Famous Alcoholics: Addiction Among Artists

Last Updated: May 19, 2022

Authored by Isaak Stotts, LP

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

What do Ozzy Osbourne, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston, and Steven Tyler have in common? All these extraordinary artists battled substance abuse at some point in their lives. In fact, celebrities on drugs can be traced back from the 1920s to the twenty-first century. So why do artists rely on drugs? What drives writers to alcoholism? Do illicit drugs promote creativity? Or do they offer an escape from a world known only to the rich and famous?

There is no doubt that creative work is physically and emotionally demanding. As a result, many artists turn to alcohol, marijuana, and analgesics to deal with the intense challenges of life in the fast lane. But do drugs foster creativity? Or can addictive behaviors and drinking patterns interfere with an artist’s performance? Are creative individuals of a particular age at a higher risk of addiction?

Substance abuse can bring a promising career to a tragic end, as demonstrated by the long list of creative individuals whose careers and lives were cut short by drugs and alcohol. In reality, artists do not need to use psychoactive substances or become an alcoholic to stoke their creativity. It is possible to be successful without putting one’s life at risk.

Read on to learn more about the connection between creativity and substance abuse and the risk factors for addiction in actors with drug problems.

10 Famous Alcoholics and Celebrities on Drugs

Alcohol addiction and drug abuse can affect anyone, regardless of their status. This list comprises ten famous alcoholics and drug addicts who overcame their substance use and achieved recovery.

Daniel Radcliffe

Among famous alcoholics is Daniel Radcliffe, who is best known for his role as Harry Potter in a series of films of the same name. He was catapulted straight to stardom from a very young age thanks to this, becoming one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood.
He spoke publicly about his drinking:

It was unhealthy and damaging to my body and my social life. That’s beyond question. I was living in constant fear of who I’d meet, what I might have said to them, what I might have done with them.

His struggle with alcohol reached its peak with the last few Harry Potter films, but with the help of his family and friends, the actor was able to maintain sobriety since 2010. Before then, he admitted that he tried multiple times but failed.

Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper is one of the few celebrities with drug addictions to eventually bounce back and become a leading actor gracing Hollywood with his good looks and charismatic performances. He’s best known for starring as a lead in movies like American Sniper, A Star Is Born, The Hangover series, and being the voice of Rocket Raccoon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

However, way before all that mainstream success as an actor, he dealt with severe alcohol and substance abuse problems. He stopped at the age of 29, stating that:

if I continued it, I was really going to sabotage my whole life

which is a brutal reality of addictions when they spiral out of control.

Now 46 years old, Bradley Cooper has been sober since, making it nearly two decades since he last picked up a bottle.

Stephen King

One of the most famous alcoholics of our time, he has written several of the most iconic books of our time, including many which were adapted into highly successful films and TV series, Stephen King is a living legend. One thing that many people do not know about him, however, is him dealing with being an alcoholic.

He battled with addiction in his earlier years. He started drinking at 18 years old and spoke about how he realized his alcoholism on discovering he was consuming a case of beer every night. Soon after, cocaine entered the picture.

Sobriety came for him after his family staged an intervention in the 80s. It shows how important a support system can be to help kick a substance abuse habit.

Robert Downey Jr.

Iron Man’s actor may not be well known to the younger generations who know him best for his contributions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, he’s a star who found himself in the news quite frequently for the wrong reasons, becoming one of the more notorious celebrities on drugs.

RDJ’s battle with addiction was very public, as the actor abused cocaine, marijuana, heroin and had multiple run-ins with the law as well. He lost acting roles, and everything seemed to be over for him in Hollywood. In 2001, he finally decided to commit to treatment.

Smoking dope and smoking coke, you are rendered defenseless. The only way out of that hopeless state is intervention,

were words spoken by Downey, and fortunately, he has proved them right.

Eminem

Marshall Mathers III, popularly known as Eminem, is one of the most influential and enduring rappers of his generation. His battle with his addiction to prescription medication was made well-known by his lyrics. Rappers make up a good proportion of celebrities with drug addictions, especially when it comes to prescription medication.

In 2008, he quit his abuse of narcotics like Ambien and Vicodin following an overdose on methadone that landed him in the hospital. He celebrated 12 years of sobriety in 2020. He found that physical activity was helpful during the time he struggled.

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is another musician who had his addiction bring him a brush with death. As a rock musician, many have suffered from drug dependencies with ultimately unfortunate ends, but it was luckily not that way for Clapton. He dealt with a severe heroin addiction for some years, which turned to alcohol as a replacement, joining a list of famous alcoholics.

He called his manager in 1982, admitting his alcohol problem. He was checked into a treatment center that same month, and he has been sober ever since. This is fortunate, considering an occasion in the 70s where his substance and alcohol abuse had him taken to a hospital due to a bleeding ulcer.

He now has an addiction treatment center of his own, located in Antigua.

Drew Barrymore

This former child star’s experience with addiction is quite unlike most experienced by celebrities with drug addictions. She starred in Spielberg’s ET at the age of 7 years old, but thanks to troubles at home, by the time she was 13, she was addicted to alcohol, drugs and had attempted suicide.

After being admitted for treatment at a hospital for 18 months when she was 13 and being emancipated at the age of 14, she left her dependence on drugs and alcohol behind, determined to clean out once and for all. She hasn’t quit drinking alcohol, but she has it under control.

