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Celebrities and Heroin Addiction

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Heroin addiction is a serious problem with potentially deadly consequences. Kurt Cobain, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Winehouse are just a few of the well-known celebrities who suffered tragic endings from their heroin addictions.

celebrities who died from heroin

There are also some success stories, however, among celebrities who have battled against heroin abuse. Robert Downey Jr. and Russell Brand, for example, have both demonstrated that recovery from heroin addiction is indeed within reach. Heroin may be a highly addictive drug, and the cycle of addiction may be difficult to break – but recovery is indeed possible.

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Reasons for celebrity heroin addiction can often overlap with reasons the general population struggles with heroin addiction. Unlike the general population, however, celebrities are often forced to struggle

with their addictions publicly. Addiction experts note that heroin has a reputation for allowing users to escape from reality – perhaps an enticing effect for those whose lives are constantly under the public eye.1

Why They Become Addicted

Why do celebrities first get involved with heroin? How do they develop an addiction? While there are many possible reasons that people, in general, get involved with heroin – a closer look into the lives of several celebrities helps paint a better picture of possible motivations for those whose lives are constantly in the limelight.

1. Escape from Reality?

One possible motivation for celebrities getting hooked on heroin is that heroin seems to promise a much-needed, albeit temporary, escape from the hardships of reality.

52-year old American actress Tatum O’Neal began her addiction following a divorce.2

Russell Brand is a British actor, comedian and activist who wrote a powerful column on his heroin addiction. He states that even after having been clean for over 10 years, his natural addiction urges continue to persist.3

Drug addiction is a condition he says he lives with every day, as he fights the urge to relapse on an ongoing basis.

Brand has viewed reality as his problem while drugs and alcohol have been his solution. Like many, Brand has tried to fill a void in his life with drugs.

Corey Feldman – a 44-year old actor featured in the high-grossing ‘80s films “The Goonies” and “Stand By Me” – began his heroin addiction after a romantic breakup.2

All these stories share a common theme. These celebrities have turned to heroin as a way to cope with reality.

At the end of the day, celebrities are still human beings dealing with every kind of emotion – but in public view. These challenging emotions can be further compounded by the high stresses of the entertainment industry.

2. Fearless Creativity

Not every celebrity uses heroin to escape reality.

Scott Weiland and heroin
Scott Weiland, by Benikohler, CC 3.0

Scott Weiland, a former Stone Temple Pilots singer – who died of a drug overdose in early December 2015 – stated in an interview that heroin made him more objective. He experimented with drugs to spark his creativity. Heroin allowed him take more risks and took away his fears.

The longer Weiland depended on drugs, the more overwhelmed he began to feel. Ultimately, heroin backfired as a source of creativity because he lost his ability to feel.

Over the course of his musical career, he had his ups and downs in his relationship with drugs. His experience with addiction was closely tied to his lyrics in at least one of his songs where he alluded to the notion that death by overdose was inevitable.

For some celebrities such as Weiland, there is the perception that – without drugs – their talents will suffer. This perception may play a role in what drives some celebrities to continue the cycle of addiction.

Sadly, his addiction became a part of Weiland’s identity throughout his career all the way to his death. Scott Weiland finally died while on tour.4 The cause of death has not yet been publically confirmed, but traces of cocaine were discovered in his tour bus bedroom.5

Do drugs enhance creativity? Learn why Wieland's creativity declined with ongoing heroin use. (5:22 min)

3. Underlying Medical Conditions

Some celebrities with underlying medical conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder may be at higher risk for trying heroin as a way of numbing emotional pains.

Scott Weiland also admitted to struggling simultaneously with bipolar disorder and its associated mood swings.4 Some celebrities such as Weiland – who have underlying medical conditions of depression or bipolar disorder – may be at even higher risk for trying heroin as a way to numb their emotional pains.

Russell Brand and Kurt Cobain are also examples of celebrities who struggled with both bipolar disorder and heroin addiction.6

4. Pressures of the Entertainment Industry

Sometimes, as in the case of Amy Winehouse, the industry pressure to perform – regardless of personal struggles – perpetuates the problem. Winehouse’s documentary, Amy, paints the picture of a tortured artist with a troubled childhood. She was continuously pressured by her managers and fans to perform even if she was high. The pressure proved too great for this beloved artist.

Amy Winehouse and heroin
Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27, in July 2011.

Another reason celebrities are drawn to heroin may be due to peer pressure. Amy Winehouse was introduced to heroin by her husband. And as the media followed her closer and the world came to know her as a “drug addict,” she spiraled even further into addiction.Heroin addiction and

recovery is already a delicate and difficult process without adding to it all the pressures that accompany the entertainment industry. Once the addiction becomes so deeply embedded in their public identity and image, a life with drugs and alcohol is almost expected from fans.

5. Easy Access

celebrities and heroin
Duff Mckagan, by Silvio Tanaka, CC 2.0

There is no question that celebrities can gain greater access to any drug they want.

Duff McKagan, original bass player for Guns N’ Roses, admits that easy access, the money to pay for drugs and an environment where drug use is accepted creates a situation that is difficult to walk away from.8

How Do Some Celebrities Die from Heroin Addiction?

Those celebrities who die from taking heroin tend to die either from drug overdose – whether accidental or intentional – or else from drug-related complications.

