DISCLAIMER: Justin Bieber recently publicly admitted that he has struggled with an addiction to the prescription tranquilizer Xanax. He has also talked about receiving treatment for depression. Here, we want to take a look at the complicated relationship between substance abuse and mental illness, as it has manifested in Justin Bieber’s life.
“Drugs put a screen between me and what I was doing. It got pretty dark.”
~ Justin Bieber
From the outside, pop superstar Justin Bieber seems to have it all—he is enormously wealthy, successful beyond his wildest dreams, and adored by millions of fans around the world. Even better, he’s also a newlywed after marrying model Hailey Baldwin in 2018.
Just how successful is Justin Bieber?
He has several #1 albums, A Grammy, a Latin Grammy, two American Music for “Artist of the Year”. On multiple occasions, he has been named by Forbes as one of the “Ten Most Powerful Celebrities in the World.” Oh…and he has a net worth of over a quarter of a billion dollars.
That is quite a list of accomplishments for someone who is only 25 years old.
But despite professional and personal success, Bieber’s story also has a dark side.
In the February 2019 issue of Vogue magazine, the singer made several startling personal revelations. First, Bieber admitted to abusing Xanax, the powerful prescription sedative generally given to treat anxiety or insomnia.
He also admitted to having a “legitimate problem with sex”, saying that he even had to self-impose a tenure of celibacy to curb what for him was a vice that was no longer providing him with any pleasure.
Since that interview, it’s also been reported that Bieber is being treated for depression and anxiety. One source close to him says, “Justin seems down and tired. He has been struggling a bit…It’s just something that he struggles with mentally.”
That’s ALSO quite a burdensome list for someone who is only 25.
Let’s take a closer look at how these issues may be related and how they may affect Justin Bieber’s life moving forward. Perhaps by doing this, we can help others who are dealing with similar issues right now.
A Less-Than-Ideal Childhood
“Jeremy Bieber split with Justin’s mom when Justin was a toddler and wasn’t always around afterward.”
~ Claire Hoffman, Rolling Stone
Justin Bieber’s parents never married. In the beginning, their bond was a shared history of substance abuse, mental illness, and dysfunctional behaviors.
His mother, Pattie Mallette, raised him a single parent in a low-income household. His father, Jeremy Bieber, completely abandoned his young son when Justin was just 4 years old. Jeremy was gone for around a year, eventually returning on Father’s Day.
Pattie admonished Jeremy, saying, “If you’re going to be here, you have to BE here.” Jeremy did stay and make an effort, but there are accounts that he was sometimes denied visits by Pattie when he was using drugs or drinking.
There are several significant psychological implications about Justin Bieber’s relationship with his father, especially in consideration of his future and current struggles.
As a child raised by a single parent, Bieber was at elevated risk of emotional, substance abuse, and social problems. Children from single-parent households are also often lonely and at increased risk for anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Frequently, this leads them to seek comfort in drugs and alcohol.
The timing of his parents’ split is VERY significant because parental absence during the “formative years”—the first five years of life— impacts the areas of the brain associated with the ability to form emotional bonds.
For people who are already genetically vulnerable to addiction—like Justin Bieber—intoxicants also affect those exact same areas. This means that drugs and alcohol act as chemical substitutes for the missing parent, thereby satisfying an actual biological need.
Too Much Too Young?
“I had the chance to ramp up my success, where this has happened to Bieber abruptly.”
Most people don’t realize how rapid Justin Bieber’s rise from an ordinary junior-high student to the zenith of music superstardom really was. At 12, he placed second in a local talent competition. His mother uploaded a video of his performance to YouTube so friends and family members could enjoy it.
But the video proved so popular that she continued to post new videos of Justin singing R & B cover sons, and soon, he has gained a considerable following. His big break came when party promotor Scooter Braun clicked on one of Bieber’s videos by mistake. He was so impressed with what he saw that he tracked down Pattie and convinced her to let her son go with him to Atlanta to record demo tapes.
