What Fuels Our Addictions?

Are addictions on the rise? Sadly, yes. The news seems to report on a daily basis, a tragic story catapulted by some sort of addiction. From beauty products, to diets, to celebrity obsessions or reality imitating art criminal behavior. We seem to all be affected by one of our own addictions or someone else’s. Having worked in Los Angeles for many years and with many executives and celebrities in the Hollywood community, I have been surrounded by different aspects of it. Addictions stem from a multitude of feelings, from insecurity to shame to inadequacy. One thing is clear, it is easy to become addicted but not that easy to break free. Having also represented clinical psychologists and psychiatrists who treated addictions, I gathered that a head on approach to addiction yielded faster resulted. And one thing seemed to always give an edge, yield to the warning signs and get help before the roots of the addiction grow deep.

It was wonderful that on October 4, 2015, Washington, DC, hosted a transformative event — UNITE, to Face Addiction. It is great to see national and community engagement on the topic. But, we need to do more! There is a disconnect between reality and logic. Take the Kardashian phenomena. Despite being criticized and ridiculed, the Kardashians have become a dynasty and Kim Kardashian keeps breaking records with whatever product or App she launches. Who would think that her selfies would make a book? Obviously, she appeals to a certain audience that is addicted to her every word. That’s a form of addiction. Yes, celebrity obsession is a form of addiction and Hollywood is a big part of it. But, Hollywood’s lifeline is in ratings and social awareness! Your opinion counts and so does your voice! If you believe a product is harmful or not helping to grow an open mind, then speak up and try to do something about it. When many voices come together change happens! Social media is a great tool! We have witnessed social media influence big corporations change campaigns and take products off shelves. So, if you feel addiction is fueled by Hollywood, speak up! If you feel some products are strengthening our addictions, tweet or post about it. You can be the spark of that change.

It is in the exploration of our own addictions and those of our loved ones while remaining true to our core values that we really experience a successful freeing journey out of addiction.

There are three basic stages in addiction awareness:

First, is establishing whether or not we’re struggling with an addiction. Is it a temporary fancy or obsession? Is it hurting us or others? Have we tried in vain to stop? Are we becoming addicted to that product? Do we feel lost without it? What created this addiction?
Second, is sharing our awareness! Are we alone with such an addiction? Are others facing similar struggles? Is it temporary or an embedded habit?
Third, is evaluating progress. Is our addiction under control? What or who helped us bring it under control? Would our experience help others? Would our voice serve a purpose? Would our voice create a better community awareness? Would our voice help focus attention on a problem that needs to find a solution? 
Hollywood is coming full circle on the topic as there is even a television reality show on TLC, My Strange Addiction that explores addiction. Some of the addictions featured on the show are quite surprising. As I understand, one of the upcoming episodes will feature Jennifer, 26, with a twenty year mattress eating addiction. The show featured a variety of what may be strange addictions that ranged from addiction plastic surgery, to paint drinking. How would a teen or a pre-teen process such the information? Even though this show isn’t depicting celebrities, the fact remains that it is a television show that glamorizes a sad mental condition.

Popular culture preys upon young minds, especially Hollywood culture. Young people are bombarded with images of wishful identities that signal ‘being cool’. Behavior and fashion imitations are one television program away. Why wouldn’t they imitate them when they see them smoking, doing drugs or drinking? It is shocking that over $6 billion is spent annually on alcohol advertising. Look at the beer commercials alone. Are they targeting children and teens? I think they are. I don’t recall a single ad or television beer commercial featuring an older couple. It’s usually showing college students having the time of their lives or featuring adorable puppies.

Fame and fortune are not a cure all! Hollywood addictions are center-stage. Many celebrities have become notorious because their addictions, landed them in jail or resulted in their tragic untimely demise. Recently, Hollywood has been suffering with one specifically and that is to painkillers. This has also been on the rise too across among the poor as well as the rich. “Addiction crosses all cultural and economic barriers,” said Dr. Andrew Kowal, director of the Pain Center at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. “You could be living in the hills of West Virginia, or an actor making $10 million on a movie. Anyone can become dependent on prescription painkillers, but addiction often begins with an emotional dependence. “People start self-treating their anxiety, depression or loneliness. That’s why you see a lot of the Hollywood stars with it. Even though they’re popular and famous and surrounded by lots of people they’re ultimately lonely.”

