Non-Addicts Can’t Understand Addiction
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Non-Addicts Can’t Understand Addiction


Non-Addicts Can't Understand AddictionI have yet to meet someone who didn’t have the exact same reaction to the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death last Sunday: complete shock and utter sadness.

And this isn’t because we knew him, he is a fucking celebrity for Christ’s sake, a real one—not some talentless hoo-ha on the third to last page of Us Weekly.

PSH was probably my favorite actor, and I am not just saying that because he’s dead. His appeal is entirely spiritual, not a drop of that pesky sex appeal that tends to distract us humans. Not that I don’t love a Clive Owen or Mark Ruffalo all the fucking time—but their acting abilities will never be able to outshine their handsomeness. It’s just the cross sexy people have to bear (don’t I know it, gurl).

Philip Hoffman was so talented that he became sexy to me. Hell, the summer after Boogie Nights came out, that pasty, strawberry blonde doofus turned me in to a full-on chubby chaser. And there are two red-headed fatties that, at the very least, owe him a bouquet of daises on his gravestone.

The reason everyone had the same reaction to PSH’s death is that it wasn’t fair. We weren’t prepared for it. We weren’t served appetizers of multiple arrests, media rumors of drug-induced behavior or even a TMZ video of him telling off a paparazzi. About a year or so ago, there was a  casual mention in the press that he was checking himself into rehab for a few days, after 23 or some odd years sober—a very brief relapse on heroin. The public statement seemed very mature and handled. I guess that is the magic of a good publicist.

Not that a celebrity’s personal life is any of our business; it’s not. Hence the apt title “_______ Anonymous.”

But there are some advantages to having a public problem. It heightens stakes and accountability, which can speed up an addict’s ability to hit bottom (Lindsay Lohan aside). Most people do want to get better and do not want to sabotage their careers or permanently taint their image. I think Robert Downey Jr. is probably the best example of how possible it is to turn it around.

The other advantage to having a public problem is that the public is more prepared for your death. Personally, I would much rather have the world stop—as it did just hours before the Super Bowl—when the news of my death hits the press. I have been pretty disturbed since I heard the news of PSH’s death. Especially when I learned it was from a heroin overdose (or bad batch—whatever).

I initially figured he committed suicide; he was a star who had everything, wasn’t happy, hated the pressure and wanted out. I get that. And really, the heroin use was for the same reasons. This is probably why, if he was trying to get clean again, he was struggling. Which brings me to this…


I first would like to address the fact that these two “labels” speak of the same disease. But people who never drank or had a problem with alcohol yet can’t stop shooting cocaine into their neck sometimes take issue with identifying themselves as alcoholics. It just doesn’t resonate for them and I totally respect that. But make no mistake; they are the exact same problem.

What blows me away about alcoholism is that if you aren’t an alcoholic, it’s literally impossible for you to know a goddamned thing about it. And I don’t say that as a point of pride; I say it with amazement. Because, for lack of a better reference, we can put a man on the moon but we can’t figure out a way to teach people about what it means to be an addict/alcoholic. Why we do the things we do, what we need (and definitely do not need) to get better.

Here’s the best way for me to explain addiction: having to pee.

When you are addicted to something, it feels like you need that thing like you need to pee. The disease of alcoholism, or “the ism” as many call it, is an acute pain and discomfort within the person afflicted which can only be relieved by whatever it is they are addicted to. Meaning, when you have to pee—like really have to fucking pee—the only thing that will solve that is taking a piss. And you will give anything to do that. In fact, you are going to take a piss eventually no matter who it hurts.


And there is no cure. No book, no 12-step program, no medication, no rehab, no divorce, no marriage, no kids, no spell, no candle-lighting ceremony, no mediation practice, no therapy, no amount of love from friends and family will ever cure alcoholism. Alcoholism can only be treated. You can recover from being run over by your disease but you will always have it.

Forgive me if I sound close-minded about this issue. It’s because I am. There is no dispute on this. What there does seem to be dispute on is if 12-step programs are the only way to treat alcoholism. And while I don’t know everyone in the world, I have never met or heard of anyone recovering from the disease of alcoholism without a 12-step program.

Now before you start getting your panties in a bunch, there is no real way to prove this so there is not point in arguing it. Addiction recovery is so fucking personal that there is no fool proof way of telling if someone is practicing good recovery, no matter how many years of sobriety they have. Because living with treated alcoholism goes so far beyond ceasing the use of drugs, alcohol or whatever it is you are addicted to. In fact, what people don’t realize is that an alcoholic’s problem isn’t alcohol; that’s actually their solution.

I could go on and on about this but I won’t bore you anymore than I have. I just saw so many posts and opinion pieces about the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, mostly by non-addicts who seemed to think they knew what he was or wasn’t doing to try to deal with his addiction to shooting heroin.

I will say this though; Philip Seymour Hoffman did not use or overdose on heroin because 12-step programs don’t work.

No one but PSH  knows how diligently he was working a program or trying to recover, if at all. No one.

But it is my experience that 12-step programs work 100% of the time if you work them. Most people do not and so they don’t stay clean. I am sorry if you or someone you know has not been able to stay sober despite having “tried” a 12-step program. All I can say is try again because, trust me, it’s the only game in town.

Okay now—let the hate mail begin.

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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.