A week later, Justin Bieber was singing for Usher. He was just 13 years old.
At 14, he signed his first record deal, and at 15 his first release went gold—and later platinum—in the U.S. and double-platinum in both Canada and the United Kingdom. Four of the songs were top hits.
All of a sudden, Bieber was everywhere—he performed on numerous television shows and even sang for President Barrack Obama at the White House. All before he turned 16.
At first, the environment around young Justin Bieber was very sheltered. As his first publicist, Kathryn Frazier recalls, “It was a tight ship. There was no swearing around him, dancers weren’t allowed to go out and drink. They made a great attempt to keep it familial and tight and safe.”
Unfortunately, it would be harder to maintain that “family” atmosphere s Bieber got older, his fame grew, and he started associating with different people.
The Stressful Life of a Superstar
“He’s the only person in humanity who’s grown up the way he has—with smartphones and cameras on him 24/7.”
~ Scooter Braun, Bieber’s agent
Braun was aggressive in promoting Bieber. In addition to the albums and the tours and the interviews and the countless appearances, Braun made deals for merchandising, books, fragrances, and movies. He fully intended for Justin to capitalize on the “Biebermania” explosion.
But that kind of living-out-of-suitcases existence is also exhausting.
In 2010, Bieber was overwhelmed with the lack of privacy and the constant need to be the “Justin Bieber” that everyone expected. He broke down in tears backstage. Braun told him, “If you want the Michael Jackson career, you have to grasp that you are never going to be normal again.”
In retrospect, perhaps that was not the greatest comparison to make.
Chronic Stress Contributes to Substance Abuse
“…by chemically blocking stress hormone receptors on neurons, we prevented stress from causing increased drinking behavior.”
~ Dr. John Dani, Ph.D., Professor of Neurological Sciences, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Per a recent study published in Neuron, severe stress alters the brain on a neurological level and causing the person to drink more alcohol.
Researchers found that the neurons within the brain’s reward center that regulate alcohol intake are “flipped” after exposure to acute stress. In other words, the brain erroneously incentivizes prolonged drinking.
The theory is that the ability of the reward neurons to switch on and off is an evolved biological trait that helps humans overcome trauma or physical injury.
This study furthers the accepted disease concept of addiction. It also highlights the biological reason why some people feel the need to “self-medicate” with alcohol or drugs when they feel overcome with stress. Unfortunately, self-medicating can far too easily become abuse, dependence, and addiction.
And that risk is magnified for individuals who have a family history of substance abuse—like Justin Bieber.
How Income Affects Underage Drinking
“Young people’s brains are still developing, and they may be more vulnerable to long-term effects on brain and educational achievement than adults – even if they drink within government-recommended upper limits for adults.”
~ Dr. Sarah Jarvis, Medical Advisor to Drinkaware, an alcohol education nonprofit
Justin Bieber went from living in subsidized housing and a single-parent, lower-income household to immense financial success. He was a millionaire by his late teens and had trusts set up to safeguard his money until he turned 18.
As it turns out, having so much money at such a young age can actually be a problem.
In 2015, England’s Health and Social Care Information Centre conducted research that produced unexpected results:
- 70% of teens from backgrounds that are among the “least-deprived” have tried alcohol.
- However, only around half of those youths from the “most-deprived” backgrounds reported drinking.
- Over 60% of teenagers have consumed an entire alcoholic drink – more than just a “sip”.
- 15-year-olds from well-to-do families have a DOUBLED risk of being a regular drinker.
Researchers with the Boys Town National Research Institute found that children who grew up in middle-income households are one-and-a-half times more likely to use alcohol by age 10 than those children from lower-income backgrounds.
Why is this such a big concern?
One of the most serious future consequences of underage drinking is an increased risk of alcohol abuse and addiction. And adolescents who use alcohol before they turn 15 are SIX TIMES more likely to struggle with an Alcohol Use Disorder at some point than those who wait until age 21.
