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Joan E. Dowlin

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A Double Standard on Addiction

Posted: 08/10/11 09:07 AM ET

Yes, the death of British songstress Amy Winehouse at age 27 is very tragic, and her addictions no doubt had a part in her demise.

But superstar Lady Gaga brought up an interesting point on "The View" a few days ago. She felt the unrelenting press played a part in Winehouse's destruction. It is true that when we think of Winehouse we think of drugs and alcohol. Through the vicious tabloid reporting, she was known for substance abuse maybe even more than her singing. And that is a real tragedy, because she was a true artist.

I believe there is a double standard when it comes to addiction and the sexes, particularly in the entertainment industry. Take TV actor Charlie Sheen as an example. When a man abuses substances he is rewarded with a national tour and countless TV interviews.

Then there is Lindsay Lohan, a young starlet who has been in and out of rehab for the past few years. She is vilified by the press and public for her excess partying, while Sheen is considered a playboy with "tiger blood."

This prejudice against women celebrity addicts goes way back. Look at singer, dancer, actress and icon Judy Garland, who struggled with an amphetamine addiction that was forced upon her by MGM and her mother from the time she was a teenager. They believed it would give her more energy to get through the long movie making schedule they imposed on her. Then they gave her barbiturates to help her sleep.

This addiction, coupled with alcohol, ruined Ms. Garland's health and led to an early death at the age of 47 in 1969. Although many consider her the entertainer of the century for her superb artistry in many films, recordings and TV shows, what others remember her for is her tragic personal life.

Whitney Houston, singer, actress and owner of the best-selling single by a female artist in music history ("I Will Always Love You") in 1994, had a fall from grace with her drug addiction and rocky marriage to Bobby Brown. Her unhealthy lifestyle change shocked many of her fans.

Maybe it is because both Houston and Garland had such squeaky clean "good girl" images in their careers that the revelations of their struggles with addiction stunned the public. Maybe it is because women are expected as nurturers and mothers to know how to take care of their own health.

Whatever it is, this standard does not apply to the male sex. While recently-departed, beloved actress Elizabeth Taylor had the sense to seek help at the Betty Ford Clinic for an addiction to pain killers and alcohol, her husband, actor Richard Burton did not and was celebrated as a hard drinking Welshman. This line of thinking was also extended to actor Richard Harris, a well-known Irish actor and frequent pub visitor, who to his credit did come clean later in life.

Singer Dean Martin made a career out of drinking and making fun of it. In fact, the whole Rat Pack of the 1960s (Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Martin) glorified the "good life" of partying.

I'm not saying we should start condoning the women stars and justify their substance abuses. I think we should treat addiction for the disease that it is, no matter who gets caught up in it, man or woman, superstar or not. We have to remember that although they are celebrities, they are also human beings, prone to the same mistakes and foibles as the rest of us. In fact, it could be argued that stardom breeds addiction with the fast life, glamour, fame and divorce from reality that it creates.

The media often only reports what they think the public wants to hear. We should not be overly judgmental of women drug abusers and not turn a blind eye to the unacceptable behavior of addicted male celebrities. We need to show understanding and compassion for those that fall into the trap of substance abuse. And we should praise those that seek help and become sober and resurrect their careers, such as Robert Downey Jr., Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Harris and yes, Whitney Houston, who is still in the process of recovery.

Awareness that addiction is a disease and not a character flaw needs to be taught to a gullible public that too often revels in the downfall of those they have unjustly placed on a pedestal.

What is sad is the number of stars that did not get the help and support they needed and passed way too soon: Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and John Belushi.

One thing that is certain is that we should not allow the tragic circumstances of these superstar addicted personalities' lives to diminish the talent and legacy of artistry they left behind, from Judy to Elvis, to Michael, to Amy. We should be thankful for their outstanding musical contributions and hope that their suffering was not in vain. Long may their spirits live.