What A Star Is Born Gets Right About Addiction & Relationships

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.
Warning: This story contains spoilers for the movie, A Star Is Born.
If you've seen the trailer for the new movie A Star Is Born, you know that addiction and substance abuse are key to the plot. The film revolves around a relationship between a famous musician named Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper), and an aspiring singer named Ally (played by Lady Gaga). Maine is addicted to alcohol and medication that he was prescribed to treat tinnitus.
Throughout the film, Maine's substance abuse has clear impact on his life and career: He blacks out in hotel rooms, gets into fights with his manager, and derails Ally's Grammys acceptance speech by stumbling onstage. Despite all this turmoil, Ally remains a dedicated, sympathetic, and supportive partner for Maine. She often reminds him that addiction is a disease, and tells him it's not his fault. When Maine eventually goes to rehab, she visits and consoles him. A Star Is Born might be just one glamorized depiction of addiction, but the movie does show some of the complexities of being in a relationship where substance abuse is involved.
We know that addiction has an impact on relationships, and our relationships have an impact on substance abuse, explains Molly Bobek, LCSW, director of clinical implementation at the Center on Addiction. For example, a person with addiction might feel guilt or shame for any pain their behavior has caused loved ones. But broadly speaking, "people get better in the context of relationships," because people suffering from addiction often have a tendency to isolate, she says. Whether it's a relationship with a therapist or treatment worker, or a romantic one like in the movie, relationships and social networks tend to be beneficial for people in recovery, she says.
That doesn't mean that maintaining relationships in the context of addiction is always easy. Often in situations like Ally's, when a person is supporting a partner with addiction, there's an assumption that the partner is somehow enabling their behavior, Bobek says. "Addiction has a lot of stigma, and partners are stigmatized too," says Robert Weiss, LCSW, relationship expert and author of Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependence. But, in truth, addiction is a complex, chronic, biological, psychological, and social disease — and everyone is different. At the end of the day, "wanting to be supportive doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to have limits and boundaries," Bobek says. So long as both people in a relationship have a support system, and are seeking out mental health treatment, it's entirely possible to have a connection without enabling a partner, Weiss says.
Ultimately, these are fictional characters, but the message is relevant in real life. Earlier this month at a press conference for the film, Lady Gaga shared advice that holds true for her character Ally: "I think what would be wonderful is that we intervene early in life when we see people struggling," she said. "I think fame is very unnatural. I think it’s important we guide artists and take care of them on a physical level as they rise."
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

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