THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hooked on Fame: Balloon Boy's Dad Isn't the Only Publicity Junkie

Fame is like alcohol. Some people can handle it and others can't. Like booze, fame can make you feel warm all over, bringing a rosy glow to your cheeks and a smile to your face. Most people can enjoy the buzz from a glass of wine with no ill effects after the wine is gone and the buzz worn off. Likewise, most people can enjoy their 15 minutes of fame, then let the experience become a happy memory as the spotlight moves on to someone else.

But for some, that first experience of public attention is intoxicating. As soon as the high starts to wear off, they crave it again. They want more, the sooner the better. They can't get enough. They're hooked -- they become publicity junkies.

The need for attention, acknowledgment and recognition is universal -- all human beings need a certain amount of attention in order to feel loved, cared about, and valuable. Appreciation by others is fundamental to our self-esteem and mental health. The amount of attention one needs varies from person to person. Some people need minimal amounts, while others are insatiable -- no amount of applause satisfies them for long. They need the spotlight in order to feel OK about themselves. They are childish, overly sensitive, grandiose, and needy -- crippled by their bottomless pit of emotional craving.

For some people -- celebrities and non-celebs alike -- the need to feel alive, the need to feel OK about themselves, drives them to seek attention compulsively. Once they get a taste of the euphoria that the spotlight brings, they crave more. Just like an alcoholic craves the stimulation he remembers from his first drink -- and the drug addict craves the rush she recalls from her first high - the fame addict craves the excitement he felt in the limelight. He starts scheming how to get more of what made him feel so good. He can easily become compulsive about it - going to any lengths (even dangerous lengths) to get another fix.

Balloon Boy's dad, Richard Heene, may be such a fame addict but he is certainly not alone. The entertainment business is loaded with publicity hounds. My home town, Los Angeles, has more than its share of fame addicts. Publicity junkies flock to any city where they can find klieg lights, spotlights, microphones, stages, cameras and an audience -- above all, an audience.

Are you -- or someone you love -- a fame junkie? Here are some simple questions to ask. Be as honest as you can in your answers.

1. Do you envy (or resent) famous people you see in the media?
2. Do you daydream, plan and scheme about how to get famous?
3. Do you think that all your problems would be solved if only you were famous?
4. Have you spent excessive amounts of money and/or gone into debt trying to become famous?
5. Do you get furious when you see others get public attention you think they don't deserve?
6. Have your attempts to gain public attention caused problems in your family or work life?
7. Have you ever made attempts to upstage or steal the spotlight from others?
8. Do you feel compelled to suck up to celebrities or other famous people, even if you hate them?
9. Do you feel extraordinarily euphoric whenever you get media attention? Do you experience a let-down later?
10. Have you lost friends or professional colleagues because of your
publicity-seeking?
11. Do you rationalize your publicity-seeking by telling yourself you have to do it in your profession?
12. Do you feel misunderstood and judged by others who criticize your incessant publicity-seeking?
13. Do you protest that you want your privacy but get angry when the media ignores you?
14. Have you lied, cheated, or stolen to get the attention you crave?
15. Have you ever stalked a producer, agent, reporter, publicist, or editor?

If you answered "yes" to four or more of these questions, there is a good chance you may be developing a fame-seeking habit that can lead to a full-blown addiction.

Fame addicts need emotional, psychological, and spiritual help to right-size their hungry egos and to heal from their addictions. Just like alcoholics, drug addicts, compulsive gamblers, sex addicts, compulsive shoppers and people with eating disorders, fame addicts are in the grip of a powerful obsession. They cannot control it -- it controls them. They need help.

Perhaps it's time to start a new 12-step program -- Fame Addicts Anonymous (FAA), or perhaps Publicity Whores Anonymous (PWA), or maybe Spotlightaholics Anonymous (SA). We don't have to look far to find those, in addition to Richard Heene, who seem to be in need of fame rehab and publicity detox: Gloria Allred, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Ryan O'Neal, Angelyne, Jon Gosselin, Octomom Nadya Sulemon, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton, Rod Blagojevich, among others.

Of course, each fame addict must decide for him or herself whether or not the label "fame addict" fits. Remember, what looks like an alcoholic may simply be a heavy drinker, and what looks like a fame addict might be someone who's skillful at using publicity to build a business.

If you or someone you love is hooked on fame, addiction experts remind us that a junkie can't be helped until he or she hits bottom, admits to having a problem, and seeks help. Recovery works only if you want it.

Press conference, anyone?