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Ben Affleck talks sobriety, shame, and why his alcohol addiction will never be ‘cured’

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Ben Affleck may have left rehab, but his alcohol addiction will never be ‘cured’

“I am an alcoholic,” says Ben Affleck. “The next drink will not be different,”

Updated on 19 Feb 2020: Ben Affleck has opened up about his alcohol addiction and struggles with sobriety in a raw new interview.

Reflecting on the fact that he is not the first in his family to struggle with alcoholism, Affleck told the New York Times: “There’s a lot of alcoholism and mental illness in my family. The legacy of that is quite powerful and sometimes hard to shake.

“My dad didn’t really get sober until I was 19. The older I’ve gotten, the more I recognise that my dad did the best he could.”

Affleck also spoke about a video TMZ posted of him in October 2019, which saw him stumbling to a car, and raised concerns about his sobriety.

“Relapse is embarrassing, obviously,” he said. “[But] It took me a long time to fundamentally, deeply, without a hint of doubt, admit to myself that I am an alcoholic. The next drink will not be different.”

Perhaps the most powerful admission of all, though, was Affleck’s comments on the toxicity of shame.

“Shame is really toxic,” he said. “There is no positive byproduct of shame. It’s just stewing in a toxic, hideous feeling of low self-worth and self-loathing. It’s not particularly healthy for me to obsess over the failures – the relapses – and beat myself up.

“I have certainly made mistakes. I have certainly done things that I regret. But you’ve got to pick yourself up, learn from it, learn some more, try to move forward.”

Ben Affleck attends to Triple Frontera premiere at Callao City Lights in Madrid, Spain. March 06, 2019. (Photo by A. Ware/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Ben Affleck attends to Triple Frontera premiere at Callao City Lights in Madrid, Spain. March 06, 2019. (Photo by A. Ware/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

As reported on 5 Oct 2018: After completing 40 days at a treatment centre for “alcohol addiction”,  Affleck shared an emotional statement, confirming that he “remains in outpatient care”.

Thanking his “family, colleagues and fans” for giving him the “strength and support to talk about the illness with others”, Affleck explained: “Battling any addiction is a lifelong and difficult struggle. Because of that, one is never really in or out of treatment. It is a full-time commitment.

“I am fighting for myself and my family.”

The Hollywood star, who has three children with his ex-wife Jennifer Garner, finished his statement by saying: “With acceptance and humility, I continue to avail myself with the help of so many people and I am grateful to all those who are there for me.

“I hope down the road I can offer an example to those who are struggling.”

The actor and writer has sought help for alcohol abuse before: in 2001, his publicist released a statement confirming that the Oscar-winning actor had checked into a treatment facility.

It read: “Ben is a self-aware and smart man who has decided that a fuller life awaits him without alcohol.

“He has chosen to seek out professional assistance, and is committed to travelling a healthier road with the support of family, friends and fans.”

For a long time after that, it seemed as if Affleck had his demons in check. However, in March 2017, the actor explained that he had again begun to struggle as a result of his alcohol addiction.

Writing on his Instagram, he explained: “I want my kids to know there is no shame in getting help when you need it, and to be a source of strength for anyone out there who needs help but is afraid to take the first step.

“I’m lucky to have the love of my family and friends, including my co-parent, Jen, who has supported me and cared for our kids as I’ve done the work I set out to do. This was the first of many steps being taken towards a positive recovery.”

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Many of us, upon hearing the word ‘alcoholic’, will imagine someone dishevelled and distressed; a person whose life is falling apart as a result of their addiction. Affleck – successful, wealthy and one of Hollywood’s elite – doesn’t fit the mould.

However, his statements make one thing very clear: he has a problem, one which cannot be resolved with a quick-fix ‘cure’.

Perhaps more important, though, is the fact that Affleck is far from the only one.

Frequent alcohol consumption which apparently has no adverse effects on a person’s day-to-day professional or personal life is a significant national problem. In 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 33% of men and 16% of women were classed as hazardous drinkers by the NHS, and a high proportion of these were likely to be high-functioning alcoholics.

To diagnose a functioning alcoholic, experts use the four letters in the acronym CAGE.

C – Cutting down

Do you ever think you should probably drink less?

A – Annoyance

Do you ever feel annoyed by people complaining to you about your drinking?

G – Guilt

Do you ever have feelings of guilt about your drinking or what you do when you drink?

E – Eye-opener

Do you ever feel like you need a drink to feel better, particularly in the morning to unwind?

You don’t need to answer yes to all four of the questions to identify as a functioning alcoholic. In fact, if one or two are answered positively, it’s highly suggestive you could have a problem with alcohol. Indeed, according to the charity Action on Addiction, one in three of us suffer from an addiction of some kind.

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While it is all too easy to look for reasons or triggers, though, it is worth remembering that addiction is a chronic brain disease. And, like many illnesses, it has both a genetic and environmental component: in fact, genetic factors account for about half of the likelihood someone will develop an addiction, while environmental factors affect how much influence those genetic factors will have.

Yes, the initial decision to take drugs or that first sip of alcohol is voluntary for most people. After that, though, brain changes occur over time, making it harder for someone already susceptible to addiction to resist the urge to take a drug. Co-occurring disorders are also extremely common — about a third of all people living with mental illnesses and about half of people living with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse.

One of the main beliefs behind addiction, then, is that alcoholic or drug dependence is a long-term, progressive illness. That, while it is treatable, there is no quick-fix ‘cure’. That recovery is a lifelong commitment.

And it is for all these reasons that we should celebrate Affleck and others in the public eye who are honest and open about their addiction stories – whether they be focused on recovery or relapse. Because, in speaking out, they help others to grasp the reality of the situation, and dispel harmful myths and stereotypes around alcoholism.

To help lower your risk of “alcohol-related harm”, the NHS has published a number of recommended guidelines online.

These include:

• not regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week

• if you drink as much as 14 units a week, it’s best to spread this evenly over three or more days

• if you’re trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, it’s a good idea to have several alcohol-free days each week

The guidelines add, “Regular or frequent drinking means drinking alcohol most weeks. The risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis”.

You can calculate how many units of alcohol are in a variety of different drinks using the Drink Aware unit calculator here.

If you are struggling with addiction, Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org.

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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