DISCLAIMER: Because Ben Affleck has lived his entire adult life in the public eye, his repeated struggles with problematic drinking are well-documented. Now that he has returned to rehab again, let us use this as an opportunity to examine his life in an attempt to learn more and to help others who may be waging similar battles.
On August 22nd, Ben Affleck was taken to a Los Angeles-area rehab by his estranged wife, Jennifer Garner after she staged a personal intervention. This will be Affleck’s third attempt at recovery from alcohol addiction, and his second stint in less than two years.
From the outside, Affleck seems to have it made. In a career approaching 40 years, he has run the gamut from quirky little independent films to huge Hollywood blockbusters. He’s won two Academy Awards and has established himself as a successful quadruple-threat filmmaker—writing, acting, producing, and directing.
And even though he and Garner separated in 2015 after a 10-year marriage, they seemed to be working together well as co-parents to their three young children. In fact, during his recent downward spiral, she has remained his biggest positive influence and source of support. It wasn’t a surprise when she was the one who came to his rescue yet again.
But how did it get this bad?
What causes a rich, famous, successful, handsome star with a beautiful family turn to the bottle? And more to the point, what makes him RETURN time and time again, even after getting help on two previous occasions?
To answer those questions, we must take a closer look at the disease of alcoholism and how it has manifested in Ben Affleck’s life. Perhaps by doing this, we can educate and inspire others who are dealing with their own drinking problems.
“Because their bodies have become sensitized to alcohol, once they have taken that first drink the tissues of the body cry out for more and more, until sufferers find that they cannot control the amount of alcohol consumed. – One drink is too many, a hundred, not enough.”
~ John G. Cooney, Under the Weather – Coping with Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Alcoholism—now properly known as Alcohol Use Disorder— is an illness characterized by severe alcohol abuse resulting in serious consequences to almost every other area of life. At the point that a medical diagnosis of AUD is appropriate, the patient’s life has become completely unmanageable due to their out-of-control drinking and the resultant consequences. AUD is:
- Incurable—It is not a disease that can be completely overcome by any treatment. However, with a combination of evidence-based and supportive therapies, it can be managed. A person with well-controlled AUD can still live a happy, productive, and stable life.
- Chronic—AUD lasts a lifetime. An alcoholic is still vulnerable to relapse even after decades of sobriety. This is why lifestyle changes, aftercare, and long-term support are so important.
- Progressive—Left untreated, AUD ALWAYS gets worse, resulting in significant damage to physical and mental health. Alcohol abuse has been linked to over 200 diseases and conditions.
It is also equally important to discern what AUD is NOT:
- Anyone’s fault
- A poor choice
- A weakness of character
- An absence of willpower
How is AUD Medically Diagnosed?
AUD is more than just “heavy drinking”.
According to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a medical diagnosis may be appropriate when the person:
- Drinks a large amount of alcohol over a long period of time
- Cannot control how much or when they drink
- Experiences health problems because of their alcohol consumption
- Engages in unsafe behaviors when under the influence of alcohol
- Has made failed attempts to cut back or quit
- Elicits concern from family members and friends
- Faces negative consequences
- Continues to use despite all of these issues
During his two-decade battle with booze, Affleck has relapsed several times and has continued to drink despite concern from loved ones, public embarrassment, negative impact on his career, and damage to his personal relationships.
Alcohol Abuse Statistics
But he’s not alone.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that alcohol is the most used AND abused intoxicant in the United States
- Almost 90% of American adults have tried alcohol.
- More than 70% have drunk within the past year, and over 50% report drinking within the past month.
- 27%—greater than 1 in 4—admit to binge-drinking within the past 30 days. This is defined as a man drinking 5 or more drink in one setting. For females, the threshold is 4 or more drinks.
- Even more significant, 7% report “heavy” alcohol use during the previous month. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines this as binge-drinking on 5 or more days.
- In 2015, more than 15 million US adults met the medical criteria for a diagnosis of AUD.
- Just over one million received specialized professional treatment for alcohol addiction.
- Alcohol is the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in America, claiming 88,000 lives every year.
And it’s not just an American problem – the World Health Organization has estimated that alcohol is involved in over 3 million annual deaths, globally. This equates to:
- 1 death every 10 seconds
- Almost 6% of ALL deaths
- More than 5% of the global injury and disease burden
- 25% of all deaths among 20-39-year-olds
A Family History of Problem Drinking
“(My father) was an alcoholic…I did know that as a child. He drank a lot. My father was a — what did they call him — a real alcoholic. He, you know, drank all day, drank every day, and to his credit, he got sober ultimately. He’s been sober for several decades, which I think is pretty impressive. (He) turned his life around in a very laudable way. But having such serious addiction issues has a major impact — it colors who you are and becomes a part of you.”
