Addiction Recovery at Any Age: Looking at John Galliano

05/16/2011 11:38 am ET | Updated Jul 02, 2011

The media are all over John Galliano's behavior, especially his alcohol-induced rants, wondering whether or not he'll ever be able to recover his career as a talented and gifted designer. The fashion world might be understandably critical of Galliano, but why is their focus almost exclusively on his career? I, too, hope that he recognizes the seriousness of his behavior, but I think we should focus more on the likelihood of his recovering from addictions. Galliano recently made the smart choice to enter intensive rehab and is now continuing on with extended aftercare -- so let's not abandon hope for his personal recovery.

The fashion industry's attitude towards substance abuse has improved since I was working as a model in the late 70s and early 80s. In the fashion world I knew, using drugs, especially cocaine, wasn't just tolerated -- it was expected. Drug abuse was the norm then, and although still prominent, it's not the norm now. Nevertheless, folks who are extremely talented, productive and creative are often allowed to engage in hazardous and risky behavior without consequences -- as long as they continue to produce great work. And it isn't only the fashion industry; there are a number of professional fields that are frequently willing to accept drug use and the crazy conduct -- the "high highs" and "low lows" -- that comes with it. That's why I was saddened to read about Galliano's "unfabulous fall" in a recent "Women's Wear Daily" article.

I have first-hand experience with an "unfabulous fall" from substance abuse. When I was 18 years old and trying to break into modeling, my cocaine habit became my biggest enemy. I missed appointments, showed up late for fittings and never got enough sleep, sending photographers and makeup artists into tirades about the circles under my eyes. It didn't take long for addiction to impact my career. Luckily, that led to my getting help in my 20s -- I'm about to turn 50 and I've spent 24 of those years in recovery.

John Galliano is also 50 years old, but he lasted a lot longer before his destructive habits finally caught up with him. Many people associate the hard-partying lifestyle with the Lindsay Lohan set -- young and hip, with plenty of time to "grow out of it." But Galliano isn't the only "grown-up" who is still struggling with addiction. Many of us who are part of the baby boom generation grew up in an era of permissiveness when it came to drugs.

Some baby boomers were able to leave behind their heavy drinking and drugging days, but others have continued to use. This trend has resulted in a dramatic increase in levels of illicit drug use among adults now aged 50 and older. In fact, SAMHSA has predicted that the number of older adults with substance use disorders will increase from 2.8 million (annual average, 2002-2007) to 5.7 million by 2020. This spike is likely to produce a sharp rise in the need for treatment services for older adults. As SAMHSA suggests, we need to increase prevention programming and access to treatment for people of all ages, not just for teens and young adults.

Addiction does not practice age discrimination, but, fortunately, neither does recovery. We frequently hear about celebrity "falls," but we must also think of the stars who, as mature adults, have gotten their lives back on track. Robert Downey Jr. is 46 and working to stay clean. Aerosmith frontman and American Idol judge Steven Tyler finally got sober in 2009 after decades of abusing cocaine, prescription drugs and other substances. Rocker Ozzy Osbourne abused drugs for 40 years before entering recovery at the age of 62. The list goes on. And celebrities aren't the only ones who can find the road to recovery. I've seen friends, family members and colleagues find the help they needed after long battles with addiction.

It's easy to look at young people and imagine them overcoming their addiction, but it's important to realize that anyone -- regardless of age -- can get better. I'm glad I got sober early on; I think it would have been more difficult to alter my lifestyle now, at 50. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly support Galliano's decision to seek help and I give him credit for realizing that it's never too late to take that step for yourself. People can get sober and go on to accomplish wonderful things -- at any age.