After Opioid Addiction: 10 Celebrities’ Journey to Recovery

The United States – still in the grip of the nation’s worst addiction epidemic in history – lost over 700,000 people between 1999 and 2017 to drug overdoses. On average, 130 Americans die every day from an overdose related to Opioids. Approximately 1.7 million Americans have a diagnosable addiction to prescription Opioids (such as OxyContin® or hydrocodone). Another 652,000 people suffer from addiction to Heroin. Celebrities are no different and their journey to recovery can be just as challenging. Below are 10 celebrities who have found recovery from Opioid addiction and continue to promote sobriety.

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1. Robert Downey Jr.

The universally-beloved Iron Man actor was first introduced to drugs by his father at the age of 6. In the years that followed, Downey recounts experimenting with a range of substances, including mixing alcohol with Heroin and Amphetamines. After multiple failed attempts at sobriety in and out of rehab and jail, Downey checked himself into rehab in 2001. It took 6 years of sobriety and working to regain the trust of studio heads before he was cast in both Iron Man and Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder in 2007.

Job one is get out of that cave. A lot of people do get out but don’t change. So the thing is to get out and recognize the significance of that aggressive denial of your fate, come through the crucible forged into a stronger metal.

- Robert Downey Jr., Vanity Fair, 2014

2. August Alsina

August Alsina, too, grew up with parents addicted to drugs. While he witnessed the damage Crack Cocaine had on his family, he failed to see the destructive power of prescription painkillers until it was too late. Following hospitalization for exhaustion (where he was in a coma for 3 days, dying twice), his doctor prescribed Percocet® for pain. After a tearful phone call from longtime friend, Jada Pinkett-Smith, he made the decision to seek recovery.

Because it’s coming from a doctor, you feel like, what am I doing wrong?

- August Alsina, Red Table Talk, 2018

3. Bradley Cooper

While promoting A Star Is Born with Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper opened up about his own history with prescription drug abuse and alcoholism – similar to his character in the movie, Jackson Maine. The Hangover star has been sober since the age of 29 but admits the trauma of addiction and his journey to recovery helped make him the healthy, focused celebrity he is today.

I wouldn’t have been able to have access to myself or other people, or even been able to take in other people, if I hadn’t changed my life. I never would have been able to have the relationships that I do. I never would have been able to take care of my father the way I did when he was sick. So many things.

- Bradley Cooper, Source, Year

4. Matthew Perry

The pressure of being on the immensely popular Friends and chronic pain landed Matthew Perry in rehab twice for a Vicodin® addiction. The Fools Rush In actor has also been treated for addictions to alcohol, Amphetamines, and Methadone (an opioid addiction treatment medication sometimes abused by people seeking to “come down” from heroin). After his recovery, Perry went on to open a sober house and lobby Congress to allow more drug courts.

Drug courts are the single most effective program for curing serious drug addicts for life-long recovery.

- Matthew Perry, speaking to House Appropriations Subcommittee, 2013

5. Eminem

Before Eminem released Recovery, an album detailing the depths of his addiction to prescription drugs, the emcee had severe Opioid and Benzodiazepine addictions. What began with misusing Vicodin to feel “mellow”, spiraled into a dependence on a cocktail of prescriptions, including Xanax® and Valium®. He credits his love for his young daughter, Hailie Scott Mathers (now 23), for his dedication to recovery and continued sobriety.

It’s been a learning process, I’m growing. I couldn’t believe that anybody could be naturally happy without being on something. So, I would say to anybody, “It does get better.”

- Eminem, How to Make Money Selling Drugs, 2013

6. Gerard Butler

Six years after his mega-successful role as King Leonidas of Sparta in 300, Gerard Butler suffered an injury while filming the surfer movie Chasing Mavericks. After receiving a prescription for painkillers, he eventually became dependent on them. In 2012, he checked himself into the Betty Ford Center, where he describes being ‘ripped apart’ by rehab and realizing how his choices affected his addiction.

I’m glad I did it… They really do rip you apart [in rehab]. You get rid of a bunch of s**t, realize a bunch more s**t, and you make a plan.

- Gerard Butler, Irish Central, 2012

7. Macklemore

Before Macklemore rose to fame with “Thrift Shop”, he was drinking alcohol alone in his parents’ home as a 13-year-old. In his twenties, he describes becoming addicted to OxyContin – even nicknaming it “Synthetic Heroin”. When his addiction began to seriously jeopardize his relationships as well as the career as a musician he hoped to have, he turned to rehab. Since then, he’s become a vocal advocate for the recovery community. Working with Ryan Lewis and President Barack Obama, he released the documentary Prescription for Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis in 2016.