~ Ben Affleck, talking about his father, Tim
Affleck’s father, Tim, also waged a long personal battle, self-described as a “severe, chronic problem with alcoholism”. Ben and his brother Casey attended Al-Anon support meetings when they were children to learn how to deal with their father’s drinking.
For a long time, Tim moved from job to job, working at various times as an auto mechanic, bartender, bookie, carpenter, electrician, and janitor.
At one point, Tim’s drinking got so bad that he was homeless for two years.
On a positive note, Tim Affleck eventually entered treatment and regained his sobriety. He then worked as an addiction counselor for many years.
How Genetics Contributes to Alcohol and Drug Abuse
“Knowing the genes that are responsible for predisposition is interesting to us because, as a scientist, I don’t want to just sit passively by and document the genes that are responsible for disposition. I want to understand the biology of disposition because I want to be able to suggest and steer intervention research.”
~ Neurobiologist Dr. J. David Jentsch, Empire Innovation Professor of Psychology, Binghamton University
The link between genetics and addictive disorders is complicated. Substance Use Disorder does not have one single identifiable cause.
Up to 60% of a person’s SUD vulnerability is due to genetics. But at the same time, the disease has been known to skip generations or to affect one child and not the other. Of special relevance, there are currently millions of people struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction that have NO family history of SUD.
But science does know quite a bit about the effect that genetics has on addiction. For example, animal studies have shown that:
- A specific allele of a particular dopamine receptor gene is most often found in individuals with alcohol or cocaine addictions.
- Mice with certain genetic mutations experience fewer withdrawal symptoms when detoxing from barbiturates.
- Mice without a precise cannabinoid receptor gene do not respond as strongly to morphine.
- Mice lacking a certain serotonin receptor gene have a heightened response to alcohol and cocaine.
- Mice bred to lack another particular receptor experience fewer rewards when exposed to cocaine.
- Mice with decreased levels of neuropeptides will consume alcohol excessively, while those with higher levels tend to shy away from alcohol.
- Mice with a specific mutated gene will triple their consumption of alcohol.
- AUD is rare in individuals with duplicate copies of a particular genetic variation.
- The biological children of alcoholic parents are nine times more likely to develop AUD. Significantly, this risk is still elevated even if they have been adopted elsewhere.
The Effect of Environment
Parental drinking is the biggest influence on a child’s subsequent attitude about and behaviors involving alcohol:
- Most children learn drinking behaviors at home.
- 82% of parents who use alcohol raise children who will also drink.
- Likewise, 72% of parents who do not use alcohol raise non-drinking children.
A Broken Family
When Affleck was 12 years old, his parents divorced. His father kept drinking and was eventually homeless for two years. When Tim Affleck finally decided to get help, he moved across the country, leaving for Indio, California, while Ben and his younger brother Casey remained in Massachusetts. From that point on, Tim was a self-proclaimed “absentee father” who had little to do with his sons’ upbringing. Even when he regained his sobriety, Tim stayed in California.
Parental Divorce and Underage Drinking
Considering Ben Affleck’s future problems with alcohol, his lack of a meaningful relationship with his father is significant.
As an adolescent child of divorce, Affleck was at elevated risk of future substance abuse problems. Among adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 whose parents have divorced, 14% start drinking more alcohol.
Additionally, children of divorce often suffer from loneliness, self-esteem issues, anxiety, and depression. Because teenagers tend to lack healthy coping mechanisms, each of these issues can cause them to turn to alcohol and other substances for comfort.
And for those teenagers who are genetically-predisposed to addiction—like young Ben Affleck — alcohol artificially fulfills the biological need for parental attachment.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
“The basic cause of addiction is predominantly experience-dependent during childhood, and not substance-dependent.”
~ Dr. Vincent Felitti, expert on childhood trauma
What do Ben Affleck’s childhood experiences have to do with his eventual development of an addiction to alcohol? More than you might think.
A 2012 study determined that childhood trauma increases a person’s likelihood of subsequently developing major depression or addictive issues later in life. Trauma and maltreatment affect the areas of the brain associated emotional response, planning, and decision-making.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network estimates that one-fourth of American children suffer at least one Adverse Childhood Experience. Examples of ACEs include:
- Parental separation
- Substance abuse in the household
- Mental illness within the household
- Emotional neglect, abuse, or alienation
- Physical neglect or abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Domestic violence, especially against their mother
- Incarceration of a family member
- Economic instability
Of special relevance, research shows that with each ACE, the risk of initiating substance use jumps as much as 400%. This means a child enduring as few as three ACEs is up to 12 times more likely to use alcohol and drugs than a child suffering none.
