Demi Lovato. Mary-Kate Olsen. Lindsay Lohan. Robert Downey Jr. Drew Barrymore. All of these stars have two things in common: they rose to fame as children and they have had addiction issues. You do not have to go far to find a child celebrity who has struggled with substance abuse. In fact, a lot of celebrities who became famous at a very young age ended up passing away due to drug/alcohol addiction and it is almost not surprising to us when another celebrity death shows up in the media. But why is this? It is worth looking into this phenomenon, dubbed “the curse of the child star”, where celebrities who became famous at a young age are more susceptible to addiction issues. Exploring this topic shines a light on how we perceive fame and fortune.
One thing to remember when discussing the high rates of addiction among celebrities who became famous at a young age is that addiction does not discriminate. The idea that addiction only happens when things go wrong in your life is a myth, and people who have everything going for them – money, career, notoriety – are not immune to the disease.
Child Celebrities Still Need A Stable Home Life
The affluent lifestyle of a celebrity can actually make it easier for them to succumb to substance abuse, as they have the money to get whatever they want whenever they want. For child stars, this type of mentality can be very dangerous if they do not have the appropriate adult role models.
Unfortunately, a lot of young celebrities come from very troubled homes, where their parents are the ones pushing them pursue the spotlight. This can cause the relationship between parent and child to be strained, and may lead the child down the wrong path. Without a positive adult influence, it can be difficult for any child to make the right decisions, and this is no different for child celebrities.
The problem is compounded when the child celebrity is being raised by adults who are also celebrities who abuse heroin, alcohol, opioid painkillers, or other substances. The Barrymore family is one of the most famous examples of this: Drew Barrymore was snorting cocaine by the age of thirteen, and her father and grandfather both fell victim to alcohol addiction – a fate that also befell Drew’s sister, Jessica.
In general, children have not developed the capacity to make difficult decisions, and often act more on impulses rather than sound logic. This being the case, it is not surprising when a child celebrity starts to drink or do drugs at a very early age.
Craving The Spotlight
Another aspect of celebrity that can make substance abuse more of an issue is their love of being in the spotlight. Yes, being in the public eye is difficult for many celebrities, but when they are on stage or in front of a camera, they shine. For whatever reason, their brains have been wired to enjoy that type of attention, and each time they perform they get a hit of dopamine- the “feel good” hormone.
Dopamine has been linked to addiction as it is also released when an addict uses their drug, and it can cause the addict to search for that feeling again and again. When a performer is in front of an audience, they get the same hit of dopamine that others do when doing a drug or drinking alcohol. This feeling then can become addictive, and the famous actor or singer will try to recreate that feeling with every show.
The problem with this is: what happens when you are not able to perform as often as you once did? Well, you find other ways in which to get the “feel good” hormone running through your veins, and often that comes in the form of drug or alcohol abuse. A lot of child actors will have great success playing the cute kid in a television show or in movies. Once they hit adolescence, the awkwardness of the body starts to appear, and suddenly they are not getting the same amount of work they used to. In many cases when this happens, the teen star might start using substances as a replacement to performing, and suddenly an issue arises.
Addiction is a progressive disease, so it can quickly go from using every once in a while, to complete psychological and physical dependence. The connection between performance and feeling good can be very strong, and if the child has not had a reason to find other healthy ways in which to get this feeling, drugs and alcohol might seem very appealing.
Handling Criticism And Negative Media Attention
Child stars have a lot of pressure on them to perform, as they are given the same expectations as the adult stars but their brains are still developing. It can be hard for anyone to deal with the pressures of such a public job, and when your brain is still developing, it can be next to impossible.
Children and adolescents do not have the capacity to process situations in the same manner as adults. If a child gets criticized for example, they may not have the ability to process the criticism in a productive manner. Criticism is difficult for anyone to take, but most of us do not have to deal with it on a daily basis. For actors and singers, however, it is simply a part of the job. When going on auditions, actors are scrutinized for every aspect of their being. Their bodies are analyzed by everyone from the Huffington Post to CNN, their acting is critiqued and they might hear 100 people saying “no” before they hear one “yes”. Unfortunately, this type of scrutiny happens to both children and adults, and it can be very damaging to one’s psyche.
Children Aim To Please
One of the ways in which the critique based industry of performing can affect an actor or singer is by creating a perfectionist. Most children have an innate desire to please adults, and so child celebrities are often perfectionists to the extreme. They put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform well each and every time they go on stage, and if this type of behaviour starts when someone is very young, it can lead to many issues in adulthood.
