Cory Monteith: Inside the Celebrity Pressure Cooker

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Cory MonteithGone are the days when the words “heroin addict” conjured up a stigmatized image of filthy, impoverished junkies sprawled in a squalid flat (think back to the 1996 film, Trainspotting). Times have changed; yesterday, NBC News called the late Cory Monteith “the new, fresh face of heroin.” Monteith, who was a rising star on Glee before his tragic death this past weekend, was handsome, athletic, and celebrated. yesterday, NBC News called the late Cory Monteith “the new, fresh face of heroin.” How did this golden boy become the poster-child for a drug that, according to The Guardian, “had already stagnated socially into ghettos” by the late 1970s?

The likely culprit: prescription drugs. Today’s abusers of prescription opiates – which are still shockingly socially acceptable – often transition to heroin use for a cheaper and more accessible high. But rather than examining this particular epidemic and the many complicated causes of addiction, far too many fans and journalists are currently writing off Monteith’s death as a sad but inevitable outcome of fame.

In reality, wealth and fame don’t “produce” addiction any more than poverty produces recovery. While it’s true that celebrities have more money to spend on drugs than the average Joe and often more social pressure to live a “high rolling” lifestyle, we know that addiction is a disease that can affect any individuals, not just celebrities.

A person who is susceptible to addiction may use substances to cope with any kind of pressure—be it the pressure of high achievement, the pressure of trauma, or the pressure of poverty. Celebrity is merely one of the many “pressure-cookers” that can trigger addiction, worsen an already existing drug problem, or prompt a relapse. For Monteith, who already had a history of substance abuse struggles and who first sought treatment at age 19, it’s likely that the pressure of stardom did have a negative impact on his sobriety.

It’s also imperative that people who are struggling with addiction are not pampered or enabled—a difficult prospect for many in the limelight. Quality of treatment is key, and “quality” means evidence-based practices and expert clinicians. An addiction treatment facility, for example, shouldn’t be indistinguishable from a high-end hotel. Michael, a Phoenix House client who is now in recovery, experienced this disconnect while looking for treatment options: “The first place I called,” he says, “was like, ‘For $50,000 you can go to Malibu or Palm Springs!’ And I just said, ‘Look, lady. I’m not going on vacation. I need help.’” Unfortunately, the spa-rehab industry is compelling, and struggling celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan and Billy Joel continue to float in and out of these elite facilities. Elton John, who attended a no-frills treatment program and has been sober since 1990, says it well: “You have your demons and you’re not going to get rid of them at ‘rehab light.’”

Yet for every tragic overdose or “rehab darling” in Hollywood, there are countless celebrities like Elton John (and Robert Downey, Jr., Jamie Lee Curtis, Russell Brand…the list goes on) whose success in recovery shows that relapse is far from inevitable. In fact, as recovering addict Matthew Perry explains in People, being in the public eye can even aid recovery and accountability: “Because of the tabloid stuff,” Perry says, “it wasn’t like I would walk into a bar and order a drink. If I did, strangers would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I just read that you’re not allowed to do that.'”

We mustn’t accept celebrity tragedies like Monteith’s death as an unfortunate norm; by doing so we are turning our heads and allowing more individuals to have their lives cut short too soon. The bottom line: addiction is a manageable disease, and recovery is possible. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a TV star or a construction worker. It doesn’t matter whether you’re addicted to Xanax or to crack cocaine. All that matters is finding the right treatment program and the support system that works for you. Millions of Americans are struggling with drug use today, and each of them can find their own path to recovery.

Howard P. Meitiner
President and CEO
Phoenix House

If you or a loved one needs help for a substance abuse issue, Phoenix House is here for you. Email us or call today at 1 888 671 9392.

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  • Malibu Beach Recovery Center

    Fantastic points, especially that we should not accept deaths like this as, “the tragic norm.” As soon as we begin to take death from drugs as the norm, we lessen the chances of addicts to recover.

  • M. Cousin

    Here.. here..Howard
    Well said.