Celebrity addictions are publicized all the time. It seems every month the tabloids have photos of someone famous battling addiction or getting treatment. Are more people becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol? Or are reporters and broadcasters getting better at publishing news and updates? It’s probably a bit of both. Widescale availability of drugs and lack of prevention techniques and education may account for rising substance dependency, while improved technologies and communication allow for faster, up-to-date news.
Society’s infatuation and obsession with celebrities is nothing new. Magazines dedicated to infiltrating celebrity lives continue to be successful and show no signs of relenting. Why do we love them so much? Why are we so intrigued by individuals essentially the same as us except for a little more fame and probably a lot more money. While all the answers to this phenomenon are beyond the scope of this blog, we will focus on society’s enjoyment of celebrity misfortunes like addiction.
For celebrities, we enjoy reading more about their addiction and its gory details than their recovery and positive life changes. Why? Maybe because we’d have nothing to read anymore? Probably not. Here’s what I think.
It’s Natural Human Behaviour to Find Pleasure in Others’ Misfortunes
One explanation for our enjoyment of celebrity misfortune is the human tendency to do it in our own daily lives. A study in 2002 found feelings of envy and dislike to be antecedents for pleasure of another person’s misfortune. This behaviour is referred to as “Schadenfreude” – a German term for joy in the shame of another.
When an individual dislikes or is envious of another, they find pleasure in the misfortune of that other as it wipes out his or her advantages and levels the playing field between them. Pleasure was seen to occur more if the misfortune was believed to be deserved versus undeserved. Pleasure was also only experienced if the misfortune wasn’t too severe.
If hatred or anger are antecedents, rather than envy, the severity of the misfortune can be high and there was an increased likelihood of wishing for a negative event prior to the misfortune.
Celebrities Are a Focal Point For Inequality
Attitudes towards celebrities have grown more malicious and spiteful in recent years. Widespread hostility to celebrities is seen in everyday banter, email jokes, mean blogs, and even newspaper columns.
Celebrities are indicative of North American society’s unequal concentrations of power. They highlight the gross inequalities between ordinary civilians and themselves; specifically in terms of the social and financial differences between high and low-income groups (i.e. the rich and the poor).
Celebrity Failings, Thus, Make Them More Like ‘us’
If celebrities represent inequality between rich and poor, their misfortunes are seen as deserved. Their downfalls make them more like us. For example, readers think “Well, you may be rich, but I don’t have an addiction”. Because celebrities theoretically no longer have an advantage in life, once envious citizens (readers) express satisfaction.
These Attitudes Impede Changes and Progress in Addiction Treatment and Recovery
Addiction and recovery has faced numerous stigmas and stereotypes since the days of alcohol prohibition in the United States. People are seen as immoral or as damaged goods who just simply need to stop or say ‘no’ to get better. When people hear ‘addiction’, there’s a lot of confusion, sensitivity, and withdrawal around it, rather than problem-solving ideas, genuine support, and communication.
This prevalent misunderstanding of addiction causes many to hide their addiction and their recovery. Embarrassment and shame of their addiction impedes accessing treatment and living a positive life in recovery. Society needs to change its approach to addiction and see it as health issue rather than a moral failing. We need to support individuals through treatment and help them address additional issues such as mental health and family/partner communication. We need to promote and advocate the recovery and success of all individuals with addictions – even celebrities.
Magazines are part of this mass media power pushing and enforcing “norms” around the globe. They can normalize addiction recovery – perhaps even make it popular – rather than focus on celebrity addiction and suffering. I typed ‘celebrity addiction’ into google and mass amounts of magazine websites were displayed with titles like “celebrities lost to addiction” or “celebrities with secret addictions”. Afterwards, I typed in “celebrities in recovery” and there were almost no magazine/tabloid websites in the results; only treatment and recovery organizations. This difference shows tabloids only care about a celebrity’s addiction and their downfalls; not the aftermath of treatment and recovery. We all need to be onboard for society to change its approach to addiction. If people don’t feel a need to hide their addiction and feel bad about it, more people won’t feel shame in accessing treatment. They won’t feel bad in saying “I’m in recovery from ______”. Quality of life would improve for all societies and communities.
Yes people have addictions, but yes they can fix it. We need to detach our emotions around addiction and see it as a health condition that can be fixed. If your friend/family member tells you they have an addiction, don’t see them as someone different from everyone else – weak, problematic, defective, or undisciplined. They are just like everyone else in this world; we all use coping mechanisms to get through life, addiction just happens to be their coping choice. Unfortunately their coping mechanism is more debilitating than yours. During and after treatment, they don’t need special ‘treatment’ from friends. They need you to still be their friend but with encouragement and support during their recovery. They also need your advocacy for addiction recovery to reduce the stigma and social reservations around it.