Philip Seymour Hoffman: The Sad Truth About Addiction and Relapse


When I read via text from a friend, that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died alone in his apartment of an apparent drug overdose, I cried. Though he once said he found sobriety at age 22, Hoffman struggled in recent years – and even checked into a rehab to detox and get help not long ago. He died in the grip of that struggle; a needle in his arm, an apparent overdose that pauses many hearts, not just his own.

I loved Philip in Capote, and followed his career along like a Philip junkie. If he was in it, I would see it. I would see him around town too, in Greenwich Village, he was a neighbor in this massive little town of New York City.

As an interventionist, I found wonder in how Philip embodied his characters like few others do. Like the drug’s impact on character, one becomes another in a moment. Just watching Philip slip into another person’s voice, mannerisms and being made me want to watch this master of the stage and screen perform his craft. It makes me wonder: was it easier for him to pass and perform while in relapse? Or is an addict, an addict, pure and simple?

Addicts often lie about the disease and their state in it.
“How are you doing today?” we ask of one another.
Was it somehow easier for the actor to pass?

Perhaps the most tragic fact of Philip’s death is that another will likely follow soon – another talented and loving person cut down in their prime due to the costs of addiction. That is how the disease of addiction works. When one is recovering and the disease is in relapse, we sigh with relief. When it roars back like cancer after a pause, we so often see it’s ferocious face at first glance. “It’s back! What now?”

It’s imperative we distill a teachable spot in the event to help make sense of the tragedy. First, heroin is cheap and easy to get and a person can be living with a full blown heroin addiction and reveal no obvious signs to those around them; a skilled actor perhaps, even longer.  These are important facts for us to know – that oftentimes when dealing with addiction your gut might tell you one thing while the addicted loved one tells you another.

One of the most important helpers in identifying drug abuse and addiction is a simple $25 drug test you can get at any Walmart, Walgreens or CVS. Addicts can lie while pee does not.

Here are some other critical points to ponder:

1) Relapse lives on the other side of recover. Setbacks occur. Don’t personalize them. Philip Seymour Hoffman reportedly had a rich recovery that lasted more than two decades. Unfortunately, that doesn’t guarantee forever. Accountability and monitoring are essential. This includes random drug testing and actively participating in a Recovery Plan.

2) Heroin is everywhere. The stigma of heroin isn’t preventing anyone prone to addiction, from trying it. It’s an extension now of the pills in so many peoples bathroom cabinets. Ninety-five percent of the world’s opiode-based painkillers are consumed in the United States of America. Treatment for prescription drug dependency has skyrocketed 430% in the last decade according to SAMSHA. Our friends and family have never been more perfectly poised for heroin addiction.

To all the friends and family of a loved one struggling with heroin addiction – be more afraid than ever – let Philip’s death be a wake-up call to face these facts:

  • Heroin is everywhere these days and cheaper than pills.
  • Heroin gives a jolting high and is more devastating today than ever.
  • Heroin kills because it sends you soaring while lowering heart rate and respiration at the same time.

Last week the headlines were about the rash of heroin killing young people in New Jersey. Those stories told of a mix of heroin and fentanyl causing overdose deaths in several pockets of the state. Too much and your heart will slow so much that it stops.

What are we to make of it all? It’s the cycle of addiction and death is all. What we’ve criminalized and punished with jail and acrimony isn’t the way to help the addiction masses dying in plain sight. My hope is we’ll restart the conversation about how good treatment works to interrupt addiction and help a loved one recover. That’s my hope.

The odds are a bummer on this front though. Right now, at this very moment, while more than 23 million Americans struggle with addiction, only 3 million will get help according to SAMSHA.

What terrible statistics for this preventable form of unintended death and misery! Why is that you ask? Because we have bought into the lies of “hitting bottom” and “needing to want the help.” When you’re addicted, you’re at the same time conflicted. It is the impaired brain that finds it terribly inconvenient to consider stopping. It’s this very confused mind that we insist, time and time again, must want help to change.

This is the most damning addiction myth of all.

“No” is a conversation starter when asking an addicted loved one to let you help them. Conventional intervention says you surprise and bully. There’s a better way.

Over the past decade, with much support from Dr. Oz, I’ve popularized a new, better way to intervene. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not an ambush. It’s called Break Free Intervention and it begins with an invitation to an addicted loved one to join the friends and family in a family meeting.

Addiction is tricky, and the addicted can be slippery. Addicted folks get better and many stay that way. Some have lapses. Hope is the fuel that enables friends and family to move ahead to help in spite of resistance and muddied thinking. Yet don’t forget these important truths:

  • Good treatment works
  • Addiction is not hopeless
  • The whole family benefits from working together to change

Our culture of locking up addicts rather than treating promotes prohibition and moral failings of the addicted. If we can view addiction, and those who suffer from it, as a disease to be treated, we will shift the very nature of how we help our loved ones recover.

What went through Philip Seymour Hoffman’s mind when he chose a needle to load up the dope before injecting? He might have thought he’s invincible… that this time would be the last… or who knows what else as he injected and isolated and numbed out. It’s a never-ending battle. Just when we think we’re making progress – another headline grabs our attention and we remember there are so many millions – more than 20 million in fact, struggling every day.

A good resource for families, on a host of issues surrounding drugs, is The Partnership at

Find out more about Brad Lamm’s Breathe Life Healing Centers