Is the Entertainment Industry to Blame for Drug and Alcohol Problems of Former Child Stars?
If you are like me, you have probably wondered why so many former child television, movie, and music stars have ended up addicted to drugs and alcohol, and just in general are living lives marked by excessive levels of melodrama and notoriety.
From Judy Garland in Hollywood’s Golden Age to contemporary figures such as Michael Jackson, Macaulay Culkin, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan, there are innumerable case histories of individuals who found success on the stage, screen, and in the recording studio at tender ages only to be plagued by bouts with substance abuse and mental and emotional breakdown as they advanced into adulthood. Given how frequent and awful the stories of tragedy have been, it would be difficult not to draw the conclusion that there is something inherently traumatic about great success in the entertainment industry that causes talented young people who make it to the big time to eventually lose their way.
This is indeed an easy conclusion to draw, but that does not make it the correct one. There is no question that what young people who reach stardom at early ages experience is something far removed from normal or routine, and it may very well be that so much public scrutiny and attention so early in life does have an impact on impressionable minds that is not altogether positive. But for the sake of balance and perspective, it must be acknowledged that there have been scores of people who found success in the entertainment business who grow up to be happy, normal, successful and extremely well-adjusted people.
So for example, while Judy Garland’s experiences with substance abuse have received much attention over the decades, we would be remiss if we did not note that the life of her contemporary, (and the most famous child star the world has ever seen), Shirley Temple, went in an entirely different direction. Temple eventually left the motion picture business and entered the world of international politics, where she helped blaze trails for women everywhere by securing appointments as a U.N. representative and the U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. And what is one to make of the career of Ron Howard, who began working steadily as an actor at the age of 6 and went on to become one of the most successful directors in the business and by all accounts a completely sober and level-headed guy? And what about all the formerly young stars who rose to prominence right alongside the notorious guys and gals we have all grown to know so well (Lindsay, Britney, Charlie Sheen, etc.) whose names have never once appeared in the tabloid press because they were busted for a DUI or forced to enter a rehab center?
There are countless examples of former child television, movie, or music stars who have gone on to lead admirable and entirely sane lives. And even among those who have run into trouble, there are many like Drew Barrymore who have been able to bounce back and apparently recover from their substance abuse issues. If we were to take a comprehensive survey, we would most likely discover that these stories of normalcy and triumph outnumber the scandalous tales and stunted life histories of Hollywood’s irredeemable bad boys and girls by a significant margin, but of course people aren’t really interested in hearing about all of the child stars who didn’t end up dead, addicted, or on the skids as adults.
This is not to suggest that there is no problem here. Insiders agree that the drug culture is alive and well in both Hollywood and the music industry and that levels of drug abuse and alcohol consumption are higher among celebrities than among the general public. But just because a certain type of temptation exists does not mean that all who are exposed to it will succumb even if they have been involved with those cultures from an early age, and the fact that so many don’t would tend to suggest that when grown child stars end up addicted and corrupted, there is a lot more going on than meets the eye.
When Parents Don’t Parent, Kids Don’t Grow Up
Rather than blaming the entertainment industry, we need to take a much closer look at the parents of these lost souls, who chose to expose their kids to the public eye during a potentially fragile stage of their lives. Many of the stars who have had the most trouble were actually pushed into the industry by moms and dads who were in it for the money or who wanted to bask in the glory of having famous sons or daughters. Judy Garland, Lindsay Lohan, Gary Coleman, Tatum O’Neal and Michael Jackson are just a few examples of troubled former child stars whose parents seem to have been more interested in fame and fortune than they were in the welfare of their children. In fact, it is quite rare to find former child stars who became addicted to drugs or alcohol later in life who would testify that they came from safe, secure and loving homes. On the other hand, young entertainers who grew up in stable homes with parents who always watched out for their interests and never pushed them to do anything they weren’t ready for are the ones who, for the most part, have seemed to do just fine after reaching maturity.
And that is the key word – maturity. So many of the child stars who have struggled as adults (Michael Jackson is the most obvious example here) never really grew up. Because their lives were so abnormal and distorted, they were never able to make the transition from adolescence to adulthood, and this “failure to launch,” to use a colloquial term, is what left them vulnerable to the dangerous temptations that the entertainment culture offers so readily. Immaturity and insecurity go hand-in-hand, which explains why Hollywood and the music industry attract so many people who lust after fame and fortune because they believe that getting people to pay attention to them and notice them is the one and only thing that can fill up the empty spaces in their souls. And what makes the situation so difficult for many former child stars is that they were taught to think and feel this way from an early age by parents who were projecting their own immaturity onto their helpless offspring.
Lights, Camera, Destruction!
Behind the glitz, glamour, and money, Hollywood and the music industry share a dark side, and intensive involvement in this world may not be good for the minds, bodies, and spirits of vulnerable people who are in no position emotionally or psychologically to avoid all the potential pitfalls. The former child stars whose moms and dads pushed them toward the bright lights instead of allowing them to find their own passions undoubtedly carry many scars, and the bouts with substance abuse that so many have experienced is a direct reflection of this parental neglect and abandonment (lets call it what it is, kids forced to live out their parents’ dreams were most assuredly neglected and abandoned).
Celebrity itself is not to blame for the problem behavior of famous people, but the fact that so many seek fame with such hunger and desperation, as if it were the only thing that mattered, is a sign of deep-seated psychological and emotional immaturity. Child stars all too often are the victims of such misguided ambitions, rooted in the subconscious of their caregivers, and this is why it is hardly surprising that so many eventually fall into the greedy, grasping clutches of drugs and alcohol. Fame and fortune cannot replace parental love and support, and those who attain the former without the latter are almost inevitably headed for disaster—and the cameras will be right there to capture every moment of the action once it finally arrives.
More Hollywood News about Addiction: Colin Farrell: On Overcoming Addiction To Booze And Drugs