Jamie Lee Curtis on Sobriety: ‘Halloween’ Star Nearing 20 Years in Recovery

“If you had to pinpoint one thing that will be important at the end of my life, it would be my sobriety.”

~ Jamie Lee Curtis

At 59, Jamie Lee Curtis just may be hotter than ever. Just in time for its namesake holiday, her latest film, Halloween, has resurrected the iconic horror movie franchise that made her a star.  After the lifetime in the entertainment industry, Curtis is sublimely serene and self-assured, having established herself not just as a Golden Globe-winning actress, but also as a best-selling author, inventor, blogger, and philanthropist.  And although  she rejects the use of the title, she’s also a Baroness, through the customs of British peerage.

But her life wasn’t always this charmed.

Curtis once struggled mightily with both alcoholism and an addiction to opioid painkillers. As happens for many other people who struggle with any kind of Substance Use Disorder, there were several factors that played a role in her addiction.

Contributing Factors: Jamie Lee Curtis and Addiction

“I too, waited anxiously for a prescription to be filled for the opiate I was secretly addicted to. I too, took too many at once. I too, sought to kill emotional and physical pain with pain killers. Kill it. Make it stop.

~Jamie Lee Curtis

Although scientists have not found a single cause that is completely responsible for Substance Use Disorder, they have identified several risk factors that play significant roles.  Jamie Lee Curtis met the criteria for at least five:

  • GeneticsOver half of a person’s likelihood of developing SUD is attributed to heredity. Both alcohol abuse and drug addiction both run in her family. Her father, legendary actor Tony Curtis, was addicted to alcohol and cocaine, and her brother died of a drug overdose when he was only 23 years old.
  • Childhood Exposure—Parental substance use exerts the biggest influence on their children’s later behaviors. In fact, 82% of parents who use alcohol raise children who drink. Tony Curtis has admitted, “In my user days, I was drinking a lot around Jamie and taking a lot of pills.”
  • Parental Alienation—Curtis’ parents broke up in 1962. From that point on, she had a strained relationship with Tony. According to Jamie, he was “not around” after the divorce. She goes further, saying, “He was not a father. He was not interested in being a father.”

The timing of split matters a great deal, because the absence of a parent during that child’s first five years of life—the so-called “formative years”— negatively affects the ability to form  emotional bonds.

For people who are already genetically vulnerable to SUD—like Jamie Lee Curtis—drugs and alcohol chemically replace that bond and artificially satisfy the real biological need for close human contact.

  • Self-Esteem Issues—Curtis believes that Hollywood’s “perfection-at-any-costs” culture affected how she saw herself. She had plastic surgery while still in her early 30’s because someone supposedly noticed bags under her eyes. Not surprisingly, the experience failed to make her feel any better. Her issues were emotional, not physical.

I attempted various types of plastic surgery, minutely but enough to stave off this encroaching middle-aged body. And every time I did, something went wrong. I felt misshapen, just not natural any more. I think it was a big stimulator of my drug abuse.”,  she admits.

  • Post-Surgical Pain—Following her cosmetic surgery, Curtis was given opioids for pain and soon developed a serious addiction that lasted more than 5 years. At one point, it was so severe that she stole the medicine her sister Kelly was taking for a broken arm.

How Did Jamie Lee Curtis Regain Her Sobriety?

There’s no reason to lie about this. There’s been enough alcoholism in my family…I was scared drink was becoming important. It was not any big, earth-shattering thing, luckily. The point is that you can choose sobriety.”

~ Jamie Lee Curtis

Well into her addiction, Curtis got into terrible arguments with her teenage daughter almost every day. These went way past normal daughter-mother rows and were so bad that Curtis started worrying if her drinking and drug use was interfering with her ability to parent. Spurred by concern about how her drinking and drug use was affecting her children, she made the decision to quit.

Curtis knows that she was lucky that things weren’t even worse. For example, her career wasn’t ruined, she didn’t get a divorce or lose her family, and there were no serious health scares. Some people have to lose much more before they hit the “rock bottom” that motivates them to change.

And that is the key to successful recovery—finding the right motivation.

Jamie Lee Curtis Today

As soon as I got sober, which is 20 years coming up in February, everything changed. Because it was a big, big acknowledgement that I could not do all of the things I was trying to do…That’s the single greatest accomplishment of my life.”

~ Jamie Lee Curtis

Curtis has been in successful recovery since early 1999.

Part of it has been changing the attitudes and behaviors that were a problem.  To avoid worrying about what other people think about her looks or obsessing over trying  to meet Hollywood’s unrealistic beauty standards, she has stopped dying her hair and instead opts for her natural gray. She also no longer wears high heels, sacrificing glamour for comfort.

But the other part of such lasting recovery is acceptance. Rather than trying to constantly control everyone and everything around her, Curtis now trusts that she is precisely where she is supposed to be at this point in her life—as an actress, a wife, a mother, and as a human being.

And that’s what makes her happy and keeps her sober.

At some point, you have to be okay with it. Because if not, it will make you go crazy. I have accepted long ago to go where the love is,” she says.

The story of Jamie Lee Curtis and her path from addiction to sobriety is inspiring, and it highlights the truth that RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE.  So if you are ready  you to get help for yourself, Chapman House Treatment Centers can help. As one of the leading rehab programs in Orange County, Chapman House uses an evidence-based treatment strategy that allows you to regain your health, your balance, and your sobriety.


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