Reading Between the (Head)Lines

A different take on today's top stories

Philip Seymour Hoffman: The Curse Of Addiction

Understanding Philip Seymour Hoffman's relapse after 23 years of sobriety.

The world was stunned that Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his home at 46 years of age with a needle in his arm. To say Hoffman was a talented actor is an understatement. He was a brilliant, commanding performer.

For his leading role in Capote (2005), he won the Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA Award and Critics Choice Award. He was nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe for The Master (2012), Doubt (2008), and Charlie Wilson's War (2007). He also received three Tony Award nominations.

There were a plethora of other awards and nominations—too many to mention here. He was not only an actor, but a producer and director, as well. But despite all the successes and titles Hoffman earned from the stage and in front of or behind the camera, he held another title, too. Addict.

Hoffman was found dead in his apartment, apparently from a heroin overdose, though as of February 5, New York City's chief medical examiner says the cause of death is still pending. Hoffman's body was found amidst syringes, cocaine, prescription pill bottles and 50 small bags of heroin.

Hoffman had gone public about his past drug addiction. In 2006 he told 60 Minutes that when he was 22 he "got panicked for my life", and gave up the drugs and alcohol. He was clean for 23 years. Twenty-three years. And then two years ago, he relapsed.

In 2004, there were 1,879 heroin deaths, while in 2010 this spiked to 3,038. Across the US, there are approximately 600,000 heroin addicts, each spending from $100 to $200 daily to support their addiction.

But it's not just heroin. Once an addict, always an addict. Regardless of your sex, race or creed, if you're an addict, you're an addict—for life. Addiction is a brain disease. If you go through rehab, you're not cured. You're clean. But you're not cured. Here are the four C's of addiction:

1) Loss of CONTROL over use: The inability to have “just one”.

2) Continued use despite harmful CONSEQUENCES: You know your life is spiraling out of control, but keep using anyway.

3) COMPULSION to use: It's all you can think about, nothing else is important.

4) CRAVING: The drive to get high or stoned or drunk is overwhelming and you are either high or in withdrawal, craving another hit, drink, shot, toke.

Hoffman was clean for 23 years and was unbelievably successful. In 2012 he began taking prescription pain pills. And he relapsed. He wasn't being selfish. He wasn't being stupid. He didn't think he was invincible. He was an addict, and he relapsed and died alone in his apartment.

Despite all the advances in treatment, increased understanding of brain chemistry, realization that addiction causes changes in neural pathways and various new meds that suppress cravings, this simple fact remains true: “Once an addict always an addict”. And if you’re an addict you can never have “just one”.

Dale Archer, M.D., is a clinical psychiatrist and author of The New York Times bestseller, Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional.

more...

Subscribe to Reading Between the (Head)Lines

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.