November 20th, 2023
The late Matthew Perry was best known for his iconic role as Chandler Bing in the TV series Friends. His journey through drug addiction and prescription drug addiction is one worth noting, especially for people undergoing recovery.
In this blog, we will explore how Matthew Perry has leveraged his experiences to bring hope and inspiration to those facing similar challenges.
Battle with Addiction
Perry’s addictions began with alcoholism after he was cast on Friends at the age of 24. He told People magazine in October 2022: “I could handle it, kind of. But by the time I was 34, I was really entrenched in a lot of trouble,” he admits. “But there were years that I was sober during that time. Season 9 was the year that I was sober the whole way through. And guess which season I got nominated for best actor? I was like, ‘That should tell me something.'”
It got to the point where the actor was taking 55 vicodin per day and was extremely underweight. “I didn’t know how to stop,” he said. “If the police came over to my house and said, ‘If you drink tonight, we’re going to take you to jail,’ I’d start packing. I couldn’t stop because the disease and the addiction is progressive. So it gets worse and worse as you grow older.”
He began his journey towards sobriety after his doctor told him that he should imagine having a colostomy bag for the rest of his life and should consider going cold turkey on his Oxycontin usage.
There were numerous reasons why he became drawn towards drug use which led to dependency. The tremendous success of Friends brought immense pressure and stress into his life. Being a part of one of the most popular and iconic television shows of all time put him under the spotlight and subjected him to an immense amount of public and media scrutiny. This level of fame and the expectations that came with it were often overwhelming, leading to stress and anxiety.
The production of Friends was demanding, with a rigorous shooting schedule and high expectations for its cast members. The long hours and the need to consistently perform at a high level were physically and emotionally exhausting. Coping with these pressures led him to turn to drugs as a means of escape or relaxation.
The entertainment industry often exposes individuals to a social environment where substance use is prevalent. Perry might have encountered colleagues, friends, or acquaintances who were involved in substance use, which can influence one’s own choices and behaviours.
He also had to cope with chronic pain stemming from a 1997 jet ski accident. To manage his pain, he was prescribed prescription pain medications, which unfortunately contributed to his struggles with prescription drug addiction. The accessibility to these powerful medications, such as vicodin and oxycontin, even when taken as prescribed, can lead to dependence and addiction over time.
Detox and Withdrawal
One of the key takeaways from Perry’s story is the importance of detox and the resilience he maintained in overcoming withdrawal. When someone is caught in the throes of addiction, the prospect of detox can seem daunting and overwhelming. However, Perry’s journey shows that it’s possible to overcome even the most severe addiction with the right support and determination.
Perry explained that he tried to keep his issues a secret from his colleagues, but the obvious dramatic changes in his appearance year after year made it clear what kind of state he was in. His cast mates “were understanding, and they were patient,” he explained. “It’s like penguins. Penguins, in nature, when one is sick, or when one is very injured, the other penguins surround it and prop it up. They walk around it until that penguin can walk on its own. That’s kind of what the cast did for me.”
The actor had been extremely open about his relapses, explaining that he’d been to rehab 15 times since 1994 and has learned how to cope. “I’m pretty healthy now,” he says, before joking, “I’ve got to not go to the gym much more, because I don’t want to only be able to play superheroes. But no, I’m a pretty healthy guy right now.”
As of October 2022, he wasn’t comfortable disclosing how long he had been sober for but maintained he felt it important not to get hung up on relapses. The actor said it was necessary to learn from each experience and not allow it to crush you. “Your sober date changes, but that’s all that changes. You know everything you knew before, as long as you were able to fight your way back without dying, you learn a lot.”
Because of the various addictions and drug use, he had 14 surgeries on his stomach. “That’s a lot of reminders to stay sober,” he said. “All I have to do is look down.”
Before his death, he had been extremely determined to try and help others who have struggled with addiction. “There were five people put on an ECMO machine that night and the other four died and I survived,” he says. “So the big question is why? Why was I the one? There has to be some kind of reason.”
Detox and withdrawal are crucial steps on the path to recovery. Perry’s openness about his experiences, including the physical and psychological struggles he faced during detox, provides a realistic perspective on what those going through recovery might encounter. It’s a testament to his resilience that he was able to conquer these challenges and emerge stronger.
Lessons to be learned
- Perry’s honesty about his addiction struggles is a testament to the power of openness. By sharing his experiences, he helped others feel less isolated and alone in their journeys.
- His decision to seek professional help for his addiction demonstrated that asking for assistance is a sign of strength, not weakness. This is a crucial message for anyone struggling with addiction.
- Perry’s journey also underscores the possibility of recovery, even from the most challenging addictions. His resilience is a testament to the human spirit’s capacity to overcome adversity.
- His advocacy and discussions about addiction and recovery have raised awareness about these issues, leading to improved access to treatment and greater understanding in society.
Creating a conversation
Perry’s willingness to speak candidly about his struggles created a conversation around addiction and recovery that continues to make a positive impact in the public sphere. By sharing his story, he humanised the issue, proving that addiction affects people from all walks of life. This approach encourages empathy and understanding, reducing the stigma associated with addiction.
His efforts to create a global conversation on recovery have also raised awareness about the importance of addiction treatment and rehabilitation. He has highlighted the fact that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but an essential step toward a healthier, more fulfilling life.
If you have concerns about your own or your loved ones’ addiction contact UKAT today, we can help you navigate towards the path of sobriety.
(Click here to see works cited)
- Jordan, Julie. “Matthew Perry Opens Up About His Addiction Journey with a New Memoir: ‘I’m Grateful to Be Alive’”. People, October 19 2022. https://people.com/tv/matthew-perry-opens-up-about-addiction-new-memoir/#:~:text=%22I%20didn’t%20know%20how,worse%20as%20you%20grow%20older.%22
- Lyton, Charlotte. “Matthew Perry: The tragedy of extreme addiction is that the body may never recover.”. The Times, 30 October 2023.