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Substance Abuse in Child Actors


Child actor or actress is the term used to refer to children acting in movies, television, or stage. Adults who start acting during childhood are also called former actors or actresses. The other term for child actor or actress is a teenage actor or teen actor, and some common examples of child actors include Elizabeth Taylor, who started acting and became a star in the 1940s. Elizabeth Taylor was featured first in productions such as National Velvet, and during her adulthood, she became a famous film star in movies. An excellent example of a child actor is Shirley Temple, who is described as the best well-known child star in history.

Shirley Temple started her acting career at three years, and by age 5, she had risen to superstardom. Temple appeared as an entertainer and the brand in most popular movies such as Captain January and The Little Colonel. Most of these children actors struggle to adapt when they become adults because of typecasting. The young actors who have experienced difficulties because of their childhood famous include Lindsay Lohan and Macaulay Culkin. Besides, some child actors have also developed mental health issues of substance abuse throughout their broadcasting of television shows. This paper aims to discuss the prevalence of substance abuse and some of the young actors who have battled with substance abuse.

Reasons Child actors involve in Substance Abuse

Child stars or actors represent staple figures in most television series and films whose fame rise is attributed to their singing abilities and real acting. Most actors battle drug and alcohol addiction when they mature, while others lose their lives to drug overdose and addiction. One of the reasons child actors turn into drugs and alcohol abuse is because of outgrowing the adorable acting stage. Outgrowing the stage makes these young actors experience extravagant life and pressure, which later forces them into addiction and drug abuse. Studies have noted that the pressures of being in the spotlight have caused many young actors and other celebrities to struggle in the public eye. Many actors succumb to substances such as alcohol and drugs because of fame and recognition, which take its tool wherever they go.

Fame and recognition result in a certain amount of self-importance which makes most young actors treated like stars feel like they can get away with anything because of their status. The star status makes these young actors think it is their right to party and enjoy how they want because they also work hard and perform well. This is also supported by celebrity psychologists who allude that fame makes people feel like being on top of the world like drug substances do because they are addictive. Drug abuse occurs when child actors grow up and spend time in the spotlight. The celebrity or star pressures have made many young actors struggle with substance abuse and spend most of their time in rehab. Another study has noted that child actors spend most of their time at social events where alcohol and drug abuse are prominent, hence indicating that alcohol and drug culture and environments pressure them to join and start using them.

Celebrity psychologists add that child actors depend on drugs later in life to achieve similar euphoric feelings experienced when they are in the spotlight. Besides, other child actors turn to substance abuse in adulthood to deal with trauma experienced while still acting. It is also noted that being a young actor is mentally and emotionally taxing, making most of them struggle with drug abuse. The acting industry is also stressful for young actors because it exposes them to high levels of competition, several uncertainties, and long working hours. This forces them to get involved in drug abuse because they must compete for roles against their peers and sometimes face rejection. Studies allude that this sometimes causes burnout, especially if they fail to manage stress.

The industry also makes child actors experience pressure in their personal lives, which hurts them in the future. This is because the young actors are worked vigorously and treated as their adult counterparts. They are removed from the necessary child development components and exposed to industry aspects unsuitable for their young ages. This childhood pressure in the industry throws them into the adult world, forcing them to seek rescue from alcohol and drug abuse.

In addition, these child actors and actresses consume alcohol and drugs because of the increased harsh criticisms in the industry, which makes them stressed. Peer pressure also influences many child actors to engage in substance abuse. Many young actors are more likely to associate with peer groups in social settings, and this makes them drink alcohol and drugs if those individuals around them are also drinking. The chances of drinking alcohol and drugs reduce if these individual actors attend social settings alone.

Symptoms of Substance Abuse among Child Actors

The signs and symptoms of s abuse among child actors depend on the duration and frequency of using these drugs. There are several physical consequences, such as changes in eating appetite, where most young actors start eating less. The other symptoms include bloodshot eyes, which look tired, and changes in their physical appearance. Other young actors experience weight loss, engaging in risky behaviors despite understanding the adverse effects and money misuse or wastage. The other symptom is difficulty controlling or reducing drug use and completing home, school, and work tasks. The last symptom is increased addiction, where some former child star decides to lose their lives on drugs despite understanding its effects on their health.

Child Actors who battled with Substance Abuse

Many child actors are involved in substance abuse, including Natasha Lyonne, Drew Berry, Demi Lovato, Lindsey Lohan, and Britney Spears.

Natasha Lyonne

Natasha Lyonne started acting at six after the Ford Modelling Agency signed her. This enabled her to book the first character role as the Opal in the pee-wee’s playhouse. Natasha was again featured in the film Heartburn in 1986, and she played the role of Nicky Nichols, the former heroin addict on the wildly popular Netflix series Orange Called the New Black. This actress developed a severe addiction to drugs and alcohol. In the 2000s, she experienced the lowest point of her life from driving under the influence of alcohol and being charged with harassment.

Natasha was expelled from high school at the age of 16 years for selling pot, and she was admitted to New York Hospital at 26 years following criminal mischief charges of harassing a neighbor. She was admitted to this hospital because of heroin addiction which caused hepatitis and lung collapse. In 2006, Natasha was released and permitted to work on her recovery with the help of close friends, and this gave her another chance at living and confessing that addiction spiraling is scary.

Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato is an actress and songwriter based in America. Lovato rose to prominence by playing the role of Mitchie Torres in the musical television film Camp Rock after appearing in the children’s Barney & Friends series. Lovato started using alcohol when she was a student in high school and Cocaine when she was working for Disney Channel at the age of 17 years. Notably, she was sent to rehab in 2010 at 18 years old because of alcohol abuse and cocaine addiction. The family and her managerial team decided to put her in a rehabilitation facility as an intervention after she punched one of the female dancers. Like many young people, she also had a mental illness caused by drug addiction.

Lovato also battled depression and an eating disorder, and while in rehabilitation, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Lovato revealed that she could not go for more than 30 minutes without taking Cocaine, and she could sometimes carry some on airplanes. In 2018, she became addicted to crack heroin and Cocaine and overdosed after taking fentanyl-laced drugs. Demi Lovato was about to die in the hospital after she suffered from a heart attack and strokes connected to an overdose. Lovato went for bulimia treatment at the recovery center to realize her self-worth and redefine her self-image.

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore is an American producer, actress, and talk show host. She is also a member of the Barrymore family of actors who have received multiple awards and nominations, like the golden globe award. Barrymore appeared in the advertisement for the first time when she was 11 months old, and in 1980, when she was five years old, Drew made her big screen debut in the state of Ken Russell’s Altered. In addition, she got the most famous roles, such as adorable little sister in Extra-Terrestrial, where she played Gertie in 1982. This role helped Barrymore by pushing her into the spotlight.

Barrymore started drinking at the age of eleven years after she gained fame as a child actor, and at the age of 12, she became more addicted to Cocaine. This made her parents and management send her to rehab because she had attempted suicide. This intervention helped her work on herself to get clean until 2016, when she relapsed again after her third marriage failed. Drew Barrymore decided again to stop drinking alcohol in 2019, and this has been described as the most liberating thing in her journey in life. Also, Barrymore decided to become busy after quitting alcohol, and she has been making concerted efforts to add more self-care. Barrymore has encouraged her fans to lead up to a busy and stressful holiday season to get anything related to alcohol.

Britney Spears

Britney Spears started her career acting at the age of 10 years with the Mickey Mouse Club in 1993. She made into big screen debut in 2002 with the leading role in the Crossroads film, and 2012, Spears appeared in the televised talent competition called the X Factor as a judge. In 2013, Spears started Britney; Piece of Me at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, a residency show. Britney is noted to have started practicing substance abuse at 13 years, and at the age of 15 years, she began taking drugs.

Her mother, Lynne Spears, revealed that Britney started drinking alcohol after she joined Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club in 1993. The pressures and feeling of being famous are what makes young actors engage in erratic behaviors since Britney is noted to have indulged in sex when she was leaving the show with an 18 years old who was a high-school footballer, and she was just 14 years. The erratic behaviors and problems of drug prescription made Britney hit the headlines several times despite starting her career at a young age.

Lindsey Lohan

Lohan is another actor who started her acting career at 11 years old. She is an American actress who was signed by Ford Models at the age of three years in 1990. Lohan’s breakthrough was when she played a role in The Parent Trap, a Walt Disney Pictures film in 1998. This breakthrough was after her regular appearance on Another World soap opera. Lindsay Lohan had appeared in court over 20 times because of struggles with substance abuse, which started in 2007 when she was plagued with addiction. She got arrested at the age of 20 years after they found her with drugs. The addiction problem began at 15 when she moved to California to stay alone.

Lohan started attending alcohol anonymous meetings at 21, becoming a prominent fixture of the late-night scene in Los Angeles. Alcohol and drugs were always present during these anonymous meetings. Lindsey Lohan revealed in her 2014 interview with Oprah Winfrey that she is an addict and that alcohol was the gateway for other addiction substance abuse like Cocaine in her life. She admitted to using Cocaine about 10 to 15 times daily, making her drink more alcohol. She was accepted into the rehabilitation Center in January 2007, and the court ordered her to attend six rehab stints in six years. She started attending her rehab life at Wonderland Center rehabilitation facility for thirty days and joined the Promises Treatment Center in May 2007 for 45 days. In July, she entered the Cirque Lodge Treatment Center for three months until she got discharged in October. Lohan attended six rehabilitation facilities; the last one was the Cliffside Malibu treatment facility, where she spent the month of May and July 2013 completing the 250 days ordered by the court.


Substance abuse cases among the child actors can be treated by applying strategies such as medication-assisted therapy, detoxification, and behavioral therapies. Detoxification, also known as withdrawal therapy, is essential since it helps remove the substance abuse in the body system of the affected individuals. The main goal of withdrawal therapy is to purge the body to enhance the process of mental healing. In addition, medication-assisted medicines are also essential in treating individuals who are using substance abuse like Cocaine and alcohol. This strategy involves using a combination of prescription medications, behavioral treatments, and counseling services. The MAT can help people recover and treat opioid use disorders.

Behavioral therapy is psychotherapy treatment done by psychologists or psychiatrists who give medication treatment programs or counseling services. This program has benefits, such as enabling patients to develop mechanisms for coping with drug-related cravings. The last treatment and recovery option is attending the rehabilitation facilities, which facilitates the change process among the actors affected by substance abuse. The rehabilitation facilities are essential since it offers the above treatment alternatives like medication-assisted therapy, detoxification, and behavioral therapy, which have helped many stars in the acting and entertainment industries.


Petri, H. L., & Govern, J. M. (2012). Motivation: Theory, research, and application. Cengage Learning.


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