As a child and young adolescent, Ben Affleck suffered at least 4 TYPES of ACEs, with an untold number of individual occurrences.
Specific ACEs Have a Profound Impact
The kind of ACE matters. For example, relevant to Ben Affleck:
- 14% of teens either start drinking or drink heavier after their parents’ divorce.
- Teenage boys living in single-parent households smoke, drink, and use marijuana at higher rates.
- They also “act out” antisocially more often.
- The risk is even more elevated among teen boys who have poor relationships with their fathers.
More Than a Penchant for Partying
“I just wanted to stop. I started regretting some things I did when I was drunk. It’s funny to be obnoxious or out of control, but then it’s like, ‘I think I hurt that person’s feelings. I made a fool of myself’ or ‘I didn’t want to kiss that girl.’ I have almost no inhibitions, so it’s dangerous for me.”
~ Ben Affleck, in a 1998 interview
Affleck’s use of alcohol as an adolescent and young adult is particularly significant. Today, we know that the human brain does not stop developing until the mid-20s. Before this maturity, the brain is extremely vulnerable to the neurochemical effects of alcohol and drugs.
For example, teenagers and young adults who experiment with or abuse substances are at heightened risk of becoming dependent or addicted. 16% of people drink before the age of 12 will develop AUD, compared to less than 3% of those who wait until age 21 or older.
In addition, before the brain is completely matured, substance use may disrupt:
- Impulse control
- The ability to weigh pros and cons
Is There a Connection Between Gambling Addiction and Alcoholism?
“Gambling addiction can have a devastating effect not just on patients, but also their families. It can result in people losing their job and leave families and children homeless. We know the condition may have a genetic component — and that the children of gambling addicts are at higher risk of gambling addiction themselves…This research identifies key brain areas and opens avenues for targeted treatments that prevent cravings and relapse.”
~ Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, National Problem Gambling Clinic, London
For years, Affleck has been dogged by rumors of an addiction to gambling. He says that he is just a person who took time to learn the game of blackjack and subsequently became “decent” at it. Until he was banned, Affleck was one of the most visible high-stakes players in Las Vegas. He has won as much as $800,000 in a single sitting.
But in light of his long-term battle with booze, his gambling habit – however successful – should perhaps be looked in a new light.
A recent study determined that gambling addiction activates the same neural pathways in the brain as cravings for alcohol and drugs. Specifically, the nucleus accumbens and the insula both show increased activity whenever gambling cravings strike.
These are the areas of the brain responsible for reward, decision-making, and impulse control. Relevantly, they have also been previously linked with alcohol and drug cravings.
This bolsters the idea that addiction is addiction—a person suffering ANY compulsive behavior vulnerable to others. It also makes Affleck’s gambling habit particularly significant.
Drinking Habit or Drinking Problem?
“A lot of alcoholics talk about how they look back and can see that they never knew, never really could predict, when they’d get too drunk, when they’d cross the line from what felt like normal heavy drinking into raging, out-of-control drinking.”
~ Caroline Knapp, Drinking: A Love Story
The amount a person drinks matters.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines “increased risk/heavy” drinking as:
- 5 or more occasions of binge drinking during the past month.
- Men: 5+ drinks within two hours.
- Women: 4+ drinks within two hours.
- Daily/Weekly drinking
- Men: 5+ drinks per day/ 15+ drinks per week
- Women: 4+ drinks per day/8+ drinks per week
Statistics support these limits, because just 2% of individuals drinking less than these limits ever develop AUD.
The resultant consequences matter.
Alcohol use crosses the line into problematic drinking when it negatively affects other areas of life:
- Relationship problems
- Legal entanglements
- Work/School difficulties
- Health concerns
- Money worries
A loss of control matters.
If a person wants to cut back or stop drinking because of the negative effect it has on their life– but find they cannot – that loss of control is one of the biggest signs of alcohol addiction.
Similarly, if a person cannot control when they drink or how much they drink once they have started, that is another serious warning sign that it has gone beyond a mere “habit”.
2001: First Attempt at Alcohol Rehab
“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 traveling a healthier road with the support of his family, friends, and fans.”
