Addiction and the Entertainment Industry: Breaking the Chains That Bind

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday November 2, 2018

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in "A Star is Born."
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in "A Star is Born."  

On screens big and small, addiction as story plot is hot. Just this month, on the premiere of ABC's "The Conners," Roseanne Barr's character died of an accidental prescription overdose. The episode, with not one flinch, explored the issue of opioid dependency and misuse, a national crisis that is killing more than 115 people a day.

Meanwhile, the new Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga remake of "A Star is Born" (which as of October 29, 2018, has raked in more than $253 million worldwide) details in heartbreaking fashion the massive toll booze and pills take on the career, relationships and life of Cooper's character.

Gaga is glorious, and Cooper ain't bad to look at, but does the movie get it right? Paul Pellinger, chief strategy officer for addiction treatment center Recovery Unplugged, hasn't seen the film yet but says he appreciates the way modern, more sensitive portrayals of those afflicted with alcohol and drug dependency are changing "the negative stigma that was attached to addiction. I like that people are now aware that an addict isn't somebody on the street with track marks and a brown paper bag and a red nose. Those are three percent of the addicts and alcoholics in this world — the other 97 percent are people like me and you. So, I would say that we've certainly come a long way when it comes to the perception of addiction."

While it remains to be seen whether the sympathetic spotlight the entertainment industry is shining on the issue of addiction will usher more people into treatment, those that make it through Recovery Unplugged's doors will find a center like no other. This is in no small part owing to the work of legendary singer-songwriter Richie Supa, who has helped Pellinger devise a program rooted in the power of music to, as Supa explains, "break down fences."

"If asked to name a song they love, 99.9 percent of the people on this planet can, right away," Supa continues. "Why? They identify with the melody or the lyrics or a combination of the two. So when you write songs about addiction, and you tell the truth, it draws in addicts and alcoholics and begins a dialogue. The healing begins when you can open them up and they start to share. A lot of people come into treatment broken, ashamed and angry. The last thing they want is someone shaking their finger at them saying, 'Now I want to tell you what you're doing to your life because you're drinking and doing cocaine.'"

It Takes One to Know One

It Takes One to Know One
Richie Supa (l) and Steven Tyler (r).  (Source: Recovery Unplugged)

Supa, Recovery Unlimited's director of creative recovery, ought to know. On October 18, he celebrated three decades clean, a significant achievement for any addict, let alone one with a storied career in rock-n-roll.

According to Supa, who co-wrote Aerosmith's "Amazing," a song about addiction, with his friend Steven Tyler, as well as songs recorded by Ozzy Osbourne, Pink and Willie Nelson, "There are a lot of drugs in the music industry, and I don't think anything is going to change anytime soon. I find it frustrating, but I was young once, too, and I was having fun... we all start doing drugs and having fun, and then drugs start doing you, and that's what happens."

Supa's role at Recovery Unplugged gives him the opportunity to lead two or three group sessions a week at the center's Fort Lauderdale location. Clients listen to music, sometimes analyzing songs about addiction and discussing how the lyrics relate to them, other times just dancing and singing with Supa and his band, joyfully connecting with each other through the glorious noise.

The success of "Feel Good Fridays," as the latter session has been dubbed, is just one reason Pellinger believes Supa "to be as good, if not better, than any clinician that I've ever known. He just has this magical way of connecting with clients through music. I think it was Steven Tyler who once told me that we were exposed to music in our mother's womb, through the heartbeat. So there's really no defenses against it."

Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.

How Music Medicine Heals

This story is part of our special report titled How Music Medicine Heals. Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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