What does Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death say about addiction?

March 1, 2014

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was recently found dead in his New York City apartment, and law enforcement officials have speculated that heroin may have played a factor in his death. As Hollywood mourns the death of this tremendously talented man, news sources have been reporting on the fact that this tragic event shines light on the heroin problem in the U.S., and should encourage people to seek help from addiction treatment centers.

The Associated Press reported that Hoffman had first sought out treatment for addiction decades ago, and had recently gone to a rehab center in March, 2013. The news source spoke to Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who stated that what has happened to Hoffman serves as a reminder of how powerful the pull of addiction can be. She explained that Hoffman was a skilled and successful actor, had an abundance of resources and had gone to rehab in the past, so he clearly understood the impact drugs were having on his life. Despite this, he was still struggling with drug use. Volkow stated that although Hoffman had gone into treatment in the past, this is an example of what the consequences can be when former addicts relapse.

“Give them a tiny amount and they immediately escalate to same levels of drug taking as before – which is why addiction is considered a chronic disease and overdose is common,” Volkow told the AP. “[Hoffman’s] is a story that unfortunately is not infrequent – to have an individual who takes drugs in [his] 20s and stops for 20 years [to] relapse in [his] 40s and overdose.”

Looking toward success stories
This recent tragedy should encourage people who have an addiction to heroin or other illicit substances to seek help for their problem. It is important for people to understand that it is possible to overcome addiction and regain control over their lives. For example, CNN recently published an article by Tracey Helton Mitchell, who is currently writing a book about how she overcame her addiction to heroin.

She stated that she was addicted to heroin for eight years, and only became clean after she was arrested and finally decided it was time to get the help she needed and check into a treatment program.

Mitchell said that in the years following her giving up heroin she dealt with problems ranging from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as the social stigma that can come with being a recovering drug addict. However, through all that she has remained clean and is now a wife and working mother of three.

There are many roads to recovery. The path that I followed worked for me, but I cannot dictate what may work for another user struggling to get off drugs. I can only share my experience. I have spent my second chance at life teaching both harm reduction and overdose prevention because all of us have a life worth saving. I feel blessed I am able to bring a voice and a face to the issue,” Mitchell wrote for CNN.

Many people who are addicted to heroin and other drugs may be hiding their problem because of the stigma surrounding addiction. When tragedies like Hoffman’s death are talked about in the media, those discussions should focus on what society as a whole can do to help people who need treatment feel open to ask for it, rather than the personal details of a celebrity’s struggle.

Individuals who have become dependent on heroin, cocaine, alcohol or other substances should consider looking into rehab centers for help.

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