~ a spokesman for Ben Affleck, (2001)
In his 20’s, Affleck had a well-deserved reputation as someone who loved to party. Whenever an article was written about him, it always mentioned his trips to Las Vegas—the drinking, carousing, and gambling. When he checked into rehab after several months of non-stop partying, the New York Post referred to him as “Boozin’ Ben Affleck”.
Ironically, Affleck was at the time featured in radio ads for Samuel Adams beer. Out of respect, the company pulled the ads.
Some Hollywood insiders speculated that his workload and the pressure of transitioning to leading man roles, in films such as Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and The Sum of All Fears.
Alcoholism and Stress
Science supports this possibility.
In 2010, a team of scientists from the Scripps Research Institute discovered a biological link between a specific stress hormone and alcoholism. It seems that chronic stress literally recalibrates a person’s brain, making them more vulnerable to alcohol addiction.
The study’s first author, Dr. Maureen Cruz, PhD, said, “Alcoholism is a complex disorder with many contributing factors, one of which is stress. By targeting a particular system that’s associated with stress, we can better understand the interaction of alcohol and stress in the brain.”
Why is Alcohol so Addictive?
Like other drugs of abuse, alcohol has a direct and significant that the areas of the brain responsible for:
- Impulse control
Here’s how it works:
When a person performs an action necessary to survival, such as sex or eating, their brain releases a surge of the pleasure-causing neurotransmitter dopamine. This pleasure motivates the person to repeat the behavior.
Alcohol mimics this biological trait and tricks the person’s brain into releasing a flood of dopamine that is faster and longer-lasting than would be released naturally.
In other words, drinking FEELS GOOD.
At least in the beginning.
A drinker’s brain LEARNS to associate alcohol use with a pleasurable reward, motivating them to do it again.
But eventually, this artificial over-stimulation of the brain’s reward pathway fatigues dopamine receptors, which in turn causes a diminished response to alcohol. This is tolerance – to achieve the same pleasurable effects or reach the same level of intoxication, the person must now continually increase their alcohol consumption.
At this stage, the desire to drink starts to become a compulsion.
But an even bigger danger arises whenever a chronic heavy drinker tries to stop. The disruption in dopamine production causes the person to lose the ability to feel pleasure or motivation. They may even become unable to function at all without alcohol.
And when that alcohol is taken away, they suffer painfully-unpleasant and potentially-dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Quitting alcohol cold turkey can even be deadly.
By this point, they are no longer drinking to feel good. They are drinking to keep from FEELING BAD.
Rehab Equals Reset
“I went to rehab for being 29 and partying too much and not having a lot of boundaries and to clear my head and try to get some idea of who I wanted to be. It was more a ‘let me get myself straight,’ before it became a rite of passage.”
~ Ben Affleck
One of the best things about going to rehab is that you learn how to work on becoming the person you were always meant to be. After a short career downturn and a far-too-public romance, engagement, and breakup with superstar Jennifer Lopez, Affleck entered a period of sustained sobriety where he enjoyed considerable success, both professionally and personally.
Part of it was natural maturation as he entered his 30s, but the majority of the credit goes to Jennifer Garner. They started dating in mid-2004, she became a stable, positive influence that he needed. They married in 2005, and shortly thereafter, he emerged as a more nuanced actor and as a critically-acclaimed director.
Sober and stable, he was living up to his potential as a filmmaker, husband, and father.
2015: A Split That Upsets the Balance
“After much thought and careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision to divorce.”
~ Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner
But old habits die hard. In 2015, after two years of therapy and a ten-month trial separation, the couple jointly announced their intention to divorce. Rumors swirled about Affleck’s alleged drinking, gambling, and infidelity. The announcement came one day after their tenth wedding anniversary.
Not of nothing, there is a strong association between alcohol abuse and cheating.
Already deviating from his program of recovery, it wasn’t long after the split before Affleck reportedly started spiraling out of control. One source was quoted as saying, “People are urging him to go into inpatient rehab. He knows he needs to check back into rehab. The problem is that he wants to go on his terms. He wants to do it on his time, but like most addicts, that time keeps getting put off. This relapse has gone on too long already.”
Drinking and Divorce
“The pronounced elevation in [alcohol use disorder] risk following divorce or widowhood, and the protective effect of both first marriage and remarriage against subsequent [alcohol use disorder], speaks to the profound impact of marriage on problematic alcohol use and the importance of clinical surveillance for [alcohol use disorder] among divorced or widowed individuals.”
You probably already knew that alcohol abuse can lead to divorce, but did you also know that divorce increases the risk of alcohol abuse?
