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It was a sad, sad weekend in Hollywood.
At age 46, Philip Seymour Hoffman had so much going for him. He was an actor, director, father, brother and friend. He was nearly finished filming the final Hunger Games movie and had just premiered A Most Wanted Man at the Sundance Film Festival.
Until his relapse last year, Hoffman had been sober for 23 years. He sought treatment for pill and heroin addiction in May 2013 with support from family and friends.
Since leaving rehab, he seemed to be doing well, which is what makes his death so unexpected. He was reportedly found by his assistant on Sunday with a needle still in his arm.
Now that he’s gone, everyone is talking about the legacy he leaves. Will he be remembered as someone who “fell off the wagon” or just couldn’t “kick the habit”? Will his willpower be called into question? Or does his death reveal a more important truth about addition?
Hoffman was a world-class talent suffering from a very serious disease. If this tragedy shows us anything, it’s that addiction does not discriminate. It is a progressive, lifelong and often fatal illness millions suffer with everyday.
If we approached relapse from addiction more like we approach relapse from other chronic diseases like cancer or MS, we could prevent many more deaths. Instead of demonizing and blaming the addict, we should seek to understand why they relapsed and how to prevent it in the future.
Hoffman’s relapse had little to do with “willpower” and more to do with how his brain is wired. Drugs permanently change the brain. It takes vigilant self-monitoring to avoid setbacks.
It’s hard to say what triggered Hoffman’s relapse, but personal stressors and legally prescribed painkillers likely played a role. Opiate medications mimic the high you get from heroin, which can send a recovering person into relapse.
Remember, addiction doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Many people undergo treatment and go on to live healthy, happy, productive lives. The earlier you get help, the better your outcome and the sooner you can get your life back on track.
If you or a loved one is experiencing substance abuse or addiction, visit our Get Help page to find treatment resources in the area or call (865) 588-5550 and ask for Stan Grubb.