Dr. Suniya Luthar, an Arizona State University psychology professor, believes there are multiple factors in play:
- Greater access to extra, disposable income
- Peer indifference or approval concerning substance use
- A lax sense of security among parents
No Boundaries for Behavior
“When you’ve got a bunch of guys that are doing nothing, and you’re funding everything, that can’t lead to nothing but trouble.”
~ Hip-hop DJ Charlamagne Tha God, talking about the people who hang around Bieber
As he got older, Bieber started pushing back against the safeguards that were in place. He started hanging out with his own entourage. Alcohol, drug, and women entered the picture, along with hangers-on who were only there for the party.
In 2014, Bieber’s former housekeeper, Tatiana Voziouk, spoke out about things she saw when she took care of his Calabasas mansion. She describes endless parties involving marijuana, prescription drugs, and codeine cocktails that turned Bieber into a “zombie”.
“We lost Elvis Presley because he was over-working and taking pills. He was over 40 years old. Michael Jackson began taking drugs when he was in his 20s. Justin Bieber is not even 20 and what is happening to him is so sad … He seemed to be surrounded by friends but may not know who his true friends really are.”
The Link between Sexual and Substance Addictions
“My mom always said to treat women with respect. For me that was always in my head while I was doing it, so I could never enjoy it.”
~ Justin Bieber
In his most recent interview, Bieber described an apparent sex addiction, no doubt fueled by the carnal opportunities available to a young music superstar. In fact, Bieber was so concerned about his actions that he chose to remain celibate for over a year to rededicate himself to his principles and his faith.
In a candid moment of introspection, he commented, “Sometimes, people have sex because they don’t feel good enough. Because they lack self-worth.”
Sexual and substance addictions are more alike than you might realize. Both conditions are compulsive behaviors involving the parts of the brain responsible for pleasure and reward.
As with Substance Use Disorder, true sexual addiction is not a choice, a weakness, or a moral failing. The person may desperately want to change their behaviors but be unable to without outside help.
It is estimated that there are up to 9 million sex addicts in the United States.
When Parents Enable
“I’m a lot closer to my Dad than I am to my Mom.”
~ Justin Bieber
When he was younger, Justin Bieber’s biggest influences are his mother, Pattie, and his agent, Scooter Braun. Pattie’s strong Christian faith and Braun’s protective measures kept Justin from succumbing to the pitfalls of fame.
It was only natural that Justin would try to grow beyond these boundaries as he became a young adult. “You don’t need them as much…And you’re doing your own thing and you don’t need them and you don’t value their opinion the same, either,” he said in a blunt 2016 interview for GQ.
Despite the pushback, there were still measures put in place that were designed to keep him safe. Braun called Justin “family” and tried to give him a sense of stability.
It’s hard to be a surrogate father, however, when the real one shows up and wants to be a bigger presence and his famous son’s life. But the improved relationship when Justin became an adult may have come at a cost — enabling In 2014, one source was quoted as saying, “His father’s not a great influence. They’re almost not like father and son—it’s more like two best friends.”
For example, NBC News reported that while aboard a private a private plane chartered to attend the Super Bowl, Justin, Jeremy, and 10 friends smoked so much marijuana that the pilots had to wear pressurized gas masks. The Biebers were also reportedly extremely abusive to the flight attendant, to the point that the crew said they would never work with them again.
In a 2014 interview, Former family friend Corey Bernier said, “(Jeremy is) enabling Justin’s partying. When Justin was 18, I saw Jeremy give him Percocet. He said, ‘Try one of these, son.’ Justin liked the feeling and decided to go four-wheeling after taking it and ended up crashing into a pond.”
“Jeremy loves to party and is being a friend to Justin, not a father. Justin needs guidance right now. He needs someone who will say ‘no’—not someone who’s joining in with him.”