Having to live up to high expectations can be a very difficult thing to do, and when the pressure seems like too much, many use drugs or alcohol as a way to escape their unwanted feelings. The stress of being treated with the same expectations of an adult while still being a child can be very high, and if they are not given the proper resources to deal with this stress, drugs and alcohol may end up seeming like a natural solution.
Easy Access To Drugs And Alcohol
Young celebrities also have something that a lot of children do not have: access. There are many events they attend where alcohol is served to all the guests and it would not be too difficult to sneak a drink or two when no one was paying attention. Child stars are also often surrounded by older people who are there to make the celebrity happy. If said star then decides they would like to try an alcoholic beverage or a certain drug, they would not necessarily be stopped, regardless of their age.
Not to mention they are also living in a very adult world. Young celebrities are often allowed to do things that most children or adolescents would be prohibited from. There are frequent headlines in the tabloids about celebrities attending night clubs, where the age of that celebrity does not really matter. If a teen star wants to attend a night club they will more than likely be allowed, and though the establishment would say they do not allow these teens to drink, the likelihood of them stopping this type of behaviour is not very high.
No Consequences For Bad Behaviour
Not having appropriate restrictions can have a huge effect on a child’s psyche. If a child star is always given what they want, then it can be very difficult to go back if their behaviour starts to spiral out of control. We have seen this play out in the media for many celebrities who became famous during their childhood or teen years, and our reaction to this misbehaviour is often detrimental. With the world watching, a lot of young stars have had multiple run ins with the police, and the consequences can be very limited. An example of this was seen a few years ago with Justin Bieber. Bieber, who has been a megastar since the age of 13, was responsible for a number of incidents that ultimately resulted in the police being involved. One of the events depicted in the media was that of him smoking marijuana on a private plane with his father. The fact that Bieber’s father was participating in such behaviour illustrates just how hard it can be for child celebrities for find people who can put restrictions on their behaviour. With the lack of rules, the child then acts in whatever way they want, and for Bieber, this included drug use and possibly alcohol abuse as well. This was just one of a long series of incidents that happened with Bieber in a very short amount of time, and the world just kept watching. The attention he got from his bad behaviour reinforced the idea that he could misbehave and still be loved by the world. Even when he was caught drunk driving at double the speed limit, no one batted an eye.
Without consequences to their actions, bad behaviour can be common among young celebrities, and often substance abuse issues will get pushed under the rug.
There is a weird dichotomy of celebrity in this day and age – wanting attention for their art, but not wanting the media attention that comes with it. Not having privacy can be very difficult for celebrities to get used to. Being followed by photographers means that everyday life can be difficult and if that happens at during childhood or adolescence, the celebrity may not have the capacity to handle the attention.
A Tendency For Isolation
Feeling as though they are unable to have a normal life, the celebrity may isolate themselves which is not good for anyone’s mental health. Isolating oneself from the world can contribute to depression as the sufferer is unable to ask for help, and the isolation actually makes them feel more lonely. In this modern world where everything from yachts to groceries can be delivered, it can be very easy to isolate oneself. When you have the means to buy everything online and a job that does not require you to be out of the house eight hours a day, five days a week, isolating yourself from the world can almost happen by accident. It is just as dangerous for celebrities to behave in this way as it is for anyone else, and it may be very appealing to people who are dealing with being constantly followed by the media.
The issues with privacy can also have an effect on someone’s self-esteem. Pick up one celebrity gossip magazine and you are bombarded with pictures of celebrities with their stomachs circled, or that call out bad fashion style. When these celebrities are children or teens, the images can have a damaging effect on their self-esteem – it is hard for young people who do not yet have the resilience necessary to ignore the magazines.
It is interesting to note the large number of female child stars who have struggled with an eating disorder, which can be linked back to the idea of the world watching and judging everything they do. With the amount of public attention child stars get on them today, it is not surprising that we see the amount of substance abuse that we do.
A Sad Inevitability
It seems as though it can be very hard for child stars to get to adulthood without some sort of substance abuse issues. When looking at their lifestyle, you can see why. Child celebrities are often given the same amount of responsibility as an adult, and they are expected to behave in the same way as their adult counterparts, many of whom have drug or alcohol addictions themselves.
There is a lot of pressure on all celebrities to be perfect, and this type of pressure can be way too much for a child or teenage star to deal with. Not only are child celebrities expected to perform with the same maturity as the adults, they are also often placed in very adult situations. Children and teens in Hollywood are often invited to events that are meant for adults, so it can be very easy for them to sneak a few drinks when nobody is watching. Even when adults are watching the child, they often do not say “no” to any bad behaviour, and the child begins to believe that they can get away with anything.
Combining the way in which the child celebrity is treated and what they have to deal with, it should be no surprise when we see yet another story of a teen star going to rehab or worse, being found dead from an overdose.