It’s a progressive disease, it gets worse with time. And I always felt that I could control it by myself, that I could take this drug out or just do this, but it didn’t work and it got worse… Going to a treatment facility, I was given the tools and the counseling to figure out how to stay sober.

- Macklemore, Billboard, 2016

8. Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes is well-known for his brilliance in aviation engineering and his work in Hollywood (he even produced the original Scarface). In 1946, a plane crash left him with severe, chronic pain. Consequently, after years of dependence on narcotic painkillers, the towering 6’4” figure had shrunk to 6’1’ by the time of his death. Receiving drugs like Phenacetin, Codeine, and Valium, he would sometimes inject them intravenously, resulting in the kidney damage that took his life.

9. Nicole Richie

Party girl daughter of Lionel Richie, socialite, and Simple Life star, Nicole Richie, was once arrested for Heroin possession and jailed for driving under the influence. While she may no longer be BFFs with Paris Hilton, the 36-year-old mom and fashion designer believes it’s important to be honest with her children about her addiction and the recovery that saved her life.

What I can do is use that experience as a tool for when my kids get older. They know that people have died from drugs because they go to school and it happens.

- Nicole Richie, AP News, 2017

10. Steven Tyler

The now 71-year-old rock legend, Steven Tyler, has claimed he spent over $2 million “easy” on illicit substances. As the front man for Aerosmith, Tyler says he’s had serious addiction to heroin, alcohol, cocaine, and (most recently) prescription Opioids in 2009. Despite knowing how much he was hurting his family, his band, and himself, Tyler says addiction didn’t allow him to care about any of it. Nonetheless, he’s been able to recover each time he’s relapsed.

I’m telling you all my truth. I am a drug addict and alcoholic, and fighting it every day.

- Steven Tyler, Billboard, 2014

Celebrities Who Lost Their Lives To Opioid Addiction

Because up to 60% of people with an addiction relapse, addiction specialists emphasize ongoing support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous as well as detox and rehab when required. Below are a 8 celebrities who did not find recovery from their Opioid addiction in time to save their lives.

  • Philip Seymour Hoffman – actor known for roles in Capote and The Hunger Games. He died in 2014 of an apparent Heroin, Cocaine, Benzodiazepine, and Amphetamine overdose.
  • Prince – legendary singer and songwriter best-known for Purple Rain. Prince died in 2016 of a Fentanyl overdose.
  • Corey Monteith – the Glee actor had a history of substance abuse starting at age 12. After multiple failed attempts at completing rehab, Monteith died in 2013 of an alcohol and heroin overdose.
  • John Belushi – an actor known for roles on Saturday Night Live and National Lampoon’s Animal House, Belushi was known to “speedball” (a combination of Heroin and Cocaine) that eventually led to his death in 1982.
  • Amy Winehouse – the “Rehab” singer previously battled addictions to Heroin, Ecstasy, Cocaine, Ketamine and alcohol. She also suffered bulimia. At 27, in 2011, Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning – her blood alcohol content was 5 times the UK’s legal limit.
  • Corey Haim – known for his role in The Lost Boys and being one half of The Two Coreys (alongside Corey Feldman). In 2010, Haim was accused of “doctor shopping” (or visiting multiple doctors to obtain more prescriptions) for thousands of pills, including OxyContin. In 2010, coroners attributed his death to pneumonia and an enlarged heart.
  • River Phoenix – the eldest of the Phoenix clan, River quickly rose to teen idol stardom in the 80s after the release of Stand by Me. In 1993, at the age of 23, Phoenix overdosed on Morphine and Cocaine.
  • Heath Ledger – the Australian method actor broke new ground in films like Brokeback Mountain and The Dark Knight. Ledger said his role as the Joker and his role in I’m Not There affected his sleep and he felt forced to take pills to help. At age 28 in 2008, he overdosed on a combination of Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Diazepam (the generic version of Valium), Temazepam, Alprazolam, and Doxylamine.

You Don’t Need To Be A Celebrity To Get Help For An Opioid Addiction

It’s never too late to find sobriety. If you or someone you know needs help finding detox and rehab options, contact a treatment provider for more information.

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Destiny Bezrutczyk

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  • Destiny Bezrutczyk is a Digital Content Writer from west Iowa. She earned a Bachelor’s in English Language and Literature from Texas Tech University. After working as a freelance script and blog writer, she began writing content for tech startups. Maintaining a passion for words, she took on a variety of projects where her writing could help people (especially those battling mental health and substance use disorders).

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