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Mental Health

Addiction in A Star is Born

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Edited by: Aneesha Chandra

Popular media has a long history of portraying mental health related topics in a simplistic way. Often, it misrepresents mental illnesses and perpetuates negative stereotypes. It fails to capture the nuanced manifestations and implications of several conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. However, the film industry has been paying more attention to the complexities of mental illnesses of late. A Star is Born (2018) is authentic in its depiction of alcoholism. The movie follows the lives of two musicians named Ally and Jackson. Jackson helps Ally pursue her music dreams while dealing with his own demons. 

The movie shows how the interaction between an unpleasant childhood and a demanding career of stardom affect Jackson’s mental health. It manifests in small mistakes which slowly pile on top of each other only to culminate in something tragic in the end. Jackson is introduced as an alcoholic about to go off the track at any point. He chugs a lot of gin and complements it with a few pills right before his performance. We see him drink more gin after his performance. He is desperate for more alcohol and enters a drag bar to indulge his craving. It becomes clear that he is a miserable alcoholic unable to get out of the endless loop of drinking. He feels temporary relief when Ally enters his life but continues to consume alcohol and drugs on a daily basis during their relationship. His behaviour pushes us to reflect on a tough question: is alcoholism a disease or a lifestyle choice? 

What makes the film different from other portrayals is that it challenges the either-or paradigm of this question. When we are told about Jackson’s messy childhood, we see alcoholism in a different light. Jackson tells his rehabilitation instructor that he tried to take his own life at the young age of thirteen. He felt lonely living with his alcoholic father on an isolated ranch in Arizona. His father was perpetually drunk and unable to provide Jackson with a nurturing environment. He treated his son as his drinking partner, abandoning his role of parenting. This explains Jackson’s demons. Imagine a young boy who starts drinking, watches his father waste away his life, and feels neglected by his brother who is out there touring. He is introduced to the world of fame at eighteen, an environment which reinforces his addictive tendencies. In this way, Jackson was vulnerable to begin with. 

It is not as though Jackson does not try to make things better for himself. He patches things up with his brother. He confesses that Bobby was the reason he began singing. But he gets pulled back into his old ways very quickly. We see that recovery is not a linear process. It is slow and messy, not under complete control of the person at times. We may argue that Jackson chooses to continue drinking even after he is made aware of the negative consequences. But can he really stop? Drinking alcohol is the only way of life he has ever known. The film does not conclude that substance abuse is a lifestyle choice. Neither does it say that alcoholism is a disease which is untreatable. It suggests that substance abuse is an interplay of both. 

An alarming sign which foreshadowed the ending was when Jackson speaks about his time in rehabilitation. He says that he went to rehab for Ally, not for himself. Even though every aspect of recovery is not always in the hands of the person going through it, the desire to want to become better has to come from within. Otherwise, rehab is meaningless. It is a temporary fix.    

Another aspect that the film gets right is the repercussions of substance abuse for family members and friends. Ally’s career takes a backseat at many instances. Worried about her husband’s health, she cut short her tour at the peak of her career. When Ally is on stage collecting her first Grammy for Best New Artist, Jackson wets himself on stage. A memory meant to be cherished is tarnished. Thus, addiction is not just taxing on the addict, but the people closest to them too. 

Miloni Shah

Ashoka '23

Miloni Shah is currently studying at Ashoka University, Haryana and wishes to pursue Psychology and Sociology and Anthropology. Dance is her one true love. She is passionate about theatre, cooking, board games, music, and writing. She loves experimenting and adventure, and created a YouTube channel discover new things in life.
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