A 2017 article in the American Journal of Psychiatry reports that ANY spousal loss – separation, divorce, or death – is linked to a higher risk of AUD. It is particularly elevated among drinkers with a family history of alcohol or drug addiction – like Ben Affleck.
This corresponds with 2016 research determining that marriage protects against the development of a drinking problem. Dr. Kenneth Kendler, M.D., of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, opines about that earlier study, saying the findings “strongly suggest that marriage does indeed directly and substantially reduce risk for onset of alcohol use disorder. It is also especially intriguing that this effect is largest in those at highest risk.”
Help from a Sober Coach
“Ben has spent a good amount of time with her in recent weeks to kick his alcohol addiction. Ben is taking getting sober very seriously and knows he has to do this for his kids. Ben would do anything for his children and is hoping this will make his relationship with Jen better.”
~ Entertainment Tonight
In January 2017, Affleck was spotted on an all-day outing with a pretty blonde woman. Rather than a new romance, this was a positive attempt at sobriety. Accompanying him everywhere was Elizabeth Weaver, a “detox nurse” who provides services as a sober companion.
In February of that same year, Affleck also attended the Academy Awards with a male sober coach.
Sober companions/coaches are exactly what they sound like – people who are paid to accompany those individuals who are struggling with SUD and finding it hard to maintain their sobriety on their own. The presence of the sober companion keeps the client from making bad choices – going to a bar, stopping at a liquor store, etc. They are a positive, reassuring, and supportive voice during a fragile period of stress and temptation.
While hiring a sober companion is not part of “treatment”, it is an “over and above” extra attempt to avoid alcohol and drugs.
They aren’t cheap, some sober coaches advertise a rate of up to $1900 per day, with a minimum of five days.
On the one hand, the presence of a sober coach demonstrates Affleck’s commitment to his recovery.
But on the other hand, it also shows how serious his addiction to alcohol really is and how his drinking really is beyond his control.
2017: Second Attempt at Alcohol Rehab
“I have completed treatment for alcohol addiction; something I’ve dealt with in the past and will continue to confront.”
~ Ben Affleck, in a 2017 Facebook post
Eventually, Affleck’s protracted relapse became to big for even him to ignore. Early in 2017, he admitted to completing a stint in residential rehab. Months afterward, he was reportedly still attending outpatient rehab.
But he continued to struggle. For example, he was seen stumbling and disoriented near a treatment center in Los Angeles.
Multiple failed attempts at rehab is one of the primary symptoms of an active addictive disorder.
Does a Relapse Mean Treatment Has Failed?
“Relapse is part of the disease.”
~ Mackenzie Philips, Hopeful Healing: Essays on Managing Recovery and Surviving Addiction
Here’s the reality – because AUD is an incurable disease of the brain, MOST people in recovery will experience a relapse at least once at some point. In fact, 2012 article in Psychology Today states that up to 90% of alcoholics and addicts in recovery will suffer a mild-to-moderate “slip”.
A slip is a brief return to use, followed by a return to sobriety efforts, while a relapse is longer and is characterized by an abandonment of treatment.
Overall, the relapse rate for SUD is very comparable to those of other chronic diseases:
- Diabetes: 30%-50%
- Depression: 33%-50%
- SUD: 40%-60%
- Asthma: 50%-70%
- Hypertension: 50%-70%
- Bipolar disorder: 50%-70%
In fact, in the specific case of alcoholism, the disease so profoundly affects the brain that relapse rates are even higher. 68% of people with AUD will eventually relapse at least once.
This is not a conscious choice – it is a symptom of the severity of the illness. It does not mean that treatment has failed or that recovery is impossible.
Consider this—a person who has relapsed into active drug addiction or alcoholism is often stigmatized and shame for being “weak” or “selfish”. This doesn’t happen with other chronic illnesses.
A person in treatment for high blood pressure is not stigmatized when their numbers are off the charts because they are noncompliant with their doctor’s orders to lose weight, exercise more, and eat healthier.
In that case, the doctor once again emphasizes the importance of compliance, makes new suggestions, adjusts their medication, and necessary, brings in the services of another professional – a physical therapist or nutritionist, for example.
What to Do After Relapse
So it should be with alcoholism and other addictive disorders.
When a person has “fallen off the wagon” – whether a brief slip or a full-blown relapse – this is the time for positive reinforcement and action:
- Rededicating one’s self to making healthy lifestyle changes that support continued sobriety
- An adjustment the current treatment plan
- Intensifying the treatment plan by moving to the next level – from outpatient to an Intensive Outpatient Program to partial hospitalization to residential rehab. The level of treatment should match the patient’s needs.
