(4), 845–867.
2. Luthar, S. S., & Latendresse, S. J. (2005). Children of the Affluent: Challenges to Well-Being. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(1), 49–53.
3. Taylor, (2012). The Perils of Fame and Fortune. Psychology Today.
4. Puente, M. (2012). Celebrity Addicts: Who dies, who survives, and why? USA Today.
5. McGuiness, K. (2012). Are Celebrities More Prone to Addiction? The Fix.
6. Harris, D. (2015). Does Fame Fuel Celebrities’ Addiction? The Fix.
7. Being a Celebrity: A Phenomenology of Fame. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 40, 178–210.
8. Puente, M. (2012). Celebrity Addicts: Who dies, who survives, and why? USA Today.

Written by Tamarra Kemsley