Elton John

In the 90s, Sir Elton John was dealing with an addiction to cocaine. He started thinking that it would help make him more extroverted but quite ironically left him isolated from those closest to him in life.

I wasted such a big part of my life,

were his words during an interview when looking back at his drug use. He spoke of how much drug use made him feel invincible, which led him to do very risky things, despite the potential health problems.

He last used cocaine in the 90s, keeping himself sober. Despite that, he still has upsetting dreams of abusing this drug. However, it helps keep him on the straight-and-narrow.

Jamie Lee Curtis

Marking 22 years of sobriety in 2021, Jamie Lee Curtis is best known for her roles in films such as the Halloween series of horror movies, Freaky Friday with Lindsay Lohan (another Hollywood starlet who has struggled with addiction), and more recently, Knives Out.

She admits to being a recovering alcoholic and having been addicted to opioids in the 90s following a cosmetic surgery that she underwent.

She has spoken on how recovery is the greatest achievement of her life, which serves as a major beacon of hope to others struggling with alcohol or a drug problem.

Rob Lowe

Famously a member of Hollywood’s Brat Pack, Rob Lowe was the heartthrob of many girls during the early days of his career. However, as it tends to happen, his fame relatively early in life resulted in frequent partying, alcoholism, and eventually, he was classified as one of those actors with drug problems.

In 1990, the actor decided to quit drinking and completed a rehab and treatment program. As a result, his alcoholic days are over, as he has been sober ever since then.

He mentions that addicts struggling with addiction need to make the decision to get help.

Unfortunately, no one can get healthy for their job or for their relationship or because of their court case or because of mom or dad or sister or brother. They can only do it when they want to do it.

Substance Abuse and Creativity: Is There a Link?

There have been nearly 300 drug-related celebrity deaths in the past four decades or so. The vast majority of these individuals were musicians and actors, but the list also includes athletes, other artists, and writers. Substance use is higher in celebrities on drugs such as rock stars and other artists compared to the general population. And unfortunately, the number of famous people dying prematurely from drug-related incidents has been increasing.

Do drugs increase creativity? Is there something about intoxicating substances that cuts through inhibitions and unleashes the best creative work? Some people believe that inebriation allows celebrity alcoholics to clear away the clutter of life’s problems and focus on creative work.

Artists’ motivation to use stimulants includes feeling confident, sharp, and fearless before performing. Some actors use steroids to build muscles for a more aesthetic look. Artists begin drinking or using drugs to fit in and be sociable with colleagues. For famous people, substance use may be a way to cope with performance anxiety or the demands of life as a celebrity.

Risk Factors That Predispose Artists to Addiction

The reason why there seems to be so many famous alcoholics is linked to the industry that they find themselves in. Being in the limelight has certain aspects that make it easier for these celebrity alcoholics to arise.

  • Peer pressure
  • Pressures of show business
  • Stage fright
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Lack of confidence
  • Competition
  • Poor energy

Many lifestyle factors have led to spiraling addiction and other health risks in rock stars and other creative individuals. Celebrity alcoholics typically perform at night and are often surrounded by people who are drunk or high. Their enormous wealth makes the drug habit sustainable. Drug dealers target the rich and famous to enter their inner circle. An overall culture of permissiveness does not promote abstinence.

A famous actor giving autographs to fans.

A performing artist on drugs is often young, immature, and likely to make stupid decisions. Unlike dancers and athletes, musicians do not need to be in peak health to perform. There is peer pressure to appear fearless and cool. Finally, life on the road can be incredibly lonely with many hangers-on but no real solid personal connections.

Drug Rehab for Creative People: Interventions for Celebrities on Drugs

Addiction is a severe problem in the entertainment industry. Too many brilliant celebrities on drugs have been lost to drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, substance abuse is not only overlooked but even celebrated in the creative world.

Famous artists, musicians, and writers may need special alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs to overcome their addictions. These individuals can benefit from addiction treatment services at private drug rehab facilities that offer confidentiality and personalized care. The trained health staff at these centers understand the unique struggles of an artist on drugs who are abusing harmful substances. Board-certified addiction specialists at these rehab facilities can help gifted performers return to healthy creative expression without mind-altering substances.

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Page Sources

  1. NIDA, Elton John Reflects on Drug Addiction. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/es/blog/post/elton-john-reflects-drug-addiction
  2. Just, J. M., Bleckwenn, M., Schnakenberg, R., Skatulla, P., & Weckbecker, K. (2016). Drug-related celebrity deaths: A cross-sectional study. Substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy, 11(1), 40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5148833/
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse, Elton John Reflects on Drug Addiction, 2012, https://archives.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/elton-john-reflects-drug-addiction
  4. Shaw, R. L. ‘Crack down on the celebrity junkies’: Does media coverage of celebrity drug use pose a risk to young people?, (2009) Health, Risk, & Society, 12(6), 575-589. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13698575.2010.515736

Published on: January 6th, 2022

Updated on: May 19th, 2022

About Author

Isaak Stotts, LP

Isaak Stotts is an in-house medical writer in AddictionResource. Isaak learned addiction psychology at Aspen University and got a Master's Degree in Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. After graduation, he became a substance abuse counselor, providing individual, group, and family counseling for those who strive to achieve and maintain sobriety and recovery goals.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.