The actress, who has been sober for 20 years, says she is lucky to be alive.
In a recent interview with People magazine, the actress Jamie Lee Curtis revealed her 10-year struggle with opioid addiction. The 59-year-old actress, who stars in the Halloween films, told the magazine that she is lucky to have survived her addiction.
According to the People article, Curtis’s drug addiction began when she was prescribed opioids for minor plastic surgery in 1989 to correct “hereditary puffy eyes.”
“I was ahead of the curve of the opiate epidemic,” Curtis told the magazine. “I had a 10-year run, stealing, conniving. No one knew. No one.”
For the next 10 years Curtis waged a battle with addiction, lying and stealing from friends and family. She first told her husband, the actor-director Christopher Guest, about her addiction on the day she attended her first recovery meeting, in February 1999.
The actress has been sober for 20 years and says she continues to attend meetings to help others who are struggling with addiction.
“I’m breaking the cycle that has basically destroyed the lives of generations in my family,” Curtis says. “Getting sober remains my single greatest accomplishment … bigger than my husband, bigger than both of my children and bigger than any work, success, failure. Anything.”
Prescribed Painkillers: Weighing the Risks and Benefits
Curtis’s path to addiction was similar to those of other victims of the opioid epidemic.
“There is some data that tells us that about 80 percent of the people currently suffering from opioid use disorder experienced the start of their addiction by being exposed to a prescribed opioid medication,” says David Streem, MD, a professor and section head of the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, citing a report published in JAMA Psychiatry.
Even if you’re using opioids the way your doctor has prescribed, there are serious questions about whether extended use of opioids really improves your ability to function over the long term, says Dr. Streem. “To what extent does the risk of addiction and other long-term risk factors mitigate any benefit that people experience from the continuing use of these medications?” he says.
Certain risk factors make addiction to opioids more likely, according to Streem:
- Long-term use, which can lead to increased tolerance/dependency
- Higher doses, which increase the likelihood of addiction
- Genetics. “Some people have particular genes that predispose them to addiction, whereas other people have genes that make it less likely that they’ll develop an opioid use disorder after being exposed,” Streem says.
For people taking opioids for pain, there are warning signs that an addiction is developing, says Streem. “Two things we watch out for to tell us if the benefits are outweighing the risks are increasing side effects and decreasing benefits despite increasing the dose of the medication,” he says.
The Journey to Recovery
Sometimes recovery begins when everything “falls apart” for the person struggling with addiction, whether that’s a crisis at work, a health scare, or even an arrest. “It’s really different for each person,” says Streem. People see unhealthy patterns developing in their lives, or they may have family members or employers who decide that an intervention is needed, he says.
For Curtis, change happened when she stole all her sister Kelly’s pain pills during a visit in 1998. She fessed up, and then knew she needed to get help.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she told Marc Fennell in another recent interview, published by The Feed. “It is a most human thing to say, ‘I am in trouble. I need help.’”
Streem cautions that it is an individual decision to get clean and sober. “For those of us in the treatment community, it’s our responsibility to meet those people where they are,” he says. “Whenever they say, ‘Enough is enough,’ it’s our job to celebrate that decision for them and help them make healthy changes in their lives.”
“The single biggest accomplishment of my life was arresting my addiction to opioids and alcohol,” Curtis told The Feed. “I talk to people all day long about addiction, because if it’s a secret it will kill you. If it’s not a secret, you may be able to save your own life.”