- Completely starting over in recovery – from Step 1
- The use of anti-craving medications
- Better communication and involvement with one’s personal support system – counselors, family members, sponsor, sober coaches, etc.
The fact that a relapse has occurred is not what is most important. What IS important is what happens after that relapse.
Overcoming Shame During Recovery
“I want life to the fullest and be the best father I can be. 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.”
~ Ben Affleck, (2017)
Unlike as is the case with most other illnesses, people with SUD are often shamed by society and even their own loved ones. Even though addiction has been recognized as a legitimate illness, old misconceptions and prejudices still linger.
This is extremely counterproductive and actually interferes with a person’s successful recovery.
According to a 2013 study published by the Association for Psychological Science, a person in recovery who is burdened with excessive shame about their past is more likely to turn back to alcohol for comfort.
Researchers discovered that the more non-verbal signs of severe shame exhibited – despondent facial expression, slumped posture, – the greater the risk of relapse within four months.
Of even more relevance, shame can affect HOW MUCH alcohol a person consumes. For example, someone demonstrating even a “moderate” amount of shame via their body language will drink an average of 20 drinks more than someone not exhibiting those signs.
“Lindsay had been supporting Ben’s sobriety and going to meetings with him. She had him in meditation and they were doing it together. His recovery was something that was very important to both of them. It was very hard for her to break up with Ben, but she knew he wasn’t getting better and that it was time for her to step aside. She was trying to stay as close to him as possible so that he would stay on the right path, but ultimately it just wasn’t possible. She knew she had to let him hit bottom.”
After separating from his wife, Affleck moved on with Lindsay Shookus, a TV producer for Saturday Night Live. But after more than a year together, she had to break up with him as well. His continued drinking was the driving force behind the split.
Evidently, Affleck had veered off course much earlier than suspected. As reported by MSN, “The notion that Ben was taking steps to be healthier and sober prior to this intervention isn’t all true. Ben hasn’t been sober or been that present for his family and relationship with Lindsay, and now everyone knows the reason why. He was suffering, and his addiction undoubtedly took over.
Alcoholism as an Attachment Disorder
“Ben told (Jennifer) that he was done with Lindsay and she knew he was drinking again. Ben is not good at being alone. She knew he was in a bad place recently and that she was going to have to intervene.”
~ US Weekly
Scientific supports the idea that addiction may be a kind of attachment disorder. Poorly-form bonds during childhood can result in neurological changes that make a person more susceptible to addiction. And as adults, people with attachment disorder may find it hard to form close, supportive intimate relationships. This also increases the likelihood of substance abuse.
Tim Affleck was absent for much of his young son’s life – first, because of his chronic alcoholism, and then because he moved across the country.
Insecure attachment to a parent – a primary caregiver – can cause long-lasting emotional damage. This leaves a person searching for SOMETHING to fill the unfilled biological need for closeness. This search can take many forms, including unhealthy ones – disordered eating, self-harm, sexual addiction, and, as in Ben Affleck’s case, substance abuse.
Unhealthy Relationships Can Trigger Relapse
After the split with Shookus, Affleck started dating Shauna Sexton, a 22-year-old Playboy model. While there is no evidence at all that Sexton herself has a problem with alcohol, there are nonetheless indications that the relationship may not have been a good idea for Affleck.
In an interview, she admits she likes drinking “whiskey all day…bourbon for sure.”
People in recovery have to take extreme care to associate with people who actively support their sobriety. In fact, avoiding triggers is one of the most important strategies during recovery. If Affleck was trying to keep up with his younger girlfriend’s natural exuberance, then he was undermining his own sobriety and setting himself up for even more problems.
Proof Appears Online
“Jen [Garner] is proud of the strides he’s made, but some of his friends were worried he might be taking some steps backward and could be on a slippery slope. Ben wants nothing more than to get sober for his kids, for Jen and also for his career…Sadly, he also seemed to be putting himself in some unhealthy situations for someone who has plans to sustain a sober life. Ben was back to staying out late and hanging with his old crowd…It’s truly worrisome for those who have seen him fall off the wagon in the past. The bottom line is he was going out again and hanging with drinkers, and it seems to have all happened too quickly.”
Shortly before this latest crisis, photos appeared online showing Affleck accepting a liquor delivery at his home in Pacific Palisades. For anyone close to him, this had to be irrefutable proof that Affleck had reached the final stage of a full-blown relapse.
Relapse is generally a process.
