Celebrities and Addiction (April 2018)


The media are relentless when a celebrity’s substance addiction is revealed.  For good or bad reasons, probably mostly bad, unflattering photographs are taken, opinions are solicited from the unlikeliest sources, and the phrase “facing his/her demons” is dusted off.  The media pressure reaches such a pitch that a celebrity may well opt to go to a US rehab simply to get some peace and anonymity while in treatment.  For them it’s not a game, but a bewildering and life-changing personal crisis.

A recent example has prompted in us the following thoughts.

As a generalisation, society is not very tolerant of addicts.  The negative phrases “only themselves to blame, no-one forced them to do it, selfish, weak, it’s the kids I feel sorry for”, and more, are often heard.  It’s easy to look down on addicts, and quite a lot of people quite like someone to look down on.  It’s also true that practising alcoholics and addicts can behave very badly when they are at the lowest point of their lives – for example, drink driving is indeed both dangerous and criminal behaviour.

But the picture gets complicated when we know a bit about the person involved, either through the media or more closely.  Perhaps he or she is well liked in the entertainment world, a genuinely nice person, maybe a family man who has or had a good marriage, unspoiled by success, feet on the ground.  Perhaps they have worked hard, been real contributors to society, and don’t fit into the “selfish, weak” judgements.  There may be “mitigating circumstances” (although, do illnesses really need mitigating circumstances?).

All that makes it a bit more difficult to reach for the lazy opinions.  If you quite like someone, you’ll perhaps be more tolerant, or stick up for them in discussion.  That’s also true for those issues other than addiction where negative judgements and disdain are the default settings: if you know something of the person, if you know them as a three-dimensional human being instead of a one-dimensional caricature, the issues become more complex, our views on them more nuanced.  We think that’s a good thing.

So we hope for two things as we write this, as Ant McPartlin tries to get to grips with the hard road of early recovery and beyond.  First, we wish him a solid, lasting recovery, and a chance to rebuild his life in all its facets in whatever directions he chooses.

And second, we ask that the consideration that has been afforded to him in the national debate in recent days could also be given to all those suffering from addiction.  They too have parents, partners, friends, and perhaps children who depend on them.  They too may well be long-term net contributors to society.   They too are three-dimensional people, like everyone else, not caricatures to be demonised and demeaned.  Many people already take that view, of course.  But many more do not.

What we also know is that the chances of our clients getting back into health and a useful role in society are made better if that view, the view of the addict as a three-dimensional citizen, which we believe is a fair and accurate view, is more widely shared.