Hip-hop star Mac Miller was found dead in his home on Sept. 7, 2018 at 26 years old. His overdose hit the media like a wave, with strong responses of mourning on social media platforms from both fans and fellow artists who respected his work. Miller was extremely open about his struggle with drug use, referring to it in many of his lyrics and interviews, oftentimes acknowledging the negative effects of continued use.

In a 2015 Billboard interview, Miller spoke about his substance abuse at its peak, saying, “It just eats at your mind, doing drugs every single day, every second. It’s rough on your body.” This premature tragedy comes in the wake of pop star Demi Lovato’s well-documented relapse earlier this summer, when she was taken to a Los Angeles area hospital after a reported overdose. Lovato is another artist who has consistently addressed her drug habit (in addition to her eating and bipolar disorders) in music and with the press. She had recently released a new song “Sober” that recounted her relapse when she overdosed in July. Lyrics of the song include “I’m sorry that I’m here again. I promise I’ll get help.”

However, Miller and Lovato are rare examples of Hollywood elite who actually acknowledge the devastating effects of substance abuse disorders. To many, it seems as though celebrities are destined to live their lives with drug habits by virtue of their exposure to a celebrity culture that champions drug use. This is only emphasized by the constant glorification of drugs and alcohol by our media, with movies and music glorifying the high while consistently avoiding the struggle of living with a substance abuse disorder. The mental and physical toll of continued drug use is extreme, as evident from the 72,000 deaths in 2017 caused by drug overdose, as estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Artists like Miller and Lovato have attempted to highlight this dark and hidden portion of addiction to the public, attacking the glamorous view of drug use.

The narrative of chic and sophisticated drug-using celebrities leaves out some crucial facts about addiction. A life of substance abuse is not sustainable. Celebrities are not untouchable. Anyone can be affected. 21.5 million American adults (12 and above) were reported to have a substance abuse disorder in 2014. These staggering numbers, and the recent newsworthy examples of Miller and Lovato highlight substance abuse does not discriminate.

Regardless of your net worth or follower base, the negative effects are going to come. The highs are high, but the lows lead a user down a dangerous road. And the dangers of this attitude are not restricted to Hollywood, but are rather increasingly prevalent in our larger society. This is especially true across high schools and college campuses, where in place of status equating invincibility, students and young adults equate it with youth.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that substance abuse disorders are vastly different than casual drinking and smoking, which are common in all types of communities and do not indicate severe substance abuse issues. Substance abuse disorders are when these habits become addictive, necessary to one’s way of life. This reliance is explained by the Center on Addiction, which define addiction as “a complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences.” When someone focuses on a consistent need for drugs above good health and social relationships, substance abuse becomes a severe risk.

While these disorders may originate from an initial stage of choice, addiction quickly becomes compulsory. Substance abuse disorders should be tackled with the same tenacity as other diseases, but in our society only one in nine Americans get support and treatment for their addiction. The societal view of drug abuse as fun and cultural discourages those who feel its daily struggles from reaching out for help. A general reliance on these substances can be perceived as weak and embarrassing, adding to this fear of getting help. While people are struggling, overdosing and dying, others continue to support a culture that praises these habits and then judges them when they get out of hand.

When Miller passed away, social media became an outpour of support, love and mourning for the late artist. After hitting mainstream media with his debut album Blue Slide Park in 2011, Miller was a prominent artist in his genre. Other artists looked up to his work, while a large community of fans were inspired, moved and some would say raised on his sound. Miller was preparing for an American tour when he passed away. His legacy is incomplete, and the shock of his tragic loss to both his colleagues and fans should be a signal to take substance abuse off of a pedestal.   

We need to accept substance abuse as a disease and address its effects from that perspective. We need to stop focusing on momentary release and instead zero in on long-term health and happiness. We need strong individuals to continue to speak out about the darkness and struggle that comes with substance abuse, so that people can receive the help that they need.


Erin White can be reached at ekwhite@umich.edu.

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