In the first stage – emotional relapse – the person may not even be consciously aware that they are starting to stray off the path of sobriety. At this early stage, they are only indulging unhealthy negative emotions, such as:
- Social withdrawal
But this soon gives way to the second stage – mental relapse – actively thinking about and wrestling with the idea of resuming drinking. On the one hand, something has triggered strong cravings again. But on the other hand, they are self-aware enough to realize how disastrous it would be if they picked up the bottle again.
One of the biggest dangers at this stage is a tendency to glamorize the past, thinking that their drinking and all of the resulting problems weren’t “that bad”.
As a result, the person neglects the things that helped them recover in the first place. A person who is emotionally relapsing might:
- Miss 12-Step meetings
- Stop taking their medication
- Avoid communication with their sponsor
- Go to bars
- Think about how THIS TIME they could control it IF they started drinking again
At the third stage – physical relapse – they are drinking again. Significantly, many relapsing alcoholics resume drinking exactly where they left off, no matter how long they have been sober.
“Ben Gave it His All”
“Ben gave it his all, but sadly he wasn’t able to sustain a sober lifestyle. We were all rooting for him, but his addiction got the best of him again. He went from taking the steps he needed in life to heading back to his old ways and, for those of us that love him, it was devastating to see him lose the battle.”
There is no doubt that Ben Affleck wants to be sober. Importantly, he has ample motivation – his children, his relationship with Jennifer, and his career.
But somewhere along the way, Affleck stopped working his sobriety plan – the everyday activities that helped him regain his sobriety and maintain it for so long. Like a lot of people in recovery, he may have grown complacent, thinking that because he had been sober for so long he had “beaten” his alcoholism, and that now, he could drink just like everybody else.
Addiction is a disease that is bigger than any one person. Well wishes and willpower won’t work. The very minute someone abandons their plan of recovery, stops going to 12-Step support meetings, start engaging an old bad habits and behaviors, that is the minute that they put their heart-one sobriety at risk.
And it really doesn’t matter how long the person has been sober. Addiction has been referred to as a “cunning, baffling, and powerful” disease. This means that when someone relaxes their vigilance – even for a moment – their addiction is ready to take over again.
Lifestyle Changes are Necessary During Recovery
“Deep down he knows he can’t live the life he used to. He knows that life was the downfall of his marriage. Jen set boundaries, she did everything to help him. She stuck by him and gave him ultimatums, but he’d eventually fall off the wagon. He would go back to partying and gambling and she would try again. This has been going on for years.”
~ US Weekly
“Triggers” are anything that an alcoholic associates with drinking. Because they can elicit strong cravings for alcohol, triggers can directly lead to resumed drinking, especially when the person is in early recovery or when they are already in the midst of an emotional relapse.
Common triggers might include:
- People—old drinking buddies, non-sober friends, “toxic” people from dysfunctional relationships
- Places—liquor stores, bars, nightclubs, parties, vacations
- Things—empty beer, wine, and liquor bottles, advertisements for alcohol, movies or TV shows with “partying”
- Emotions—loneliness, boredom, anger, sadness, jealousy
One of the most important lessons learned during early recovery is the importance of avoiding these triggers. That may be easier said than done, however, because these triggers may already be part of an alcoholic’s daily life.
But if the most important change of all – regaining sobriety – is to be made, other changes must be made in support. How could this be accomplished?
It takes deliberate, conscious action and planning to avoid relapse triggers. And because recovery must always come first, some of the necessary changes may be drastic:
- Talking to friends about your needs in recovery
- Avoiding “friends” who don’t respect those needs
- Re-evaluating toxic relationships
- Making new friends
- Finding different places to hang out or celebrate
- Being more selective about attending parties
- Completely cleaning out your home to remove empty bottles and forgotten alcohol stashes. DO NOT DO THIS ALONE. Have help from a sober friend.
- Taking up new hobbies and pastimes that don’t involve alcohol
- Having a sober friend or sponsor on standby for when negative emotions arise
- Prioritizing counseling sessions and 12-Step meetings
- Eating right
- Getting plenty of rest
- Meditating daily
- Practicing positive self-affirmation
Jennifer Garner Holds Her Own Intervention
“Jen is the only one ben listens to. She has been down this road with him for years and is the only one that can really get through…He asked Jen for help and wants to get better. Jen fears that certain people in his life will lie and enable him. She’s really the only one that is devoted to helping him stay sober.”
~ US Weekly
What is an intervention and how is it important to successful recovery from AUD?
In simplest terms, an intervention is a structured conversation between the alcoholic and those affected by their problematic drinking. Typically, these are the people closest to the drinker – spouse/partner, parents, children, other family members, close friends, clergy members, and sometimes, even coworkers.
