Celebrities glamorize serious substance abuse problems

By Katie Brickman – The Huron Expositor

We have all heard the advertisements on the radio and on television, yet many people still drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Young kids are told and shown the deadly effects of what driving under the influence in school and by organizations like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and OSAID (Ontario Students Against Impaired Driving).

We even hear celebrities like Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, former Leafs players Tie Domi and Wendel Clark, and singers Shania Twain and Chantal Kreviazuk pleading with youth and adults to not drink and drive. Yet for some reason, even the insistent plea from celebrities, athletes, and politicians seem to fall on deaf ears.

Could it be that celebrities, although looked upon as role models and mentors, don’t follow the same words that they say in commercials? After all, most celebrities, especially in the States, say one thing and do the opposite.

This past week the music industry lost another star to substance abuse. At the age of 27, English jazz-soul diva Amy Winehouse was found dead at her apartment by a security guard. When the news report broke out of England, many believed that Winehouse had overdosed on drugs and/or alcohol, but according to the police report, there were no drugs or drug paraphernalia found around her at the scene. The autopsy report came back inconclusive and we must now wait on toxicology reports to figure out how she died. Winehouse has battled drugs, alcohol, depression, self-harm, and eating disorders since she hit the big time in 2003.

Drugs and alcohol abuse and addiction are a very serious problem, not only in Ontario, but also in Huron and Perth counties where methamphetamine or crystal meth has been a big issue in recent years. Addiction is a serious illness that many people are ashamed of, in denial from, or do not realize they have. There are treatment centres in the area that are there to help and should be used.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse has stated that tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis are the most frequently used substances by youth and that many youth have already consumed alcohol by Grades 7-9. The Centre also stated that substance use increases with age during adolescence, peaks in the mid to late 20s and then subsides with life changes.

In the days since Winehouse’s passing, many papers and gossip columns reported about the phenomenon of the Club 27 or the Forever 27 Club, where musicians have passed away at the age of 27, including founding member of the Rolling Stones Brian Jones (substance abuse problem, found dead in swimming pool), greatest electric guitarist Jimi Hendrix (asphyxiated on vomit after combining sleeping pills and wine), Queen of Rock and Roll Janis Joplin (heroin overdose), The Doors legend Jim Morrison (heart failure, but no autopsy), grunge rocker Kurt Cobain (self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head), and now the jazz-soul diva Winehouse (battle with drugs and alcohol). All of these musicians have been classified as some of the greatest in the industry and all died too young.

Yet, their deaths are glamourized by being placed in this club. This is where the problem lies. These famous celebrities can easily buy any type of drugs they wish and many fall victim to the potent power that drugs deliver as a way to escape from their lives and issues.

Although I am no celebrity and would never want to be, I do believe that each and every single one of them chose to be an actor, model, musician, or reality star. They all have the chance to say no to being in the limelight if they so wish, but most crave the attention. And it appears that with that attention, the lure of substances is strong, and many of them give in.

For many youth, celebrities and athletes are looked upon as role models and what teens think are dream jobs. Many youth and young adults become so infatuated and obsessed, they will do anything just to be like their favourite celebrity. The lure of drugs and alcohol is strong and all are addictive. As a society we need to educate our youth more on the effects that substance abuse does to their bodies, minds, and to other people.

It is sad that a beautiful talent like Amy Winehouse was overshadowed and destroyed by substance abuse, but shouldn’t another untimely death prove that drugs don’t make you pretty, they can’t make you fly, or be superman. But drugs can make you lose your hair, get hurtful scabs all over your body, cause diseases later in life and other health problems, and ultimately death.

Of course youth will still experiment, but if we can give them examples so they think twice the next time a bottle of rum or joint is passed around, maybe that will be a start.