Justin Bieber and the Treadmill of Fame: The Dangers of Celebrity
19 August, 2021
Justin Bieber isn’t that much different than a lot of us.
Okay, the second one might be hard for most of us to identify with. But you get the idea: We don’t always make the best decisions when we’re young.
The thing is, though, most of us probably didn’t have paparazzi, tabloids and other media following our every move once we got our first record contract at 13. Hey, Beiber’s a celebrity, right? He can take it.
Being able to “take it” is pretty much useless as a metric when it comes to gauging mental health. While Bieber has certainly had a lot of success, it’s come with some pretty high costs to his health, mentally and physically.
Success Fueled Substance Abuse; Health Scare Inspired Recovery
Last year, Bieber uploaded an episode of his documentary series, “Justin Bieber: Sessions” on YouTube. Titled “The Dark Season,” he shares a chapter of his life marked by heavy drug use.
Bieber said he first started using marijuana when he was 12 or 13. In later years, he expanded his use to alcohol, MDMA, lean (a mix of opioid cough syrup, candy, and soft drinks), and other addictive substances. After concern from his staff and security over his behavior, Bieber sought treatment for his issues when his substance use made him feel “like I was dying.”
The pop star has previously spoken about his troubles. His wife, Hailey Bieber, has said “crippling anxiety” was a motivator for his drug use; Bieber also says his childhood didn’t prepare him for the pressures of fame, though it’s hard to imagine what possibly could have.
They’re not. Success at a young age can bring a genuinely dark side with it.
Fame and the Hedonic Treadmill
Around the same time Bieber got his first contract, former child actress Mara Wilson wrote an article for the humor site Cracked.com about why so many child celebrities fall prey to issues like substance abuse, mental disorders, and other crises.
Wilson details the many reasons that cause child celebrities to experience often highly public meltdowns. Those reasons range from the obvious (absent parents, too much attention) to the horrific (sexual abuse). She also cites an interesting psychological theory called the “hedonic treadmill.”
The theory suggests our present circumstances have little to do with whether we’re happy or not. Research has hinted there may be a genetic link to a person’s relative level of happiness, and according to the two psychologists who first wrote about the hedonic treadmill in the early 70s, people will always return to their relative level of happiness regardless of what happens to them.
Basically, if you win the lottery, lose your job, marry the partner of your dreams or crash your new car, you will eventually return to where you started, emotionally speaking. This was explored by one of the psychologists who wrote about the treadmill in an additional study, where they interviewed lottery winners and people who became paralyzed after car accidents.
Interestingly, over a long period of time, neither group in the study was fundamentally happier than the other. Sure, both groups experienced emotional highs and lows after their respective events, but they both returned to their usual emotional baselines.
Boredom and Substance Abuse
Back to Wilson: she suggests the hedonic treadmill works almost like an addiction for a young celebrity. Even if you have the best of everything, she writes, the thrill of new things and experiences always wears off. It’s similar to the highs substance users chase once their systems build up enough of a tolerance to their drug. Indeed, some researchers think there may be a link between boredom and substance abuse.
You can probably remember being bored during your teen years. It’s very common; in a Psychology Today article, Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D identifies multiple reasons why teenagers get bored. Experimenting with substances is often something teens resort to.
Therein lies the danger: Substance use is risky for everyone, but as the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention warn, teen drug use can:
Affect their growth and development, especially in the brain
Accompany other risky behaviors like driving under the influence and unprotected sex
Make developing a substance use disorder later in life much more likely
As we’ve seen, these dangers don’t care about how rich or how famous you are. Everybody runs a risk from self-medication and substance abuse. Fortunately, both addiction and mental disorders are treatable, even if they occur together.
A healthier life can be yours. Talk with one of our experts today!