What Addiction is Like for Philip Seymour Hoffman & Many Others

A few weeks ago we wrote about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death and the media frenzy spawned ill informed comments about addiction and his death. Last week an article published in the New York Times entitled “Truth and Prize Emerge From Lies About Hoffman” interviewed Hoffman’s friend, David Bar Katz, who shed a more realistic light on Hoffman’s addiction and the disease in general.

Mr. Katz relayed some details about the night of Hoffman’s death, saying he had invited him over to watch the Knicks game, “The fact that he wanted me to come over for the Knick game meant that he did not want to be doing the drugs, because he never did them in my presence,” he said. Katz  is right – one of the most common traits of addicts in active addiction is isolation. At our addiction rehab, clients share their anecdotes about being alone and isolated at the end, doing their drugs alone and often not socializing because they wouldn’t be able to use substances how they wanted to. This is the case for most addicts – from food addicts who binge alone late at night to alcoholics who prefer their poison at home rather than with others at a bar. For many coming out of this isolation into rehab centers, it takes a while to get their social and communication skills back.

Shedding more light on the reality of Hoffman’s addiction, Mr. Katz also relayed, “Hoffman once said to me, ‘Addiction is when you do the thing you really, really most don’t want to be doing.’ He was rigorously sober and had an awful relapse.” Hoffman’s explanation of addiction here is one of the best portrayals of what addiction is like, and a good way to depict addiction to the non-addict.

Addicts do what they hate the most in active addiction but are often unable to stop. Non-addicts may not understand exactly why they are unable to stop but it still gives them a realistic glimpse into the painful life of an addict. In fact, aside from understanding the disease model of addiction addicts sometimes don’t even know themselves why they got started or why they were unable to stop. In addiction treatment, we try not to exert all our energy on the why – and we encourage clients that they don’t have to understand or know or understand everything in order to recover. If the focus is placed on the present, the recovery process and the therapeutic tools at their disposal, many have a good chance of long-term sobriety. Soon enough the isolation, the self defeating behavior and trying to understand the why subsides.