The big celebrity news this week was the drug-related death of actor and director Philip Seymour Hoffman. The academy award winner was found dead in his Manhattan apartment on February 2, of a heroin overdose, at age 46.
Given that my newspaper was printed Saturday before his death and waiting for me in the driveway Sunday morning, it is ironic that on hearing of Hoffman’s death, I saw the feature in the Sunday Styles section the next day. It describes the long-standing hell-raising SNL after-parties, and naturally, those of us who recall the 70s may reflect on a lifestyle that has taken some of our finest talents before their time.
Why Addiction to Some Substances and Not Others?
I won’t say I haven’t had my minor moments I might consider a walk on the “wild side.” But drugs and drink have never been my thing; drugs most definitely not, and cocktails or wine, rarely to the point of intoxication. I can, like many of us, look back on one or two university experiences that were more than enough to teach me my limits, which I prefer to respect.
In the past years we’ve had plenty to read online and in print about the dopamine spike that occurs as a result of any number of activities – as our pleasure centers are activated, and naturally, we want the pleasure to continue.
But what makes an individual gravitate toward one sort of pleasure over another? Why can some set their own boundaries and keep them, while others cannot?
Why is it cocaine for some, sex for others, and binge eating over binge drinking for many women throughout their lives? What about the secret eater who hoards her stash and you’d never be the wiser? What about the social drinker, merrily sipping her cocktail while out with friends, but once home, puts away a bottle of vodka?
For that matter, what if we’re talking about the intense high experienced by the narcissist with a captive audience? How much does psychology versus chemistry play into the equation – before substance use turns into substance abuse?
Apples, Oranges, and No Assumptions
I would love to better understand the brain science and reasons that render one person more susceptible to addiction than another, and certain behaviors or substances more seductive than others. In my own life, I recognize the patterns established around emotional eating, and there are times when I remain on “high alert” around food, because I know how easily I can slip into self-destructive habits, particularly when under stress.
But a walk on the wild side that involves drugs? Anything more than my occasional martini, and far more likely – a single glass of red wine?
I have no interest whatsoever. There has never been an appeal for me, psychically or physically. And I couldn’t begin to tell you why.
On the other hand, there were moments in my life, especially after divorce, when I could have been more vulnerable to certain types of partying, and potentially to excess. I was seeking pleasure (and made no bones about it); seeking to heal from years of feeling like “not enough;” basking in my occasional dopamine spikes that were of a more personal nature… beautiful heels included.
But even in that, my inner GPS was my guide, and I’m grateful to possess it. But I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of character or common sense, education or even experience; it feels like something that has always been fundamentally present. And I ask again – how, and why?
Life of the Party? Party for a (Short) Life?
Returning to “Lives of the After Party,” which was written several days before Hoffman’s death, the article mentions the mystique of the earliest 70s SNL parties.
It’s hard not to smile wistfully, recalling classic SNL sketches with John Belushi, whose face along with Willie Nelson’s graces the photograph that accompanies the story.
An interesting article on four decades of celebrity partying, and with recollections of the late 70s, it is this reference to the “lore of the good old wild days” that holds me and saddens me:
… the only thing that would break up this party was the coming of dawn or the depletion of the night’s supply of mind-altering substances.
The lore feels rooted in the drug habits of John Belushi and Chris Farley, both of whom proved to be a danger more to themselves than anyone’s cast party.
The Ultimate Escape
I make no assumptions and claim no special powers of abstinence. I love my pleasures as much as the next person – some of them, more than others. I also know myself; I can well imagine that were I more inclined toward certain substances, I could indeed have a problem.
I am after all obsessive about my writing. Is that an addiction or a passion? Is it only an addiction if it interferes with other areas of my life?
My workaholic tendencies are crystal clear and undeniable. Am I inclined toward addiction in that area, if not physically than somehow, psychologically?
There have been long periods in my life when I felt addicted – in a good way – to walking three to five miles daily. Without that exercise I was jumpy and ill-tempered. Once returned to the regimen, I felt release and relief, the sort of pleasurable escape that is an incredible high when you’re in the midst of it, and leaves you calmly basking in its afterglow for hours.
My walk on the wild side, for decades, set aside the heels of my partying days, and instead, involved a worn pair of Nikes.
Image of Philip Seymour Hoffman, BigStockPhoto, OAKLAND, CA – SEPT 19: Philip Seymour Hoffman at the world premiere of Columbia Pictures’ ‘Moneyball.’
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