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iCAAD INSIDERS: Guest Blog

23 Jan 2018

Death in the Spotlight: Why celebrities fail to get the care they need. 

A conversation between Dufflyn Lammers, Director of European Services for Connections in Recovery and Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, internationally renowned expert on the treatment of addictive and mental health disorders among celebrities and elite patient populations.

 

DL: I wonder what it is about fame that makes it so hard to resist, and even harder to give up? Kids don't say anymore they want to be a famous doctor or a famous athlete or a famous singer, they just say they want to be famous.

 

PH: Fame is addictive. Like an opioid, it seduces and destroys. This is because even the slightest taste of fame causes the reward centers of our brain to release an intoxicating cocktail of dopamine and endorphins. And just like other addictions, the phenomena of tolerance and withdrawal sets in to make us crave more and more of the euphoria associated with it. 

 

DL: Watching a documentary about the life and death of Princess Diana I was struck by how objectified she was, how she became a commodity rather than a person, and as media savvy as she was this seemed to grow into something uncontrollable. I'm not sure much has changed as a result of the tragedy of her papparazzi-induced death. It's been twenty years.

 

PH: Princess Diana’s death awakened the world to the dangers inherent its insatiable appetite for celebrity consumption. Soon after her death, American senators Dianne Feinstein and Orrin Hatch proposed legislation to make pursuing a human being for commercial purposes a criminal offense. That law also contained provisions that made it easier for celebrities to sue photographers for invasions of their privacy. But while the law momentarily brought a modicum of relief to the human beings who were being hunted down for commercial exploitation, the public soon returned to it’s addiction to celebrity culture at an even more frenzied pace.

In recent years, the Internet and social media have caused this phenomenon to spin off its axis. Unlike the prior decades, where celebrity meant having a talent or a craft, a special way of writing about the human experience, the magic of a honed voice, or the ability to transcend reality, today people become famous for being outrageous and capturing the momentary attention by clicks and followers; and through this democratization of celebrity, what was once elevated and special has become base and vile.

 

DL:  Someone in the spotlight has additional obstacles when facing drug and alcohol addiction—the struggle of confidentiality for one. And yet many celebrities are coming out about recovery. 

 

PH: While I'm typically suspicious of a celebrity's public disclosure of their struggle with addictive disorders, there can be enormous good that comes out of it. More disturbing to me are the people who seem to be desperately seeking celebrity status by virtue of their addiction. The difference is usually easy to detect. In the former, there's a grace and dignity that comes from their revelation. Demi Lovato is a person who I respect for her public disclosure. She has revealed her struggles in a way that evidences her humanness and offers other people a way out of their pain. She's also used her struggles to deepen and enrich her creative work. The second class, the folks who use their addiction for celebrity are typically people who have have been fortunate to have a measure of celebrity that's faded. Unable to rekindle their celebrity in their chosen field, they grab on to the "I'm working to de-stigmatize addiction" narrative. Their claim feels hollow and desperate. This of course is dangerous, for it casts a disparaging light on our field and the human beings in it.

 

DL:  It has to be a challenge to decide how much of oneself to share. Now that more and more people are coming out about addiction, there is less stigma. However, the one area of addiction that we don't talk about so much, and that still carries a huge stigma, is sex and love addiction. With the recent #MeToo campaign, it appears we’ve entered into a national—and even international—dialogue. 

 

PH: Sex addiction among celebrities and high-powered men has become the topic de jour. The incredibly intelligent and courageous Gretchen Carlson started this phenomenon over a year ago when she stood up to Roger Allies of Fox News. This David and Goliath moment has empowered other women to stand up and say enough, #metoo! I’m thrilled with the movement. 

The issue I see with these floodgates being open is that the field of sex addiction is stil mired in controversy and dissent. While we have several thought leaders in the field, sex addiction per se is not officially recognized by a peer reviewed, governing body. As such, it’s a generalized territory rather than an agreed upon address. As a generalized territory, it provides bad actors shelter to hide in and dodge responsibility for their actions. The national dialogue I’d like to see happen is towards a clear definition of and treatment for sex addiction. 

 

DL: Me too!

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