My goal this week was to get away from the topic of Celebrity addiction, but, of course, you couldn’t turn on the television without some newscaster broadcasting about the tragic and sudden death of teenage heartthrob and childhood star Corey Haim. Most likely the cause is related to drug addiction although the reports are unclear. Is this yet another tragic death related to the high rate of celebrity addicts? Is it another death related to the high rate of tragic deaths of childhood actors? Or is it because, like many, he was raised by parents that lived off his income and had their own long lost desire to be famous while thrusting the limelight on their child for their own satisfaction? Was it because he couldn’t cope with his fame ending at such at a young age never to be duplicated as an adult? Is it because the euphoria of being famous at such a young age can only be met by replacing those intense feelings with drugs or alcohol? Did he have the genetic disposition to become an addict or alcoholic? Was it his intense drive to succeed in an industry full of enablers and not having to play by the rules that most of us do have to play by?
All of this is just speculation, of course. Perhaps it is none of these things that brought Corey down, but the statistics are alarming as to how many child actors do fall victim to alcoholism and drug addiction. Shall I start naming them? Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears, Robert Downey Jr., Brittany Murphy, River Phoenix, Dana Plato, Tatum O’Neal, or Andrew Koenig. And these are just a few. However, fortunately, there are those who found sobriety before it was too late such as Drew Barrymore and Mackenzie Phillips or others who have struggled on and off for years with chronic relapses such as Danny Bonaduce.
When will all of these senseless deaths end? The few celebrity child actors I have treated were mostly brought to my office through the desperate attempts to get them sober by someone they love. These family members or friends are mostly the ones that make the call to get them the desperate help they need. This is usually no different than most addicts and alcoholics I work with. However, often as soon as I set boundaries with them, I never see them again. When I tell them they must give me the standard 24 hours notice to cancel and I hold them to it when they don’t show up, they disappear as quickly as they arrived. They are so used to being catered to and when someone actually says “No” to them, they flee. This is sad because there will always be another doctor or psychotherapist that will say “yes” and not hold them accountable for their actions. This is one of the reasons that perhaps they can’t stay sober. Sobriety is not a place where the strung out addict or alcoholic should make the rules. They need the direction of someone who has either been down that road or a professional that can clearly set appropriate boundaries. Most child actors have had to handle responsibilities at a young age whereby they clearly were not emotionally or developmentally ready to handle. Maybe this is why they also become so rebellious defying all the rules later in life. Also, they most likely did not get their attachment needs met according to a study by the Department of Psychology at Wayne State University. The study reports parents of child performers, who were heavily involved in their children’s careers, tended to be “less caring and more over controlling.” Perhaps their entitlement comes from the need to be in control because they were so heavily controlled at a young age. Or maybe their addictions stem from a traumatic childhood, similar to non-childhood actors, where they always felt abandoned. Perhaps a professional psychotherapist, who actually set limits, is too scary for a child star because it actually represents caring to them. Maybe the only time they felt cared for was when they were on stage or in front of a camera.
Regardless, all of this is speculation, but I do believe children actors need to not be treated like “little adults.” They need to get their developmental needs met like any other child. They need healthy peer relationship and not to be handed over everything they ask for. They need healthy role models and stable families just like anyone else to teach them to live life on life’s terms. There is no guarantee they won’t develop an addiction, but at least it’s a good start.
Sherry Gaba is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach in Agoura, CA. She specializes in addictions, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and helping her clients find their purpose. She is a contributing author to “The Conscious Entrepreneur” and is the Life Coach on Celebrity Rehab 2 and 3 on VH1 with Dr. Drew Pinsky. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.sgabatherapy.com. Her new book comes out this September 2010 for Recovery Month on having a purposeful recovery.