The High-Functioning Alcoholic

Understanding this Hidden Class of Alcoholics from a Professional and Personal View

The Shock of the Shock of Celebrity Addiction-Related Deaths

The reported drug overdose of Philip Seymour Hoffman

The recent reported drug overdose and tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman led to a conversation with a friend about why these types of deaths are still so surprising to people and why so much attention is paid. http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/02/showbiz/philip-seymour-hoffman-obit/  

Each time that I hear about a celebrity alcohol and drug-related death, it has an impact on me and millions of others. I don’t actually know this person, but in some way, because I have seen their work, I feel a connection to them. Their deaths bring with them enormous media attention, discussion and publicity. However, there are countless alcohol and drug-related deaths on a daily basis of unknown people who do not receive the same amount of attention or acknowledgement.  Which leads me to my question- why are we so surprised and is so much attention paid?

  1. Our society puts celebrities on a pedestal and attributes superhuman traits to them
  2. We assume that celebrities are high-functioning and accomplished and therefore we minimize our image of their addictions
  3. People assume that if celebrities are performing effectively that do not have an active addiction
  4. False causality is attributed between wealth and success creating happiness
  5. Celebrity struggles and life challenges are often not publicized
  6. Media imagery is so powerful that we create our own ideas about celebrities based on what we have seen and read and not based in reality
  7. We cannot fathom that individuals who seem to “have it all” are vulnerable (possibly even more susceptible) to the same issues than the general public (ie, mental illness, addiction, etc.)
  8. We assume that celebrities would have close associates who would intervene or support them in getting help for their addictions and mental health issues (however, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson are examples of the opposite)
  9. Money generates power and many celebrities surround themselves with people whom they employ and who fear confronting them
  10. “Celebrity” has a certain magical energy to it that we all experience (whether we deny it or not). I remember meeting a celebrity and I was overwhelmed by the feeling of familiarity that I knew the person well because I had seen their movies.
  11. Many celebrities have extreme personalities, need for excitement/stimulation, unlimited finances and a lifestyle that often breeds addiction

If more media attention was paid to each unknown alcoholic or drug addict who dies on a daily basis there could be an increase in addiction resources and funding available for treatment. Or, the media could publicize ways to locate appropriate addiction treatment options. Given how many emails I personally receive from people who do not know how to find appropriate addiction treatment, it is clear that the general public does not know where to turn for help. If information about addiction treatment options and navigating insurance was spread as thoroughly as the information surrounding a celebrity death from an alcohol/drug overdose—more lives could be saved. 

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My thoughts and prayers go out to the Hoffman family and to others who have lost loved ones from addictions. May these types of tragedies inspire others to reach out for help and to get sober.

For more information and resources about high-functioning alcoholic, visit www.highfunctioningalcoholic.com 

Sarah Allen Benton, M.S., L.M.H.C., LPC, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and author of Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic: Professional Views and Personal Insights.

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