When Celebrities Self-Destruct

What does it mean to us?

How My Approach Differs from Everything That Hoffman Learned

Standard treatments tell addicts they're powerless and drugs powerful; I don't.
Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D.
This post is a response to Another One: Why So Many Celebrities Die Following Rehab by Stanton Peele

Philip Seymour Hoffman, like many addicts, had been through a lot of treatment before he died—in fact, he was undergoing several forms that we know about at the time of his death. 

[March 1: Despite PSH's involvement in treatment/NA, he did not act consistent with a recognition of risk factors.]

Do you think we'll re-evaluate these treatments? Of course not. We're already doubling down on them.

Hoffman revealed on “60 Minutes” that he went to rehab and “got sober” at age 22, after which he said that he abstained from alcohol and drugs for 23 years. Then he used again and relapsed last May, after which he entered rehab again. He was attending Narcotics Anonymous up to the last months of his life. The FDA-approved drug for addiction treatment, buprenorphine, which suppresses withdrawal from narcotics, was found near Hoffman's dead body.

Hoffman died, leaving three young children, within a year of relapsing despite undergoing the three chief forms of addiction treatment in the U.S.: 12-step rehab, Narcotics Anonymous, pharmaceutically based medical treatment. What's more, Hoffman accepted what he learned in all of these treatments, telling people that he was an addict and swearing that he was powerless in the face of drugs and alcohol.

Hoffman had learned everything American addiction treatment had to offer. Too bad he had to die as a result. But don't feel bad for these treatments—they will carry on in force, as always.

How do I know? Because the promoters of these treatments are all pushing them harder than ever following Hoffman's death. And all of them want to tell you that addiction is more horrible than you ever imagined, and that you are less capable than ever of doing anything about addiction unless you turn to them. In which case, like Hoffman, you may still die. But then it's on you.

An anonymous woman alcoholic, in the aftermath of Hoffman's death, tells us this in The Fix: She attended AA. "I didn’t use and I went to rehab. And I was able to stay sober for seventeen years. Then one day I picked up a drink (I’d stopped going to meetings, no longer had an AA sponsor, and wasn’t working any kind of a spiritual program). It took me five years to get back to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous."

This woman had the "success" of not using anything for 17 years after rehab and joining AA, then she became re-addicted for five years, then she (hallelujah) rejoined AA.  So this would have been the answer for Hoffman.  Of course, that's what Hoffman did.  But maybe he didn't really mean it, and that's why he died.  BUT, you MUST understand, it's HIS fault: "What you don't understand is that people relapse not because the 12 steps don't work, but because they stop working the 12 step program."

David Sheff tells us in an article in Time "How Philip Seymour Hoffman Could Have Been Saved."  Sheff became an expert in addiction because his son was addicted. He then wrote a book, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy.

Here is what Sheff has to tell us: since Hoffman had a brain disease and couldn't possibly control his addiction, even if he stopped using drugs for 23 years, he needed to take Suboxone, the chief agent in which is buprenorphine. Did I mention that prescribed buprenorphine was found near Hoffman's body? Sheff says, "if he took them as prescribed, it’s almost certain that he’d be alive today."

But Hoffman probably didn't take the medication as prescribed, damn him! So that's another pox on Hoffman, having the cure right there (along with his 12-step meetings) and still using enormous amounts of heroin and combining alcohol and narcotics. Apparently, he didn't like the buprenorphine or didn't want to wean himself from heroin. So Sheff is recommending the treatment that, in a sense, killed Hoffman, or at least failed to keep him alive. Message to Sheff: lf a person is undergoing a type of treatment and he dies, that is considered a negative outcome for that therapy. 

Those writing about addiction in the wake of Hoffman's death each feel the need to say more dire, horrible things about drugs and addiction and about how Hoffman was unable to resist their pull, as though this was the knowledge that Hoffman most lacked and needed. Recovering addict Jeff Deeney authored for The Atlantic an article called “Hoffman and the Terrible Heroin Deaths in the Shadows.” Deeney feels Hoffman's problem was that he didn't realize the addicting substance was “cunning, baffling and powerful." Hoffman should have been reminded of that, which his NA meetings failed sufficiently to do. Deeney now wants to shout this from the rooftops, because he knows it's true for him.

Writing in Psychology Today Blogs, Lloyd Sederer, M.D., wants us to know that addiction is a horrible, deadly disease. Yet, somehow, "Addiction in this country remarkably escapes our attention despite its huge prevalence." So, in his job at the head of New York State's mental health depertment, and in his modestly titled article, "Philip Seymour Hoffman and America’s Most Neglected Disease," he wants us to realize that this horrible, deadly, prevalent killer is all around us, and that we can never let down our guard, but that we still have no chance of overcoming it.

