Suffering through addiction—no matter what you’re addicted to—is difficult. For me, the hardest part was the shame I felt for being a person with addiction in the first place. I spent a lot of time silently suffering before I could admit that I needed help. This turned out to be a vicious cycle—the stigma of addiction made me feel bad about myself, which led me to soothe those feelings with more alcohol.
But now, in recovery, it’s important for me to speak out about addiction, and to fight the stigma. I take comfort in seeing those with a larger platform than my own, like celebrities, speaking out against the stigma, too. I especially have long admired Demi Lovato for being honest about her struggle with addiction and, when she relapsed this summer, I became an even bigger fan of hers because I know that relapse happens to many of us and it’s what we do afterward that matters most.
It’s never easy to face addiction, especially when you’re in the spotlight. Yet hundreds of celebrities have gone through recovery, and come out the other side. Some become sober and stay silent about it (which, is completely valid) but many speak out in hopes that they can help others who may be going through a similar experience. These folks embolden me to do the same. Here are some of the most notable celebrities in recovery who continue to battle the stigma of addiction.
1. Demi Lovato
Demi Lovato has been a powerful advocate for fighting the stigma of addiction and mental health. She has been outspoken about her sobriety and mental illness, including putting a wellness treatment program at the forefront of her last tour and opening up about her struggles in her 2017 documentary, Simply Complicated.
“You just have to take it one day at a time,” she said in September 2017. “Some days are easier than others and some days you forget about drinking and using, but for me, I work on my physical health, which is important, but my mental health as well.”
In July 2018, Lovato had an apparent drug overdose, which sent her back into rehab. But she’s recently made a quiet comeback on Instagram to let fans know she’s doing okay. Although news of her episode was devastating to fans, Lovato is currently healing and no doubt preparing to continue to be an advocate for dispelling the myths and stereotypes of recovery and mental health. I am hoping that she will come back stronger than ever.
2. Russell Brand
British stand-up comedian and Katy Perry’s ex-husband, Russell Brand, was once known for his philandering and drug abusing ways. He has admitted that his drug addiction started as a child and his comedy is littered with stories of past misbehavior. Brand has been in recovery for about 15 years and has become very open about breaking the grip addiction had on his life. He’s even written a book about his journey, titled Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions. Recovery tackles all kinds of addictions, including drugs and alcohol, social media, pornography, and more.
“We have been taught that freedom is the freedom to pursue our petty, trivial desires. Real freedom is freedom from our petty, trivial desires,” Brand writes.
3. Nicole Richie
Nicole Richie started using drugs and alcohol after her parents’ divorce, when she admits to Elle that things “started to go south.” She did cocaine and prescription pills in high school, partied her way through college, and spent a month in rehab for heroin addiction shortly before sobering up for the initial filming of The Simple Life with Paris Hilton (which premiered in December 2003).
Five years after the show garnered her global fame, Richie opened up on 20/20 about the boredom of her teen years which led to drug use — and how she decided to get help in her early 20s.
“I, again, made the decision for myself, this is something I have to do. I have to get off drugs,” she said on the show. “This isn’t the life … this was heroin.”
These days, Richie maintains that she has “no choice” but to be honest when it comes to her past drug use, even when it comes to her kids.
“My past is out there. I have no choice but to be honest,” Richie told You Magazine in 2017, clarifying that she hopes to use her past drug use to teach her children about the dangers of drug use as they get older. “What I can do is use that experience as a tool for when my kids get older. They know that people have died from drugs because they go to school and it happens.”
4. Kelly Osbourne
Kelly Osbourne’s first stint with substance abuse began early. She began to abuse Vicodin at the age of 16, and eventually began to drink heavily and take drugs more frequently. At the height of her addiction, she has admitted to taking 60 Vicodin a day. Osbourne began to speak out again after news of Lovato’s relapse, talking about her own past struggles with addiction. She spoke about difficult it is for people who are open about their addictions to relapse so publicly, and how she overcame her own struggles.
“After 30 days, I left rehab. For the first time, I felt hopeful. I knew I’d been given another chance at my life, at my career, at happiness. I wanted to grab it,” the then 26-year-old wrote in her book, Fierce.
Today she continues to be candid about her experiences with addiction and recovery, helping to fight the stigma along the way.
5. Jason Biggs
Jason Biggs may not have been the loudest voice in the room about addiction and recovery, but he recently revealed on Instagram that he is one year sober. Biggs posted a photo of his one-year chip from Alcoholics Anonymous, saying that he admits that recovery is hard, but not impossible.
“I first tried to get sober over 5 years ago, when the weight of my obsession with booze and drugs became too heavy for me to handle. Turns out this shit is hard,” he wrote. “After some fits and starts, I’ve managed to put together one year of sobriety. I’m as proud of it as anything in my life. If you’re struggling, know there’s help. Don’t be ashamed. We can do this.”
Most recently, he opened up on Dax Shepard’s podcast about how his alcohol abuse led to some tasteless tweets, which ultimately led him to lose a job. Although he is newly sober, his openness about his past has garnered him new fans in the recovery community.
