Celebrities in recovery are a reminder that addiction doesn’t discriminate based on status and wealth, and everyone must do the same work to stay sober. Athletes and celebrities sometimes use substances to cope with the pressure they feel to be perfect. They’re in the public eye and constantly evaluated based on their performance. They’re also not immune to the everyday stress that comes with being human while having to perform or compete at top levels.
Stress can be a major factor in why athletes abuse drugs and alcohol. That stress manifests as competing in your respective sport for years on end and the toll it takes on your body and mind. Drugs and alcohol can help athletes temporarily numb the physical pain that comes with pushing their bodies to extraordinary limits. However, substance use can lead to addiction and significant negative side effects that impact physical and mental health. Celebrities and athletes provide some of the most incredible examples of perseverance and victory over alcohol and drug addiction. No one is safe from its consequences.
1 – Celebrities in Recovery: Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps is the one of the greatest Olympians of all time, winning 23 gold medals during his Olympic swimming career. In 2008, Phelps was portrayed negatively in the public eye despite being awarded Sportsman of the Year by the U.S. Olympics Committee and Male Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. Past consequences of his substance use were brought forward, including a drinking and driving charge at the age of 19 following the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Pictures circulated in the media with him holding drug paraphernalia. In 2014, Phelps was arrested again for drinking and driving.
Phelps attributes each incident involving alcohol and drugs to a way he coped with mental health issues, stress, and pressure. He has been very open about the impact of being an Olympic athlete and actions he had to take to support his recovery in the documentary, “The Weight of Gold.”
2 – Celebrities in Recovery: Darren Waller
Darren Waller is an all-pro football player for the Los Vegas Raiders. His addiction to drugs almost cost him his shot at being on the football field. Waller was becoming a force to be reckoned with in football while privately fighting a battle with addiction.
In 2015 Waller was drafted in the 6th round of the NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Waller shared that he couldn’t even be happy about it because all he was worried about was how to get his next high. In 2016, Waller should have been on the field playing his first NFL season – instead, he spent the first four games suspended on the bench after violating the League’s substance use policy. The following season, Waller was suspended for the entire season without pay after losing consciousness from taking prescription pills laced with fentanyl. When he came to, Waller knew he had to make a change.
He did make that change, and in 2021, Waller was named the Las Vegas Raiders’ nominee for theWalter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service off the field and excellence on the field. He also established the Darren Waller Foundation, through which he teaches kids and teens that drugs and alcohol are not the answer and encourages them to look for other ways to find fun and enjoyment in life.
3 – Celebrities in Recovery: Chris Herren
Chris Herren played professional basketball from 1999 to 2006. During much of his career, he grappled with addictions to OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet. In 2008, Herren was using heroin when he crashed his vehicle into a pole. He was pronounced dead for 30 seconds. Herren says that day was the day he began his journey toward recovery.
Since achieving sobriety, Herren wrote a memoir and started The Herren Project, a nonprofit devoted to helping those affected by addiction. He opened his own addiction treatment center and has been touring the country since 2012, telling his story of addiction and recovery to inspire change and hope. Herren also launched Project Purple, an anti-substance use campaign he references in his speaking engagements.
4 – Celebrities in Recovery: Darryl Strawberry
Los Angeles native Darryl Strawberry was the number one overall pick in the 1980 MLB Draft by the New York Mets. Strawberry won National League Rookie of the Year in 1983 and led the National League in home runs in 1988. Strawberry also suffered from cocaine addiction and alcohol addiction throughout his career. His addiction led to three suspensions during his baseball career and several arrests. Strawberry credits his faith and his wife as the pillars of his recovery. He is currently sober and has opened several substance use disorder rehabilitation centers to help others struggling with alcohol and drug use.
5 – Celebrities in Recovery: Mickey Mantle
Mickey Mantle, known as “The Mick” played centerfield for the New York Yankees his entire baseball career, from 1951 until 1968. He is a seven-time world champion; was selected three times as the American League Most Valuable Player (MVP); made the All-Star Team 16 times; won the Triple Crown achievement; and is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, among many other accolades. It’s for these awards that Mantle is often referred to as the greatest switch hitter of all-time. He had a wife and four children.
During and after his baseball career, Mantle suffered from alcohol addiction. He had his first drink at age 19 with a teammate and continued to drink after that. Mantle publicly came to terms with his alcohol addiction and stopped drinking in 1994 as he watched not only himself but his sons struggling with substance use. In recovery, Mantle made amends with his estranged ex-wife and found direction through his faith.
6 – Celebrities in Recovery: Robert Downey Jr.
Movie star Robert Downey Jr. has a well-publicized history of addiction. Downey Jr. says he spent most of his early days as an actor impaired by drugs and alcohol, and has been arrested for alcohol, cocaine, and heroin in the past. Eventually, he was incarcerated in California because of his substance use and entered rehab to help him learn how to live a life of recovery. Downey Jr. has been sober since 2002. Marvel’s 2008 movie Iron Man revived his stalled career reigniting him as one of the most recognizable actors in the world.
Addiction has no face, no name, no guidelines, nor parameters for who it affects. Our family, our friends, our coworkers, ourselves, and even our favorite athletes and celebrities can be impacted and need help in their fight. Bear in mind, addiction is a disease, but recovery is a choice. Reclaiming one’s life and sense of direction is to be celebrated and these six individuals show that recovery from addiction is possible even when the odds feel stacked against you.