Actor Samuel L. Jackson Compares Alcoholism to Cancer
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Actor Samuel L. Jackson Compares Alcoholism to Cancer


alcoholism and cancerI guess I have been living under a rock (though thankfully not a crack rock) for the last 20 years because I had no idea that actor Samuel L. Jackson, of Bad Mother Fucker wallet fame, was a sober brother (as in kinship, not skin color). But apparently, the beloved Avengers star hasn’t had a drink in over two decades—not since his wife LaTanya and daughter Zoe found him passed out in the kitchen (and the only thing he had cooked was cocaine). “That was the first time LaTanya realized I was doing something that was greater than just smoking weed and drinking,” The New Zealand Herald reported. To quote Jackson’s Pulp Fiction character, “This is what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity.”

The Big A vs. The Big C

What is particularly poignant in this interview is how Jackson compares alcoholism to cancer. “People treated for cancer might go into remission, but there’s a chance it will come back. I feel the same about alcoholism,” he said. Jackson went on to confess, “I still have drug dreams. It’s hard because I understand the weed is really good now!” I guess therein lies a significant difference; cancer patients are encouraged to smoke pot—whereas recovering alcoholics…not so much.

Nevertheless, the analogy is a good one. Not because the ways people suffer from these respective diseases can be compared, but because people take the Big “C” very seriously. When it comes to cancer, there is a lot of compassion, understanding and respect for the healing process on a gen pop level; this is not the case with alcoholism. There is a general vibe that alcoholism is a moral failing. Also, since the degrees of alcoholism and ways it manifests from person to person vary so greatly, it’s hard for loved ones to know how sick someone really is. Humans have natural compassion for someone who looks ill, like a person going through or recovering from chemotherapy. But it’s hard for most to be sympathetic towards a person who just looks red-faced and bloated, or maybe doesn’t look bad at all—especially when said person acts like a complete asshole (as most sick alcoholics do).


Jackson notes that while he doesn’t plan on ever drinking again, he is well aware that the urge could come back at any time and that he can’t guarantee he will overcome it. Those are the words of someone who understands and respects his disease, knowing it will always be bigger and more powerful than he is and that his best bet is to just keep doing the work. The good news is, while cancer requires frequent medical attention and monitoring to stay in remission, sobriety is typically free to maintain and only requires help from yourself and a sober community. The bad news is that cancer patients can go months—even years—without needing treatment where alcoholics generally require something much more frequent; a daily routine or some kind of ongoing program, as well as a spiritual connection, to keep their disease in remission. It might be more of a time commitment but it’s also much less scary and much more manageable.

If more people viewed alcoholism the way they do cancer, I think we would see a lot more problem drinkers and drug users getting and staying sober. When diagnosed with cancer, most people understand that they need to show up for their appointments and procedures if they want to live. Since alcoholism isn’t seen this gravely, it takes a long time—and lots of pain and suffering—for people who commit to their sobriety the way they would commit to their cancer treatment. Some never “get it” and either spend their lives in a destructive downward spiral or they don’t even make it that far.

The Path of The Righteous Man

If you think it’s too late to start over, just know that Jackson didn’t get sober until his 40s (which, not so coincidentally, is when things really started happening for him) and that 12-step rooms are filled with people getting sober who are in their 70s and 80s. And can we just say “Amen!” to Jackson’s life change because otherwise we might have been deprived of hearing him quote Ezekiel 25:17? Now that would have been the real tragedy.

Photo courtesy of rwoan Lady Lotus at en.wikipedia ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.