How strange yet familiar the phenomenon: A celebrity becomes human for a brief moment in time after suffering a tragedy which we have linked to plagues of the “common” people, and the nation momentarily softens up and talks about the given issue(s).
Whether it’s Christopher Reeves and spinal cord injuries, Michael J. Fox and Parkinson’s, Farrah Fawcett and cancer, Rihanna and domestic violence, Robin Williams and suicide, or—most recently — Bobbi Kristina Brown and a legacy clouded in mysterious methods of self-sabotage and addiction, somehow public figures provide us with a psychological safety net to process our own judgments, wishes and attitudes about various social issues. In so doing, we project our deepest fears, assumptions, resentments and misgivings.
If you have been living under a rock for the past week or are in a post-Super Bowl daze, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s daughter is currently being hospitalized after being found face down and unresponsive in her bathtub last Friday morning. The climactic sum of her now heartbreaking circumstances, her family’s celebrity status, and the remarkable similarities to her potential death and her mother’s demise (the anniversary of which was Wednesday, February 11th) has garnered much attention.
While the details surrounding her current condition are still hidden behind the sliver of privacy her family can afford her, multiple news sources report that an aunt saw her move her eyes and she appears to be improving…although the situation still looks grim.
Having entered a drug rehabilitation program in 2011 and suffered a few emotional breakdowns (including more rumored and actual drug use) following her mother’s death three years ago, Bobbi has been no stranger to substance use. The 21-year old has experienced a sea of privilege and turmoil in her life thus far, and yet an astounding number of buffoons on internet message boards continue to voice the opinion that wealth miraculously cancels out or better equips a person for hardship.
Does it? It seems that this would only hold true if the primary ingredients for addiction were clearly outlined and the desires, chemical reactions and family dynamics behind addictive behavior were extinguished through material well-being. Instead, all research points to addictions (of all types) and substance abuse being a commonly shared experience.
The National Institute of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse cite the overall cost of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use at $621billion, including healthcare expenses. Use of illicit drugs in particular have increased almost 10 percent between 2008 and 2012, and NSDUH surveys (annually conducted by SAMHSA) estimated roughly 23.9 million Americans using either illicit drugs, abusing pain killers, or both. The same survey unsurprisingly reveals that people in their late teens and early to mid-twenties are the most likely users, which is when many of these elements become available for exploration.
The National Institute of Health has an entire page with multiple sources listed devoted to the research on addiction and abuse prevention. Much of this research, done by NIDA, the CDC and NIMH, is rooted in family systems, risk factors and protective factors. In this regard, celebrity children are certainly not at an advantage, as many of the risk factors include: drug use in the family, drug use in the community, early aggression, academic failure and drop outs during those formative years, when often lifelong struggles with addictive behaviors begin to develop.
Add affluence to that list, and your protective factors don’t amount to much. Protective factors, like good school attendance and academic success, close relationships with peers, and reinforcement of anti-drug attitudes, are difficult to come by anyways when one’s entire network of family and friends exists within an abnormal and highly-publicized segment of the population.
Addiction, not just to drugs and alcohol, but to experiences and people and outcomes, haunt our privileged nation in much the same way that substance abuse and bizarre, self-sabotaging behaviors follow the rich and famous elite. While we cannot confuse correlation with causation, it is sufficient to say that when many basic material needs are met, the human spirit often delves into exploration of the self, of the unknown, and — at all times — in search of meaning and reason behind what may seem to be an inexplicably meaningless or difficult existence.
Miller and Brown, in their 2007 research, had this to say on addiction: “Current evidence that (1) alcohol/drug problems generally obey behavioral principles and processes, (2) substance abuse frequently occurs within a broader cluster of psychological problems, (3) the treatment approaches most strongly supported by outcome research are fundamentally psychological in nature, (4) cognitive-behavioral principles are of demonstrable value in motivating change in alcohol/drug use, and (5) clinical skills and styles (e.g., empathy) commonly included in the training of psychologists are important determinants of favorable treatment outcomes with substance use disorders.”
Though they wrote about substance abuse, the treatment of and reasons behind motivation for behaviors and behavior change remain the same. It may seem contradictory for this article to follow one regarding funding, but just as well-researched funding trumps generalized expenditure, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the emphasis we place on our general, external resources and begin spending more time on the common internal battles. I’m certainly no expert, but I would be willing to bet good money that addictions are usually a good reflection of the struggles we have in our interactions with each other.
Whether addictions mirror, reflect or replace our relationships, they always manage to complicate them. After spending over four years formally studying human behavior (Human Development, with a double minor in Psychology and Addiction Studies) and nearly twenty seven years spent informally observing the phenomenon of drug abuse, family dynamics and attachment via family addictions and an adoption at an age when most children have already learned to read, the primary mystery is not what causes addictive and self-harming behaviors but how they can ever truly be prevented. As any parent knows, your best efforts to thwart certain tendencies are often in vain, and the genetic propensities, willfulness and complexities of human psychology are never to be underestimated.
With that said, let this “Fifteen Minutes of Same” be a reminder that we are all connected by much more than statistics and nationwide epidemics.
Megan Wallin is a young writer with a background in the social sciences and an interest in seeking the extraordinary in the mundane. A Seattle native, she finds complaining about the constant drizzle and overabundance of Starbucks coffee therapeutic. With varied work experiences as a residential counselor, preprimary educator, musician, writing tutor and college newspaper reporter/editor, Megan is thrilled to offer a unique perspective through writing, research and open dialogue.