The pathetic image of TV’s Nicole Polizzi, better known as Snooki, crawling across a Jersey Shore beach with her bottom in the air, wearing a T-shirt that says “slut” in capital letters and getting arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, is a reminder of the nexus between alcohol abuse and trouble with the law.
So was the brief incarceration of actress and serial substance abuser Lindsay Lohan, finally jailed last month for failing to comply with a judge’s order stemming from her arrests for DWI and drug possession three years ago.
Both of these young women are going down a dangerous road in full view of the public, which seems to compelled to watch them destroy their careers and themselves the way people look at car accidents. Among their chief enablers are media outlets like the New York Post, which put Polizzi’s arrest on the front page. But these latest incidents weren’t the first brushes with the law for either of them.
Polizzi was charged in 2004 with serving alcohol to minors at a party she hosted after one of the underage guests was killed in a drunk driving crash. The case was sealed because she was a minor at the time.
Lohan drove into a tree in 2007 and was found to have cocaine in her purse. Three months later she was caught with coke again. She’s been in and out of rehab since.
The list of female celebrities eventually killed by alcohol and other drugs, directly or indirectly, goes back a very long way and keeps growing: Brittany Murphy, Anna Nicole Smith, Janis Joplin, Marilyn Monroe, Veronica Lake and Billie Holiday are just a few of the big names across the decades. Of course men do the same, but alcohol abuse in particular takes a toll on women more quickly than on men, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Substance use among celebrities is nothing new. But in recent years the public spectacle and even glorification of their self-destruction has increased. It used to be that getting arrested or having a sex tape made public would be embarrassing. Now it’s a gateway to a career. Heiress Paris Hilton’s “career” as an actress took off after her sex tape came out, and it was the same for Kim Kardashian, daughter of a respected lawyer. Unlike Hilton, Kardashian doesn’t even pretend to sing or act, but she’s reportedly making about $7 million a year, based on nothing but notoriety.
These are the infamous cases, but there are thousands of otherwise ordinary young women who get drunk or high and suffer all kinds of repercussions: losing job opportunities due to photos they posted on Facebook; letting themselves be filmed topless for videos like Girls Gone Wild; getting into hard-core pornography; earning criminal records; falling onto subway tracks; going home with the wrong guy from some bar, never to be seen again.
Nearly one in five girls go on a drinking binge at least once a month, according to the NIH — when they’re in ninth grade. It gets worse as they go through high school and college. And the three leading causes of death for 15 to 24-year-olds remain car crashes, homicides and suicides, with alcohol and other drugs often a factor.
There’s no magic solution to these problems, but the closest thing by far is good parenting, all the more necessary now to combat the omnipresent images and storylines promoted by reckless media and entertainment companies. The Lohans and Polizzis of the world should be pitied, not glorified, but the media aren’t going to change their ways as long as exploiting them generates viewers and profit. Only strong families that teach good morals and personal responsibility can help keep more girls from going down the same dangerous road. Make yours one of them.