By Doni Joszef

I’ve been strangely shaken by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. I found myself unable to sleep last night, disturbed by the details of his dim demise.

Not because I was a huge fan (I barely knew of him), and not because his death was so widely felt on such a universal level (the abundance of tweets and Facebook posts have testified to the broad reach of his influence), but because his story illustrates a particularly frightening fact about addiction: it sneaks up on you when you least expect it, when you’re sure it’s no longer there, like a cancer in remission waiting for just the right moment to wreak havoc and tear down everything you’ve built upon the promising foundation of a hopeful recovery.

Just when you thought it was safe, it starts to get dark, dangerous, and, ultimately, deadly. It’s this aspect of the disease which makes the horror of addiction so uniquely horrifying.

Hoffman was sober for over two decades. He reclaimed his life, built a flourishing career, successfully and responsibly digesting the fame and fortune which he gracefully earned. All was right . . . and then it wasn’t.

To me, the horror of addiction is not that it kills you, but that it sneaks up on you. It waits, patiently and persistently, while we regain our self-respect, repair our relationships, and refurbish our reputations. It waits for life to look so bright before turning it into a living hell.

Addiction is not what it looks like. It’s not an immoral vice. It’s not a bad habit. It’s not a self-indulgent sin. It’s an illness–but a freakish one. Addiction is unlike any other illness. The drama of other illnesses is tragic; addiction is not a tragedy so much as it is a horror story.

The difference between a tragedy and a horror is subtle but significant. Tragedies are sad, but they are strangely soothing in that they offer some sense of catharsis. Horror stories are shocking; there’s no catharsis, no curative experience, just shock, freakish bewilderment, and baffling confusion.

We thought he was doing better? We thought things were all worked out? We thought that chapter was over? We did, and so did he.

Every addict has a blind spot, and it’s precisely this blind spot which makes addiction so scary. It’s precisely when we think the ride is over that the worst of its drops awaits. v

Doni Joszef, LMSW, works in private practice with adolescents and young adults in Lawrence. He blogs at and is pursuing a Ph.D. in media psychology. For more information, call 516-316-2247 or visit DoniJoszef.Com.


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