Rebelling Without a Cause
“I tried talking to him. That didn’t sink in. From my standpoint, he’s on a downward spiral. I’m going to sleep at night because I won’t say I could’ve done a search warrant if God forbid he kills someone drunk driving. It’s time to smack this kid on the head – you can’t keep acting with impunity against the law.”
~ Lt. David Thompson, Los Angeles Police Department
Between the substance abuse and the enabling, Justin started to cross the line between normal “boys-will-be-boys” behavior and the cliché of a young star in crisis:
- March 26, 2013: Bieber allegedly gets into a physical altercation with a neighbor who had complained about his reckless driving.
- April 25, 2013: While in Stockholm, Sweden, Bieber’s tour bus is raided by police. Unspecified narcotics are found aboard.
- May 28, 2013: Bieber’s neighbors publicly complain about his reckless driving.
- June 16, 2013: Bieber hits a photographer with his Ferrari.
- June 25, 2013: Bieber is sued for allegedly punching and kicking a paparazzo.
- July 9, 2013: Bieber is videoed urinating into a janitor’s mop bucket while yelling, “F—k Bill Clinton!”
- July 28, 2013: Border official finds marijuana on Bieber’s tour bus as it crosses into Canada.
- October 7, 2013: A picture of Bieber holding what appears to be a joint surface.
- October 10, 2013: Bieber is accused of assaulting a DJ in South Korea.
- November 6, 2013: Bieber is allegedly caught while painting graffiti on a wall in Brazil.
- November 27, 2013: Bieber is ordered by Australian officials to clean up graffiti that he painted on the wall of his hotel.
- January 14, 2014: Bieber’s home is searched after he allegedly egged a neighbor’s home. During the search, an unspecified amount of cocaine is found.
- January 2, 2014: Bieber is arrested for drag racing his Lamborghini in Miami Beach. He is charged with Driving Under the Influence and resisting arrest.
At the time, Bieber was on alcohol, marijuana, and Xanax.
Of special relevance, Jeremy Bieber was reportedly involved. According to accounts, he helped block off the streets so the cars could race. This is another example of Jeremy enabling—even encouraging—Justin’s behaviors.
As Corey Bernier said, “Justin has a very good heart, but his judgment is being clouded by drugs and alcohol and a lot of it is to impress his dad.”
Xanax—The Abused Tranquilizer of Choice
“I found myself doing things that I was so ashamed of, being super-promiscuous and stuff, and I think I used Xanax because I was so ashamed.”
~ Justin Bieber
It is significant that the drug that became the biggest problem for Justin Bieber was the prescription tranquilizer Xanax.
On one hand, Xanax seems to be an ideal option for the problems that plague entertainers like Bieber—anxiety and insomnia. Having to perform in front of millions of people has to be nerve-wracking, and Xanax can help calm him down. And when he’s all wound up from constantly being on the go, Xanax can help him get some much-needed sleep.
The positive effects are why Xanax is the most-prescribed psychiatric medication in America.
But benzodiazepine tranquilizers are powerfully habit-forming, even when taken exactly as prescribed. In fact, recent research found that even taking Xanax “as needed” can promote misuse.
Taking Xanax triggers the release of an excessive amount of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward and feelings of pleasure. As a result, the person may experience a euphoric high and enhanced feelings of well-being.
This combination of “positive” effects is one reason why Xanax is such a popular drug or abuse.
The Dangers of Abusing Multiple Substances
“I think there were times when my security was coming in late at night to check my pulse and see if I was still breathing.”
~ Justin Bieber
But Xanax is a Central Nervous System depressant, slowing down the user’s heart rate and respiration and lowering their blood pressure. These effects are magnified to a dangerous, potentially-deadly degree when other CNS depressants such as opioids or alcohol are used.
- Between 2005 and 2011, tranquilizer/painkiller combinations resulted in 250,000 ER trips.
- Another 164,000 ER visits were caused by the combination of tranquilizers and alcohol.
