Fifteen Famous People Who Struggled with Addiction
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Substance use disorder (SUD) can affect one’s entire life, and throughout history, many have faced substance abuse. Various celebrities, historical figures, and politicians have walked the path of recovery. Some were successful and became advocates for addiction recovery while others struggled with SUD throughout their lives.
Entertainers Who Struggled with Addiction
Robert Downey Jr.
Downey was introduced to marijuana by his father when he was eight years old. This started his journey with SUD. Once he found success acting, Downey struggled with heroin, alcohol, and cocaine.
Today, Downey is a well-known actor and has starred in roles such as Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes. He does not blame anyone for his struggles with substance abuse, and he chooses to live in the present.
Lovato would spend some time in a sobriety house and has stated about the experience, “I had all the help in the world, but I didn’t want it. When I hit that moment, I was like, it’s no longer fun when you’re doing it alone.”3
Her struggle with substance use and alcohol became well known when she released her song “Sober” after relapsing in 2018 six years into sobriety. Lovato suffered from a nearly fatal overdose a month later. Since then, she has become an advocate for people struggling with substance abuse and mental health.
Ben Affleck is a two-time Grammy-winning actor. His father struggled with alcohol abuse, which impacted Affleck’s life up into adulthood. Affleck stopped drinking for a few years before attempting to drink in moderation. He stated, “I was sober for a couple of years and then I thought, ‘You know, I want to just drink like a normal person and I want to have wine at dinner.’ And I was able to for about eight years.”4
Bradley Cooper is famous for his roles in The Hangover and A Star is Born. Cooper struggled with alcohol abuse, which progressively worsened during his rise to fame.
Cooper started recovery in 2004 and has been sober for nearly 15 years. He continues to maintain sober through roles that portrayed characters struggling with substance use disorder.
When discussing one of these roles, he stated, “Anytime you’re trying to tell the truth you need to go to places and use things that have happened to you.”5 Cooper tends to not open up about his struggles with alcohol in his past, but he has discussed it a few times in interviews.
Marilyn Monroe was the premier actress in the fifties and early sixties. Monroe struggled with physical ailments growing up and was the victim of sexual abuse. Her doctor prescribed vodka to help with her pain.6
After becoming a star through method acting, Monroe began seeing a psychoanalyst. She was prescribed medication to help her get through the day and to sleep at night. Although she went through several detoxes, Monroe’s substance use disorder made her fear not being good enough to grow in the acting world.
Monroe once said in an interview that she was “one of the world’s most self-conscious people.”6After failed relationships with the Kennedy brothers and turning thirty-six years old, Monroe fell deeper into depression. She would die on August 4, 1962, of a drug overdose caused by potential suicide via self-medication.
Historical Figures Who Struggled with Addiction
Sigmund Freud is known as the father of psychoanalysis. Freud struggled with cocaine use throughout his career after he started experimenting with it as a way to cure morphine addiction. Freud began using cocaine to combat negative emotions.7 Freud would start his recovery from cocaine addiction after one of his patients died of an overdose in the 1890s.
Benjamin Franklin was a well-known American scientist, politician, writer, and inventor. However, Franklin struggled with alcohol and opioid abuse throughout his lifetime.
Franklin discussed his SUD throughout his writings, mainly because he did not see it as a problem. Towards the end of his life, he had many painful conditions. Franklin’s doctor prescribed laudanum to help with the pain. Franklin’s condition worsened and he wrote, “Little remains of me but a skeleton covered in a skin.”8 He died at the end of 1790 still struggling with substance abuse.
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh is a famous post-impressionist artist in the 1800s. He normally smoked a pipe and drank absinthe, which caused hallucinations and delirium. Throughout his life, Van Gogh struggled with mental illness, with one of his most famous incidents being when he cut off his ear and gave it to a prostitute.
Some scholars believe Van Gogh’s mental illness was caused by his struggles with absinthe.9 Van Gogh once stated, “Meanwhile, you do understand that if alcohol has undoubtedly been one of the great causes of my madness, then it came on very slowly and will go away slowly too, assuming it does go, of course.”9 Van Gogh’s mental illness and alcohol abuse eventually led to his death caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound in July of 1890.
Thomas Edison is one of the most famous inventors in American history. He holds 1,093 patents to inventions he created.10 It was believed that Edison only slept for four hours a night, which allowed him to work as much as he did.
Edison drank Vin Mariani – wine mixed with cocaine – quite regularly. The side effects of drinking large amounts line up with Edison’s sleeplessness and energy. Similar to other historical figures, more research is required to fully understand Edison’s substance use disorder and the negative effects it had on him.
Hemingway underwent electroshock therapy a minimum of fifteen times to help with his depression. His father died of a self-inflicted gun wound, and Hemingway once said about his father’s death, “I’ll probably go the same way.” His struggles with substance abuse led to a deeper depression. He eventually passed away of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in July 1961 after multiple suicide attempts.
Politicians Who Struggled with Addiction
Former Mayor Marion Barry served four terms as the mayor of Washington, D.C. He was a highly influential figure for years, but in 1990, Barry was arrested during an FBI sting for drug charges.12
Barry started his recovery process after serving some time in prison, and he was able to hold office once again. He had a heart for lower-income citizens and set up many programs to help them. Barry also struggled with extramarital affairs throughout his life. He passed away in November 2014.
Ann Richards was the former Governor of Texas before losing her reelection bid to Former President George W. Bush. Throughout her life, she struggled with an alcohol abuse disorder. Richards had to face her problem when her friends came together to intervene with the addiction.
Richards went into a treatment center and has been sober ever since. When talking about AA and recovery, she stated, “Alcoholism and my additional treatment ended up becoming the most wonderful, most instructive, most important experience I’ve had in my life.”13
Patrick Joseph Kennedy
Patrick J. Kennedy was a US Representative for sixteen years. He fought to pass several important laws including the Federal Parity Law, which gives access to mental health and substance abuse care that was not previously guaranteed.14
Kennedy experience cocaine, alcohol, and other substance addictions throughout his life. In 2006, he started recovery for OxyContin. In 2013, he started the Kennedy Forum, a non-profit organization with a goal to create a national dialogue for mental health and addiction treatment.14
Rob Ford was the former mayor of Toronto. His substance abuse was brought into the public light throughout his four-year tenure as mayor. Ford admitted to struggling with multiple substances. He went as far as to say, “You name it, I pretty well covered it.”15
Ford started his recovery process to help overcome his SUD. He continued to serve as mayor even after his disorder became public knowledge. Ford passed away in 2016, two years after withdrawing his reelection bid for mayor.
Trey Radel was a former US Congressman who resigned after buying cocaine from an undercover police officer in 2013. Before being arrest, Radel was an upcoming star in the Republican Party. In an interview about his arrest, Radel stated, “I not only knew mentally that my world was imploding but I physically got ill. I physically felt like I was going to collapse. And that was the beginning of a very dark, terrible moment in life.”16
Three months after his arrest, Radel resigned from congress. He stated that his struggles with cocaine stemmed from his alcohol use and trying to live a life of fun. Radel has since written a book about his experiences in Washington.