Although Robert Downey's friends uniformly expressed shock and chagrin over his relapse, where were they when he needed a good Thanksgiving dinner? Well, back to the Betty Ford Center for treatment.

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Daily Record (Morris County, NJ), Friday, Dec 10, 2000

Downey's Relapse No Surprise

Stanton Peele
Morristown, NJ


Robert Downey Jr. relapsed, arguably, when he elected to spend Thanksgiving by himself in glitzy Palm Springs, Calif.

Wandering alone in a resort city for the rich and restless on a prototypical family holiday is a poor recipe for staying away from drugs. And, sure enough, Palm Springs police found about a quarter pound of cocaine and methamphetamine when they searched the actor's hotel room after receiving a phone tip from an anonymous caller.

Addictive relapses are most likely to occur when three conditions are present: negative feelings like boredom, depression, and loneliness; availability of drugs and the time and opportunity to use them; and social settings which, if they don't encourage drug use, are at best indifferent to such use.

Any number of Hollywood and show business notables have expressed their regrets over Downey's return to drugs. They offer condolences and say how much they like the distressed actor. But if only one such admirer could have invited Downey home for Thanksgiving during his hiatus from his recurring guest role on "Ally McBeal," it is unlikely that Downey would be facing drug possession charges.

Instead of spending time in a family setting, Downey checked into Merv Griffin's Resort Hotel & Givenchy Spa in Palm Springs, attending tawdry night clubs with Palm Springs hangers on. One such individual told "Access Hollywood" that Downey seemed morose over his separation from 7-year-old son, who was with his former wife.

Downey's uncle, "Saturday Night Live" writer Jim Downey, has claimed that it was the stress of long days before the cameras on "McBeal" that led to his nephew's downfall.

Yet, Downey seemed glad to return to this acting stint after he was bailed out of the Palm Springs jail, and coworkers and friends reported no previous signs that he was abusing drugs while he was working steadily on the FOX TV series.

It is ironic that, in most cases when someone is apprehended for using illicit drugs, the person is removed from work. But employment is a positive prognosticator of who will be able to overcome drugs. It provides a life structure along with social contacts and psychological rewards that counteract the inclination to use drugs.

From this perspective, preventing Darryl Strawberry from playing baseball for the Yankees last season when he tested positive for drugs was perhaps actually likely to lead him to use cocaine again. That is, hanging around with old friends and with little positive to do presented ideal conditions for Strawberry's relapse this fall.

Downey, who at age 35 is a seasoned actor with an Academy Award nomination, must, of course, take responsibility for his own life. But, while we regularly offer addicts stints of treatment, along with threats of prison if they use drugs, we ignore them when they are not institutionalized. Little attention is given to structuring their time and supporting their sobriety.

Thus, they often quickly re-enter situations that prompt relapses.

Where Downey goes from here — a return to prison, a new stint of treatment, more threats and efforts to keep him on a short leash — could miss the point.

Instead, efforts could best be directed towards helping him to plan a sober lifestyle, to maintain associations with people who do not use drugs, to connect with his son and other family members, to engage in work and other positive activities, and to see that he has the capacity to create a drug-free lifestyle.