- When all three substances were used, another 43,000 ER trips occurred.
- Significantly, nearly 40% of these trips resulted in serious injury, impairment, long-term hospitalization, or death.
Approximately 30% of all fatal overdoses involve “benzo” drugs.
It’s important to remember that at various times, Justin Bieber was linked to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opioid painkillers, prescription tranquilizers, and the codeine cocktail known as “sizzurp”.
Why is this so concerning?
75% of all overdoses involve multiple substances, as do 98% of those which prove fatal.
Anger and Addiction
Anger and substance abuse are closely linked. While the primary manifestation of Substance Use Disorder is fueled by anger, related issues can also trigger a relapse in someone who is in recovery. Why could this be the case?
- Unresolved past trauma
- Feelings of powerlessness
- Misguided blame
If a person with toxic anger doesn’t practice—or hasn’t learned— healthy ways to cope, then drinking and drug use may be the ONLY ways they have to deal with feelings. This is counterproductive, however, because substance abuse causes even more problems, which they cope with by using intoxicants, which causes more problems. It’s a self-perpetuating downward spiral of dysfunction.
The Relationship Between Depression and Substance Abuse
“I just want people to know I’m human. I’m struggling just to get through the days. I think a lot of people are. You get lonely, you know when you’re on the road. People see the glam and the amazing stuff, but they don’t know the other side. This life can rip you apart. You’re in your hotel room and there are fans all around, paparazzi following you everywhere, and it gets intense. When you can’t go anywhere or do anything alone you get depressed. I would not wish this upon anyone.”
~ Justin Bieber
Currently, Justin Bieber has taken the positive step of seeking treatment for depression. According to sources, he has long struggled with the idea of fame.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information 64% of alcoholics also meet the criteria for a depression diagnosis.
Both SUD and depression are both caused by similar genetic and environmental factors that increase the likelihood of developing both conditions.
- Heredity – Of special relevance, both of Justin’s parents have a history of substance abuse. In fact, as teenagers, they went to Alcoholics Anonymous together. Additionally, Pattie was committed to the psych ward as a teen for depression, anxiety, and trauma.
- Brain Development – Bieber drank and used drugs while he was a teenager and young adult, while his brain was still developing and at increased vulnerability to their negative effects.
Besides those factors that affect Justin Bieber and his parents, there are other factors that contribute to both depression and SUD:
- Neurology – People who are deficient in the specific neurotransmitters responsible for regulating emotional stability are at risk for both mood and addictive disorders.
- Trauma – Surviving a severely emotionally or physically painful event, such as serious illness or injury, death of a close family member or friend, physical/emotional/sexual abuse or assault, can leave the person extremely vulnerable both addiction and mental disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression.
It is also important to understand that having either condition is a definite contributing factor in the possible development of the other. In other words, depression can cause a person to abuse substances, and chronic substance abuse can cause depression.
In fact, having either disorder DOUBLES the likelihood of also having the other.
What Can We Learn?
“Bieber is just an amplified version of what all teens are experiencing. If he’s going to be our stand-in for the rewards of this—he’s had the original archetypal Internet career—then he’s also going to be the stand-in for the perils.”
~ author Douglas Rushkoff
The biggest takeaway from the ongoing cautionary tale of Justin Bieber is that ANYONE can struggle with addictive and mental disorders. Fame, fortune, talent, and success cannot protect you from these diseases.
The second thing that we can learn is that underage substance abuse is a big deal. The still-developing adolescent and young adult brain are hard to hear only vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol and drugs.
The third takeaway is that substance abusers are not helped by extreme permissiveness or other enabling behaviors. Everyone needs healthy boundaries.
Finally, the existence of an addiction or mental illness should not be a source of stigma or shame. In fact, admitting that you have a problem is one of the bravest things you can ever do. And actually seeking specialized professional treatment is the most positive thing you can possibly do for your future.