The Osbourne family's drug addictions are back in the news as Kelly Obsourne, 24-year-old daughter of famed rocker and substance abuser Ozzy Osbourne and wife Sharon, has just left her third stint at rehab. Ozzie has bragged about how his kids got into rehab (including also youngest son Jack) much earlier than he had. But is this working out for them?
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, March 21, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
What Do We Learn from the Osbournes About Addiction and Recovery?
The Osbourne family's drug addictions are back in the news as Kelly Obsourne, 24-year-old daughter of famed rocker and substance abuser Ozzy Osbourne and wife Sharon, has just finished her third stint at rehab. Ozzie has bragged about how his kids got into rehab (including also youngest son Jack) much earlier than he had. But how is this working out for them?
Kelly was introduced to the American public in the hit cable reality series, The Osbournes, when she was 16. I'll leave for others to debate the impact and wisdom of that decision by her parents. But it did give her the opportunities to make albums, act professionally, design and model punk clothes, and become a celebrity presenter. I'll leave for others whether she has the talent to pursue and succeed in these arenas.
She went to rehab at the famous Santa Monica treatment center, Passages, in 2004, before she was 20. Her monkey was painkillers. Her brother Jack, who is a year younger than Kelly, first entered treatment a year before she did, likewise for an addiction to a painkiller, OxyContin. Jack continued his substance abuse after leaving the hospital, attempted suicide, but then quit drugs and has remained (presumably) abstinent until the present. Like Kelly he has had a minor celebrity career in England (his is in reality television).
Jack and Kelly both parlayed early exposure as children of famous people into careers without indicating a specific distinguishing talent. (They have a third sibling, Aimee, who didn't participate in the TV program, didn't enter show business, and has not - to my knowledge - been addicted to drugs.) The two have had what most would regard as permissive and unregulated upbringings (both are covered with boy art and have had minimal education). Although Ozzy regularly warned his kids off drugs and alcohol on their TV show, obviously Kelly and Jack disregarded his advice and instead imitated him.
Ozzy's own drugging and rehabbing are the stuff of legend. In one memorable phone interview conducted in 2003 with former flower child and heroin addict and continuing performer, Marianne Faithful, the two had this exchange:
MF: It's so wonderful to talk to you, Ozzy. The last time I saw you it must have been in the mid-70s.
OO: Yes, I remember it well. You're clean and sober now, aren't you?
MF: More or less. I have a glass of wine occasionally.
OO: Yeah, I'm now just about 60 days sober again [Ozzy was in his early fifties]. I can't have a glass of wine.
MF: Well, you're going through a lot of stuff with your wife [Sharon had cancer].
OO: Poor Sharon. In actuality, Marianne, it was kind of a learning process because I was doing all the pain pills and all the fuckin' rest of the crap that all the addicts and alcoholics do [when Sharon was diagnosed]. . . .
MF: I went to Hazelden.
OO: I've been to Hazelden, to Betty Ford, to Promises. I could write the book on rehabs. [laughs]
MF: Well, Hazelden got me off heroin, so it can work.
OO: But you've got to be willing. There's no magic bullet, there's no magic pill, you've got to be willing to go through the pain.
MF: Well, I really was at the end. I couldn't go on, and I was in the program [AA/NA] for five and a half years--very strict. And then I decided I could have a glass of wine, and it didn't lead me straight back to anything after. [Bless MF for her honesty!]
Ozzy likewise praised his son Jack for entering rehab at nearly the same time.
The Osbournes' joint forays into addiction and treatment suggest the following points and questions:
Warning your kids off drugs and alcohol doesn't always work. As well as ignoring their father's advice not to party, both Jack and Kelly became addicted to pharmaceutical pain killers. Kelly, in particular, tells People that she first became addicted to prescription Vicodin at age 13 after having her tonsils out. It's hard to avoid painkillers after having an operation, especially for children.
Rehab usually doesn't work the way it's supposed to. Nothing in the Osbournes' stories exactly follows the idealized treatment scenario. Ozzy has been in and out of rehab throughout his adult life. Jack had his worst drug experience (attempted suicide) following early treatment. Thankfully, he failed at suicide, and got into recovery. Kelly's rehab experiences seem to have been problematic for her, since she hasn't been capable of eliminating pain killers from her life. (Marianne Faithful reckoned treatment saved her, but then she violates the golden rule of abstinence.)
Are careers good for people? Many people would say that the Osbourne kids were thrust into the limelight too early. But his work seems to have been a salvation for Jack (who lost fifty pounds as part of appearing regularly on English television). And Kelly says that it is her career that motivates her to stay straight: "I'm getting a second chance [at my career]," she told People.com, "and I want to be present for it."
How do you raise an addiction-proof child? Were the Osbourne children destined to become addicted, given who their father was and their childhood exposure to fame and substances? Or could their televised upbringing be used as an instructional video for how to raise addicted children? Or will they recover from that upbringing? And before you count Ozzy down as a human being, consider this description from daughter Aimee: "I think he's incredibly unique, he's talented, and he's misunderstood. My dad wants everybody to be happy and to be doing what they love doing. But, I think that he forgets he should want that for himself too."
Life is complex.