Drew Barrymore is no stranger to heart-to-heart conversations on her talk show. But her recent chat with actor Jason Ritter may exemplify an important cultural shift.
In reflecting on his relationship with wife Melanie Lynskey, who also appeared on “The Drew Barrymore Show” last week, Ritter revealed he was “dealing with some alcohol issues” early on in their relationship. Barrymore raised her hand. “Me too,” she said.
An emotional Ritter explained that his struggles with alcohol went hand-in-hand with feeling like he wasn’t deserving of a happy life. “It was only after like a year into not drinking where I started to go, ‘Oh, maybe I can promise some things to someone else,” he added.
Barrymore responded with her own experiences: She stopped drinking about four years ago, hasn’t been in a relationship since and is looking forward to one day being in a relationship not shadowed by the insecurities and instabilities she experienced while drinking.
In years past, Ritter and Barrymore’s detailed accounts would have been grounds for a dramatic magazine cover story or formal network news sit-down interview. While their conversation was emotional, it was also a casual discussion – a part of their stories, not the whole narrative.
Ritter and Barrymore’s conversation reflects a larger cultural shift, experts say
Are we moving past the idea of making sobriety a big deal? Experts think so, especially as our culture shifts to celebrate choices made in the name of health and wellness.
“We absorb countless messages that drinking alcohol is the way to do it all: Relax, celebrate, escape,” says Courtney Tracy, a licensed psychotherapist and founder of virtual addiction treatment center Exist Centers. “With more celebrities opening up and having these types of conversations, alcohol and partying is becoming less connected to the idea of fame and success.
The rise of concepts such as Dry January, the “sober curious” movement and popularity of mocktails also show a shift, adds George F. Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. And who better to help drive that than the celebrities who influence culture in countless other ways?
“Somebody who’s really suffering from alcohol use disorder is going to have a lot of trouble getting on the road to recovery and maintaining the road to recovery,” Koob says. “When they see someone like Drew Barrymore has succeeded, that gives people a lot of hope: ‘I can do it, too.’ “
Katy Perry, Demi Lovato, Ben Affleck, more stars discuss sobriety
Barrymore and Ritter are the latest in a growing trend of celebrities being open about sobriety, from Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom’s sobriety pact to Demi Lovato’s “California sober” comments to Matthew Perry and Ben Affleck sharing their experiences with Alcoholics Anonymous.
Matthew Perry, who opened up about a decades-long struggle with alcohol and drug addiction in his 2022 book “Friends, Lovers and The Big Terrible Thing,” told the New York Times in October that though he sponsors three members of Alcoholics Anonymous, he doesn’t love that the program is anonymous.
“It suggests that there’s a stigma and that we have to hide,” he said.
Conversely, Ben Affleck recently took issue with becoming the “poster boy for actor alcoholism,” saying in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that a person doesn’t need to give up anonymity in their recovery.
And while that may hold truth especially for those whose personal struggles wind up on the front page of tabloids, experts say overall that hiding an issue with sobriety can be detrimental to their recovery.
“It’s critical (to connect with others),” says Koob. “We’re primates and we pay attention to other primates. We get strength from (others). … It’s a huge reward when we interact with other people.”
Celebrities being open about their sobriety also “shows others that they are successful and making their dreams come true without having to fall into the trap of substance escape and partying,” Tracy says.
“Celebrities hold a lot of weight when it comes to creating the culture of our country. The more celebrities emulate a healthy lifestyle, the more our American population will turn to it.”
Tips from the experts on how to approach sobriety
To those who may be exploring the idea of quitting, Tracy and Koob offer steps on what to do next:
Congratulate yourself and breathe. “Being able to introspect and realize you want to make a change is a big deal. Not everyone can do that,” says Tracy. “It’s not easy to want to change something in your life. Change takes a lot of work and sometimes it feels worse before it gets better.”
Evaluate. “If you don’t have a big problem and you cut back or stop drinking and you feel better when you’re not drinking, listen to your body,” says Koob. “But if you have a serious alcohol use disorder, the withdrawal can be dangerous, so you need to get some medical help there.”
Consider your options. “If you’re wanting to change your drinking habits, review whether you believe you need therapy, treatment or a support system made up of your friends and family,” says Tracy. Treatment can range from rehabilitation programs and Alcoholics Anonymous to individual and group counseling, Koob adds.
Share. “Start the whole process by sharing how you’re feeling with someone you trust and someone who will help you figure out the next steps,” says Tracy. “You don’t have to do it alone.”
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