1. Accidental Overdose and Relapse

Very often, celebrities die from accidental overdose. Sometimes, the overdose is from heroin alone, as in the cases of Peaches Geldof and Janis Joplin.9,10 

Former users often falsely believe their body can handle the same high doses of the drug that they took before getting off the drug.

For other celebrities, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, overdose occurs from a mixture of drugs including heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs.11 It’s difficult to speculate why Hoffman took such a drug mixture, but what is known is that he had been sober for over 2 decades before relapsing the year before his death.12

Just How Deadly Is Relapse?

Those who’ve recovered from heroin addiction tend to underestimate the effects of heroin, especially after a period of being clean.

Janis Joplin is one such case, as her death at age 27 is believed to have resulted from accidental heroin overdose following a period of drug abstinence.

Former users often believe their body can handle the same high doses of the drug that they took before getting off the drug. However, in many cases, the body cannot suddenly tolerate the high levels of heroin that it used to be able to handle.

2. Intentional Heroin Overdose

Other celebrities die from intentionally overdosing on heroin or heroin mixtures.

Kurt Cobain’s overdose and gunshot death in 1994 was ruled to be an intentional suicide.13

Drug overdose deaths have been on the rise since the 2000 and reached a new high in 2014, with over 61% of overdose deaths attributable to heroin or prescription painkillers.14 

Accidental overdose has claimed the lives of many Americans, and celebrities are not immune from these dangers of heroin addiction.

3. Heroin-related Complications

Other celebrities – such as Billie Holiday – die from drug-related complications.

Holiday was admitted to the hospital for heart and liver problems just before her death.15 Her addiction was compelling enough to even lead to her arrest for heroin possession while at the hospital.

How Do Some Celebrities Overcome Their Heroin Addiction?

With the many celebrities who have succumbed to heroin addiction, it is easy to overlook the celebrities who have overcome their addiction.

Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. and heroin
Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. overcame heroin addiction after serving jail time and seeking treatment in the late 1990s. In one interview, he stated that “the only way out of that hopeless state is intervention.”16

The only way out of that hopeless state [addiction] is intervention. – Robert Downey Jr.

Downey entered rehab and sought therapy. He says that now his career is more successful than it had been, and he looks forward to his future.

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton and heroin
Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is another example of a celebrity who overcame a heroin addiction. Clapton, at one point, would spend $16,000 a week on heroin.17

He eventually recovered from his heroin addiction – but only to later replace it with alcohol abuse.18

Now sober for decades, he acknowledges his good fortune and that remaining sober is a key to his happiness and a fulfilled life.

Russell Brand

Russell Brand has perhaps been the most vocal about his struggles with heroin addiction and has now been sober for over 11 years.2 While he still struggles, he has found success in taking his recovery one day at a time – and he hopes to inspire others struggling with similar addictions.

Brand has found success in taking his recovery one day at a time.

Russell Brand and heroin
“Russell Brand Arthur Premier,” by Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia, CC 2.0

Brand wants to change the conversation about drug addiction so that those who do not struggle with addiction treat addiction as a disease and show compassion toward those who struggle.3

Addiction is a disease in the sense that it can and needs to be treated. It also calls for compassion and helping hands from others, as do other diseases.

There is no magical pill to overcome addiction, and the road to recovery is long.

But admitting the problem and taking on the personal responsibility to participate in an intervention or recovery plan are the first important steps you can take to be freed from your addiction.

Find Help for Your Own Addiction

If you or a loved one is suffering from heroin addiction, there are caring professionals and effective recovery options available to help you. Please call to speak with one of our treatment advisors and learn more about how we can help you.

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  1. Curry, Colleen. Celebrities and Heroin Addiction: How It Happens. (2014). ABC News.
  2. Nelson, Jeff. 6 Celebrities Describe Their Own Struggles with Heroin. (2014). People. 9
  3. Brand, Russell. Russell Brand: my life without drugs. (2013). The Guardian.
  4. Edwards, Gavin. Scott Weiland: The Lost Q&A. (2015). Rolling Stone.
  5. Grow, Kory. (2015). Scott Weiland, Former Stone Temple Pilots singer, Dead at 48. Rolling Stone.
  6. Porter, Eloise. (2011). 9 Famous Faces of Bipolar Disorder.
  7. Katz, Brigit. (2015). A losing game: Amy Winehouse documentary explores the troubled life and tragic death of a brilliant pop star. Women in the World in association with The New York Times.
  8. Puente, Maria. (2012). Celebrity addicts: Who dies, who survives, and why? USA Today.
  9. Hutchinson, Bill & Goldstein, Sasha. (2014). Peaches Geldof died from heroin overdose: report. New York Daily News.
  10. Janis Joplin Biography.
  11. Philip Seymour Hoffman.
  12. Celebrities Who’ve Opened Up About Drug Addiction. (2014). The Huffington Post.
  13. Kurt Cobain Biography.
  14. Kolata, Gina. (2015). Overdose Deaths Reached a New High in 2014. The New York Times.
  15. Billie Holiday Biography.
  16. Gatecrasher. (2010). ‘Iron Man’ actor Robert Downey Jr. tells Rolling Stone about prison, heroin, cocaine and the future. New York Daily News.
  17. Block, M. & Norris, M. (2012). Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll: Clapton After ‘Cocaine.’org. National Public Radio.
  18. Eric Clapton Biography.

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