If you wonder why Demi Lovato with her ‘perfect life’ struggled with addiction, you need to hear this

There are lots of reasons why someone might slide slowly and inexorably into a drug habit. While having security in your life can help, money and celebrity is clearly not a guarantee of immunity

Karen Tyrell
Wednesday 25 July 2018 15:50 BST
People who struggle with drug and alcohol problems deserve understanding and empathy. That’s true of people in the public eye too
People who struggle with drug and alcohol problems deserve understanding and empathy. That’s true of people in the public eye too (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


I’m pretty sure you can think of someone you know who has had “a bit of an issue” with drugs or alcohol at some point in your life. For some people, it bubbles beneath the surface but stays more or less under control. For others, things get out of control and they need help to get better. That’s where Demi Lovato is now and she deserves support and space to recover.

No one wakes up one morning and decides to become dependent on drugs or alcohol. Lots of things happen in life, and sometimes the bad stuff can outweigh the good. I’ve worked with people with drug and alcohol problems for over 20 years, starting out as a front line worker. What my experience has taught me is that people from all walks of life can end up needing help. No-one is immune.

Some people have really awful stories of the lives they led before they got help. Yesterday in fact, I was talking to a woman who had a series of miscarriages in her early life, suffered appalling domestic abuse, and as a result developed a serious drug problem which she funded through sex work. With support and guidance from professionals and people who’d walked the same road, she’s turned her life around.

This week I also met a man whose alcohol use spiralled out of control while working as a top chef in London. He tried to struggle through by himself and in the end he lost everything before reaching out for help. In both cases, shame and guilt played a big part in not reaching out earlier.

So, how come some people end up “addicted” while others don’t? In my experience, it’s complicated. Research shows it’s a complex interplay between your social environment, your psychological make-up, traumatic life experiences, and cultural and genetic factors. These play out differently for different people.

There are lots of things which mean that one person may experience something traumatic, and respond in one way, while someone else might slide slowly and inexorably into a drug habit. There are lots of factors that protect you – having a job, a strong support network of family and genuine friends, having a decent education. These things are a buffer, but they’re not necessarily enough on their own.

Quite often, when people come forward for help, they are broken and bruised. Drugs or alcohol have consumed their lives. They might have debt, convictions, and family might have disowned them. There’s often a profound loneliness at the heart of a person’s story, an intense desire to be heard and a deep need for human connection.

In order to get life back on track, it can feel like standing at the bottom of a mountain looking up, and wondering how to get to the summit. It’s terrifying and feels impossible. How can you possibly do that on your own?

As a drug worker my first port of call was often sitting down and really listening to a person over a cup of tea. I’d help them work out a goal, let them know I was on their side, and then I’d walk the road with them. It’s not an easy path. Humans are complicated and people have setbacks. The thing I’ve learned more than anything else is that a person needs to feel that someone’s on their side. The thing I know for sure is that nobody is hard-wired, everyone can recover with the right support.

People who struggle with drug and alcohol problems deserve understanding and empathy. That’s true of people in the public eye too. It matters how celebrities are treated in the media, not just because they’re people deserving of respect, but because the way we talk about their experiences can either encourage or dissuade someone from coming forward for help. I’d like to think Demi Lovato has people around her to help her on the road back to recovery. If there’s something in her story that you relate to, reach out for help.

Karen Tyrell is an executive director at drug and alcohol charity Addaction.

If you need help, please talk to someone. You can chat to us for free and in confidence at: www.addaction.org.uk

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