Do you get the feeling that Sederer, Deeney ("Deaths in the Shadows"), Sheff ("Americans Greatest Tragedy") are vying for the most shocking, horrifying, intimidating title possible?  But they needn't worry.  Americans—especially Hoffman and AA/NA members like the woman writing in The Fix— already believe this.

I have a different approach, as presented in my book with Ilse Thompson, Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The PERFECT Program. It's an approach I already use in my on-line Life Process Program for treating addiction. We believe that people don't enter treatment overenthused about their prospects or about themselves, or insufficiently aware of the downsides of their addictions. Rather, we find, they are often demoralized with a lack of self-regard that standard treatment piles onto. Instead of recounting their deficiencies and their mistakes, and the overwhelming power of their addictions, we train people to recognize their skills and personal power, to tie into their values, and that they can pursue and realize their goals.  

Here is how we put it in our introduction:

By reinforcing the myth that addiction is uncontrollable and permanent, neuroscientific models make it harder to overcome the problem, just as the 12-step disease model has all along. Telling yourself that you are powerless over addiction is self-defeating; it limits your capacity to change and grow. Isn’t it better to start from the belief that you—or your spouse, or your child—can fully and finally break out of addictive habits by redirecting your life? It may not be quick and easy to accomplish, but it happens all the time. In this book I will show you how it happens and what it takes to do it.

Take the quiz at The PERFECT Program website to show you how this outlook is true, and possible for you to attain.

PERFECT is an acronym for a program that combines cognitive behavior therapy and the Buddhist principles of mindfulness (Pause) and loving kindness (Embrace). Mindfulness is a way of learning to insert choice—driven by your values—into those moments when you feel challenged by your addictive urges. Using the precept of loving kindness, people are taught to accept themselves, flaws and all, in the pursuit of their own internal perfection.

Doesn't it seem as though we have gone far enough, for long enough, down the road of telling people that addiction is horrible and insurmountable and that people are hollow pawns in their own existences? 

Do you think Hoffman might have benefited from our outlook?

Stanton Peele's new book (with Ilse Thompson), is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The PERFECT Program. Follow his guided self-cure program at lifeprocessprogram.com

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P.S. Beyond all of this, the Life Process Program and PERFECT Program emphasize people's lived experience -- that Hoffman was separated from his family and living alone is critical beyond anything in understanding his sad meltdown and demise (even though he still had paternal obligations and connections, which should have been able to buoy him, along with work et al.).

P.S.S. Comment

Perhaps Love for AA is an Addiction?

Submitted by Juliet Roxspin, February 9

I grew up with a narcissist mother, and to me AA teaches the same demoralizing messages any narcissist would teach - It is the great teacher, you are a belligerent pupil; it is healthy and you are sick. AA loves you because you can't love yourself... AA has great qualities and you have character defects. AA is never wrong - you always are... And like a wayward child who is seeking love, perhaps, one grows to love AA as it's new mother/father. Everyone else in the family also loves AA so much, to say anything negative about AA would make you an ungrateful brat.

Juliet followed with this:

Or another thought I was going to add: Like a narcissist parent/ or an abusive lover -- AA also tells their trusting members, "If you were to ever leave me, you will die." Basically the same as, "No one will ever love you as much as I do." For those who have been abused, this adds so much insult to injury. It is "programming" because love/ trust should never come with conditions to never leave, to never have a different opinion, to not ask questions or suggest changes to make things better...

Brilliant, brilliant.

P.S.S.

Subject: PSH
I was in AA for 27 years before leaving several years ago. I haven't had a drink in nearly 30 years, at first because I believed in the abstinence model and afterward because I take certain chemo drugs which don't mix with alcohol.

I would like to address the critics of Stanton's column about Mr. Hoffman.

If you are in AA/NA/etc. for any period of time, you know someone who has died from suicide, drunk driving, accident, murder or overdose. You don't like it, but, if you stay long enough, you accept it as a part of life.

People in programs die most frequently after a "slip." Why? Because they feel hopeless. They feel like failures. And, you know as well as I do, that half of the people in the rooms, help them feel that way by narcissistically saying that the slip helped the people in the room "stay sober" and treating
the slipper like an object lesson.

Imagine that you have been doing drugs after 23 years sober. Imagine going into your home group and telling the people you sponsored that you've been getting high. Imagine the gossip, the innuendo, the bull that gets said about you. Do you REALLY think that you are going to feel good about yourself by going to a meeting, or do you think you are going to feel hopeless and
helpless?

There are people like Mr. Hoffman in AA every day. They aren't famous and they die. Is AA a success for them? Is it helping them? Or does it have such a stranglehold on the treatment business that it shames them into thinking "why bother?" and buying 70 glassine bags of heroin?

Mr. Peele is the man with compassion. Open your minds.

When Celebrities Self-Destruct