6. Elizabeth Vargas
Elizabeth Vargas, the 20/20 and longtime ABC News anchor recounts her history of alcohol use disorder and anxiety in her memoir, Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction. Vargas’ book reveals her struggle with panic attacks and provides an honest discussion about her experience in rehab.
“Rehab isn’t what finally got me sober,” she said to People magazine. “It was nearly losing everything and finally seeing that whatever benefit I thought alcohol gave me was outweighed by what it would cost me.”
Other than her memoir, Vargas continues to talk about her experiences with alcohol use disorder and most recently served as the keynote speaker at The Magdalen’s House’s Leave a Legacy 2018, where she emphasized supporting women who are dealing with addiction.
7. Dax Shepard
Dax Shepard, the actor, podcast host, and one half of my favorite Hollywood couple (alongside his ever-adorable partner, Kristen Bell), has been surprisingly candid about his recovery journey. Recently, he celebrated 14 years sober and continues to speak out about sobriety. Before he got sober, he admitted that he “loved cocaine and Jack Daniel’s” but found recovery through 12-step meetings, which he advocates for on his Twitter account.
“I think a lot of ex-addicts, they find a lot of humor in what they did because they lived through it,” he said.
Most recently, Shepard has reached a new audience through his podcast, where he opens up about his own recovery experience and often brings in “experts” to talk about addiction and sobriety with humor and genuineness.
8. Carrie Fisher
Before she passed away from a heart attack in 2016 at the age of 60, Fisher was an advocate for recovery, as well as fighting the stigma of addiction and mental health. Upon Fisher’s death, her daughter, Billie Lourd, said that her mother “battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life,” and that she “ultimately died of it.” Fisher’s memory lives on for many, especially those of us who read (and re-read) her memoir, Wishful Drinking.
“One of the things that baffle me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder,” she writes. “In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”
Since her passing, Fisher continues to be a source of inspiration for those dealing with the dual diagnosis of addiction and mental health issues. She remains someone we can all look up to thanks to her legacy of as a mental-health advocate.
9. Oprah Winfrey
It might shock you to find out that one of the most famous women in America has dealt with addiction, too. This just goes to show how prevalent this problem really is. In 1995, Winfrey broke down on her talk show while filming an episode about women who have had drug problems and admitted that she had smoked cocaine in her early 20s.
“Years ago I had a woman on my show who was talking about drugs and how she was addicted to her boyfriend and I had used drugs in my 20s with this boyfriend and I was more addicted to the boyfriend than I was to the drugs,” she revealed in a 2005 interview. “So the admission to using drugs on television as the biggest thing.”
Since then, she has continued to be an advocate for conquering addiction, often being outspoken about her own experiences with love and food addiction as well as talking about recovery on her former talk show and in her current ventures. She has devoted more shows to conquering addiction, featured stories in her magazine about the benefits of yoga for addiction recovery, and continues to have frank conversations with other celebrities about addiction and recovery (such as with Russell Brand, who also made our list).
10. Bradley Cooper
Bradley Cooper, the actor and first-time director/co-star of the phenomenal A Star Is Born remake (with Lady Gaga) has been sober since 2004, saying that he has not had a drink since he was 29 years old. His new film hits close to home, as he stars as the Jackson, a tormented musician struggling with addiction. Luckily, Cooper says his experience has been a cathartic one.
“Anytime you’re trying to tell the truth you need to go to places and use things that have happened to you, or you’ve read about or experienced,” Cooper told Vanity Fair. “And that’s all part of the beauty of turning whatever things you’ve gone through into a story. I find that to be very cathartic. I remember learning that in grad school, our teacher said all the insecurities, all the dark stuff you get to use that and that’s really the truth.”
11. Samuel L. Jackson
It has been 29 years since Samuel L. Jackson left a drug rehabilitation center, but the superstar actor is still addicted — this time to work and golf, instead of alcohol and crack cocaine, he told The Telegraph in 2005.
“‘Made it’ is all relative,” he told The Guardian in 2016 about his late start in movies. “I had a very good theatre reputation. Granted, I was a fucking drug addict and I was out of my mind a lot of the time, but I had a good reputation. Showed up on time, knew my lines, hit my marks. I just wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was very satisfied artistically. I was doing Pulitzer prize-winning plays. I was working with people who made me better, who challenged me. So I was doing things the right way, it was just that one thing that was in the way— my addiction. And once that was out of the way, it was— boom! The door blew wide open.”
The star credits the two most important women in his life (his wife, LaTanya, and daughter, Zoe) with helping him get sober but admits that he still fights the occasional temptation to drink. It is precisely his outspoken nature that has made him an advocate of recovery— though his rise to fame after getting (and staying) sober certainly helps, too.
Recovery can be a messy process. Mine certainly was. But the pain that comes from the stigma attached to addiction can make the journey toward recovery even harder. But when a celebrity speaks out about their addiction and journey to recovery, the world listens.
As we have seen more celebrities “come out” in recovery, our society’s perception of addiction has also slowly started to change. It’s undeniable that these prominent voices have started to help us overcome and fight the stigma of addiction. The celebs on the list above are shining examples of those who are already doing it, but here’s hoping that they will continue to be joined by more who speak out and inspire the rest of us with their sobriety journey.