One of the great things about overcoming an addiction to alcohol or drugs — beyond the main fact of no longer being held hostage by a physically and emotionally devastating illness — is that it can spark a cascade of good effects. Instead of things spiraling down, they spiral up. It’s certainly true for these celebrities, all of whom got sidetracked by substances at some point in their journey but discovered good things waiting for them when they found their way back. Each found help in their own way, but their stories share the same theme: Life is better sober.
1. Joe Manganiello
Found true love It was a match that seemed destined — the astonishingly buff “True Blood” star marrying the astonishingly beautiful “Modern Family” star Sofia Vergara. But the 2015 union wouldn’t have happened, Manganiello revealed in a Men’s Health interview, unless he’d been able to put his drinking behind him. Alcohol became a problem for him in his 20s, the now 39-year-old Manganiello explained, something he used “to quell all the ill feelings I could remember having since I was a child. I was an addict before I ever picked up a drink.” At one point, his life seemed ruined, and he has said that if he’d kept drinking, he’d now be dead. Embracing sobriety 13 years ago, he said, allowed him to become “the man that I dreamed of being, and the result was I met the woman of my dreams.”
2. Robert Downey Jr.
Supercharged his career Robert Downey Jr.’s drug and alcohol history is the stuff of legend and tabloids. And it all came to a head in the early 2000s, when a drug arrest earned him almost a year in prison. On his release, he joined the cast of the popular TV show “Ally McBeal,” but despite winning a Golden Globe, he was written out of the show after his arrest on yet more drug charges. At last, after being court-ordered into drug treatment, Downey achieved sobriety and has maintained it since 2003. He was a popular actor in his youth, but now, in middle age, Downey is in the stratosphere, thanks in large part to the “Iron Man” series, which has not only earned him critical acclaim but some very big bucks. In fact, Downey has been No. 1 on Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid actors for the last three years running. During a 2004 appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, Downey explained what made his recovery possible after so many failed attempts: finally accepting help and running with it. “It’s not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems,” he said. “What’s hard is to decide to do it.”
3. Colin Farrell
Discovered you don’t have to be tortured to be an artist To the world, the Irish actor may have looked simply like a hard-drinking bad boy, but at heart, he’s a romantic, he says. And that fed into his notion that great art only comes about through great suffering. And along with the parties, he found plenty of suffering. “All the madness and all the chaos and all the people around me got so tiring after a while that I had to find another way,” he said in a 2014 interview. Now, more than a decade sober, “I’m really grateful,” he said during an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show. “It’s really lovely to be present in my life.” Looking back, “I was terrified [of being sober] because, I’m not saying I was a great actor before or a great actor since, but I was terrified that whatever my capacity was as an actor beforehand, however little or large, it would completely disappear. “I [subscribed] to the notion that to be able to express yourself in an artistic form in life, you have to live in perpetual pain, and it’s nonsense. There’s enough pain in the world.”
4. Keith Urban
Forged a stronger marriage The country music star says he began turning to alcohol in the early 1990s, when he first arrived in Nashville. “It was my diversion, my way of numbing myself to the rejection and the loneliness and the confusion” of those times, he told People magazine. By 2006, his use had spiraled out of control again, and at the urging of his wife of four months, the actress Nicole Kidman, he checked into rehab — his third stay in eight years. He feared it would spell the end of their relationship, but instead, it made it stronger. He explained it to People this way: “Some of these things happen in marriages many, many years into it, and you work through them. It’s like moving into a house, and the house burns down; we get to build a new one together. Not one that’s mine; it’s ours, we built it together. We know every part of [our relationship] because we’ve built it. Just the two of us. It’s beautiful.” Urban and Kidman now have two daughters together and recently announced plans to renew their wedding vows on their upcoming 10th anniversary.
5. Chris Herren
Learned the joy of paying it forward To get a full sense of the former NBA player’s addiction, consider this anecdote: It’s 2001. Herren has fulfilled a dream and is in the starting lineup for the Boston Celtics. But instead of warming up with the other players on the floor, he’s standing outside in a downpour in his uniform, waiting to connect with his dealer. It’s just one of many stories recounted in a 2012 CNN interview. Among others were that he was high on heroin at his mother’s funeral and took off to get drunk when his son was born. When Herren was finally able to make it to recovery after 14 grueling years of addiction, he found new purpose in being there for others, as they were for him over the years. His sobriety, in fact, he credits to friend, NBA Hall of Famer and recovering alcoholic Chris Mullin, who paid for Herren’s nine-month rehab stay. In 2011, Herren paid it forward, creating The Herren Project, which helps those in need and their families find and defray the cost of addiction treatment. In 2015, the group helped 355 individuals and families and secured over $333,000 in treatment scholarships, according to the organization’s year-end report. The group also reaches out with educational programs, camps and scholarships for youth, and Herren runs basketball clinics that focus on self-esteem as much as they do playing the game. It’s a full and rewarding new direction for a life once almost ended by overdose, and he makes that clear when others lament what his basketball career might have been without addiction in the picture. “People come up to me now and pity me. They call me a ‘poor thing,’” he told CNN. “I was a ‘poor thing’ for 14 years. My life is second to none now.”
Finding Your Recovery
Though celebrities live out the stories of their addictions in the public eye, similar stories of recovery are happening quietly each day all across the world. An estimated 23 million people in the U.S. alone, in fact, are in successful recovery. Their transformation may not make it to the front page of a magazine, but each person who has sought out help and learned to counteract the damage of addiction can point to benefits to career, relationships and self. To become one of that number, you don’t need celebrity, just a desire for a better life.