During the intervention, those in attendance each have a chance to speak up and clearly explain how the alcoholic’s drinking has affected their life. Each person who wishes to do so directly addresses the alcoholic.
But each person also gets to reclaim their life. They urge the alcoholic to get professional help, and then they spell out the specific consequences that will occur if the alcoholic refuses. Some examples might be:
- Ending financial support
- Kicking them out of the home
- Breaking off contact
- Denying visitation
- Notifying law enforcement
This isn’t meant as punishment. Setting boundaries is a necessary step in convincing a hesitant alcoholic to go to rehab.
Rather, this allows affected family and friends put some safe distance between their lives and the other person’s illness. It ends the codependent and enabling behaviors that are making their lives just as unmanageable as the alcoholic’s.
It also positively changes the relationship dynamic.
Obviously, the biggest goal of intervention is to convince or compel the alcoholic to seek treatment. But if an alcoholic never has to face the consequences of their compulsive behaviors, they have zero motivation to change.
Relying on a Strong Support System
“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.”
~ Ben Affleck, (2017)
Despite his struggles with alcohol, in some ways, Ben Affleck is a very lucky man. He has a very strong personal support system that seems committed to standing by him.
First off, there is his estranged wife, Jennifer. Even though they have been separated for three years, she remains the biggest positive influence in his life. Not only did she stage the intervention and drive him to treatment facility, she has reportedly been participating in “intense” family therapy sessions since his reentry.
One source says, ““Jen has no intentions of working anything out with him, but she does want him to stay sober so that he can be a father to their kids.”
He also has the support of his three children – 12-year-old Violet, 9-year-old Seraphina, and 6-year-old Samuel. They have also attended family therapy at the facility. The source goes on to say, “The girls are well aware of what is going on with their dad and they also understand what alcoholism is.”
For Ben, that must be distressingly familiar, since he attended Al-Anon sessions as a child because of his father’s drinking.
Finally, Ben has the support of his younger brother, Casey, who “has been there every day and stays for hours and hours each time.” This support is particularly important, because as children of an alcoholic, the two brothers share a unique perspective about excessive drinking and the damage it can cause.
The Road Ahead for Ben Affleck
“Ben’s real problem is that he repeatedly gets it together for the sake of everyone else and now it’s time for Ben to do it for himself. Ben has so much love and support and he is so strong. We have faith he can turn things around and live a healthy life.”
~ Entertainment Tonight
There is no cure for AUD, but as with other chronic illnesses, it can be successfully managed. Affleck’s individual treatment plan will undoubtedly include some combination of various evidence-based therapies:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)– Offered as one-on-one counseling or peer group therapy
- Identifying drinking triggers
- Managing stress
- Healthy thought processing
- Coping skills
- Relapse prevention and response
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy
- Identifying negatives of drinking
- Recovery planning
- Confidence building
- Sober living skills
- Family and Couples Therapy
- Education about AUD
- Communication skills
- Conflict resolution
- Codependency and enabling
- Parenting skills
- Family response to relapse
- Acamprosate (Campral)
- Disulfiram (Antabuse)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Naltrexone (ReVia, Vivitrol)
- Ondansetron (Zofran)
- Topiramate (Topamax)
Even though a combination of counseling and approved medications is considered to be the “gold standard” of addiction treatment, medication-assistance is not offered by every rehab program.
What Can We Learn from Ben Affleck’s Struggles with Alcoholism?
“And it doesn’t matter if you get knocked down in life. All that matters is that you gotta get back up.”
~ Ben Affleck
Most people unfamiliar with addictive disorders can’t understand why someone living such a charmed life “needs” to drink to deal with life. But that is just it –AUD is a disease that doesn’t respect the boundaries of success, income, age, education, or social status.
The first takeaway is this: Alcoholism – in fact, ANY substance use problem – can affect ANYONE.
The second lesson to keep in mind is relapse happens. Once a person has developed an addiction, they will be at increased vulnerability for the rest of their life. Because alcoholism is such a seductive disease, it is far too to slip back into bad habits that are contrary to recovery.
Finally, despite relapsing again, Ben Affleck has returned to residential rehab yet again. And this is the most important takeaway from his situation – NEVER give up on your recovery. Even though it might take multiple efforts, it IS possible to regain your sobriety, stability, serenity, self-respect, and sanity.
In this regard, Ben Affleck setting an inspirational example to others who are battling their own addictive demons right now. We wish him good luck and Godspeed.