Iron Man Robert Downey Jr.

07/07/14 7:34 PM

A parent who gets it and a hero in real life

It’s hardly surprising anymore when the children of celebrities and the wealthy end up in trouble with drugs and alcohol. No one bats an eye when seeing celeb scions cruise through their private high schools while spending nights barhopping and partying with seemingly few restraints. People – their peers and elders alike – cater to their every whim, in the hopes that proximity to money and fame will rub off.

A matter of time

For those of us growing up in families of means and prominence with a history of addiction, it’s often just a matter of time before we, too, go over the edge into substance dependence. Once there, our resources and connections allow us to avoid the consequences of our binging and being high on the town. Yet it is exactly these consequences that help us break through the delusion that our using is “normal.”

Go to great lengths

In our work with families, we see parents go to great lengths to protect their children’s academic and police records from indications of substance use.


  • They offer lip service to counselor recommendations.
  • High-priced attorneys work the legal system.
  • Well-timed donations smooth over any school policy violations.

This teaches the child that their parents will bail them out of any trouble, so party on.

The end result is often a son or daughter in their mid-twenties, dependent on family money, with limited skills and a not-so-well-hidden persistent booze or drug problem. Perhaps there is also a failed effort at moderation drinking or treatment. And now the substance use disorder has gone from mild to moderate, or even severe, and the parents have a potential chronic user on their hands. Not only has their child wasted an education and all the money that went into it, but they also face more multiple thousands in future treatment costs.

A hero in real life

Into this scenario walks Iron Man actor and our hero in real life: Robert Downey, Jr., who was recently named in the top 10 of Forbes’ Celebrity 100 after battling addiction for most of the ’90s. When his 20-year-old son, Indio, was arrested for cocaine possession, Downey, Jr. said:

“We’re grateful to the Sheriff’s Department of their intervention and believe Indio can be another recovery success story instead of a cautionary tale … Unfortunately there’s a genetic component to addiction, and Indio has likely inherited it.”

Downey, Jr. did everything right:

  • No excuses.
  • No claiming the coke belonged to someone else in the car.
  • No saying it was an isolated incident.
  • No going to a Malibu spa resort (a.k.a. treatment).

Indio’s dad came forward and said what I wish so many dads would say: that addiction is in the family and it’s a problem we have to deal with now.

The arrest becomes the opportunity for engaging Indio in a discussion about his use and getting help, as well as therapeutic leverage, to encourage compliance with treatment recommendations.

Preserving their image

Unfortunately, most dads are too committed to preserving their social standing and false image of their child or too busy to deal with family conflict. Instead of using the arrest as a focal point for assessing the extent of use and pressure for treatment, the opportunity is lost.

They just want it all to go away, but it usually does not.

(And this is often the start of a family war, because Mom wants to do more and Dad is adamantly against her ideas – or vice versa.) 

Write our own endings

“Robert Downey, Jr.’s son may be following his father’s dark path.” – That’s what the New York Daily News said.

But no, he is not. It’s a different path – his family has said so.

The general public envies and emulates the high-end life style of the rich and famous without also acknowledging that it is precisely these privileges that put this population at very high risk for addiction. When the inevitable happens, a social media feeding frenzy ensues, accompanied by moralistic banter.

For affluent young adults from prominent families, power and access to money offers intensified life experiences from a very early age. Going down that path can easily trigger the gene of addiction, as in Indio Downey’s case.

That is our reality that we own and recognize as a duality: the benefits and obstacles of being born into addicted family systems with money. 

But it’s our story – not the media’s – and we can write our own endings. 

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