We all remember when Nicole Richie attributed her addiction to Vicodin, her wrong way freeway driving in December 2006. “I really wasn’t learning anything from that,” the celebrity told ABC News. “So I kept making bad decisions or mistake after mistake.” She seems to have kicked the addiction and is focused on being a mom as she adds, “And I have to set the right examples. I have to really be someone that I would want my child to look up to.” Who can forget the strange shoplifting escapades of Wynona Ryder. A respected actress with a bright future, and two Oscar nominations. That’s also another form of addiction.

It is undeniable that addictions come in many forms, and affect us regardless of status. I learned that the hard way with one of my clients. Years ago, late one night, I got a call from a bartender friend who informed me that my client was alone and drunk. I rushed to Beverly Hills. I paid her bill and ushered her away from an eager college student who was trying to pick her up. I never forgot that incident. It wasn’t easy getting her to leave the bar and the student. I had to use all the persuasive power I had in me to convince her to get into my car so that I could drive her home. It wasn’t easy doing all that away from the press. Well, lucky for me and her, this was before smart phones and Twitter. As if the embarrassment wasn’t enough, I remember standing behind her as she kept trying to disarm the alarm. I realized shortly thereafter that she had forgotten her alarm code as the alarm sirens penetrated the night. In minutes, police helicopters circled overhead. I was so embarrassed for her. I couldn’t understand how someone so talented, and so privileged, could fall to such a low point. Later on, I figured out the depth of her alcohol addiction.

Sometimes without meaning to, celebrities fuel addictions. I remember an episode of The View where a co-host talked about smoking e-cigarettes. People think this is a safe way to quit smoking. I know a few people who have been smoking them for years now. Obviously it’s another form of addiction. Television show hosts and media should maybe try and wait before blessing such behavior. It’s still a form of smoking. We should all maybe wait until we expose children to them until we really determine whether or not there are side effects. Even though smoking scenes in movies have diminished and are gone from prime-time television, smoking scenes still appear in new movie releases and music videos, especially in reference to a troubled character. E-cigarettes seem to have been sliding into that space.

With new media, social networking and the Internet, problematic exposure is guaranteed. Many teens have admitted to buying alcohol, prescription drugs, cigarettes, online, without major difficulty.

With easy online access and media exposure, addictions and substance abuse will certainly rise. With that I am almost certain crime would spike. There are no formulaic answers to questions to addiction troubles, and a quick dismissal to punishment seems to offer a Band-Aid solution. “Incarcerating addicted people is counterproductive and expensive. In comparing costs, the New York Academy of Medicine reported that the annual cost per person in addiction treatment is $4,000-$10,000 for outpatient services, and $18,000-$25,000 for residential treatment, while incarceration is $40,000. It is estimated that the State of New York spends in excess of $500 million annually incarcerating individuals for drug offenses. Ultimately, prison cannot be the only place for people who struggle to give up habitual drug use. We need to accept that addiction is a chronic illness, and devise better ways to support people, instead of heavy-fisted punishment. Dr. Aaron Fox notes that “Not everyone will have success with 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous, so we also need to ensure availability of medications such as buprenorphine-naloxone and methadone. We are in the midst of an opioid-addiction epidemic, and there is not going to be one easy solution. But we know for certain that locking people up is not the answer.”

Here are some recommendations that seem to work in reducing substance use in children and preteens:

Parents who limit unsupervised media and internet use, and who have removed televisions and computers from children’s bedrooms.
Parents who limit access by children and teens to media and internet venues with excessive substance use depictions (eg, MTV, HBO, Showtime, Facebook, Twitter, Comedy Central)
Parents who try to co-view new movie releases with their children and discuss the content being viewed
Parents who try and converse especially at dinner time without tech interruptions.
Parents who get their kids to participate in after school programs and activities.
Schools who incorporate media education and drug-prevention programs into their curricula 
More hands on involvement in daily activities to detect the unusual and prevent addictions from growing roots. Whatever the addiction, whenever a change is observed (behavior, routine or habits) get some professional help. It’s available!

Originally published at www.linkedin.com.