Jemima Kirke wants you to remember that substance abuse recovery looks different for everyone.
The 31-year-old Girls actress recently appeared on the podcast Recover Girl to discuss her history with alcohol and drug abuse. Though Kirke first entered a rehab program when she was 23, she struggled to fit in and get treatment that met her individual needs. Kirke didn't feel like an addict—rather, she recognized her substance abuse patterns as problematic.
"I didn't relate to the psychic need for the alcohol," Kirke says in the podcast. "I recognized it as a tool, and I know how to use it as a tool. I'm not someone who drinks excessively, but I will drink for a reason sometimes." Kirke describes her substance abuse patterns as "more of a problem" and less of an actual addiction. "I just was a problem drinker and user and I liked to party," she says, adding that she'd often go on "three-day benders."
And experts, like Jolie M. Silva, Ph.D., associate clinical director at New York Behavioral Health, do make a distinction between substance abuse and substance dependence. "You can have problematic drinking and not be addicted," Silva tells SELF. "And you can have problematic drug use and not be addicted."
Silva explains that with addiction, the individual often has a need for the substance and experiences symptoms of withdrawal—things someone with a substance abuse problem might not experience. "The word 'addiction' really means that you need to have it, that you're craving it, and that you're depending on it," Silva says. "[Kirke] is saying she didn't have that…People may use substances as a way to escape from negative internal experiences they're having. But it doesn't necessarily mean you're an addict if you're doing that."
Laurie Sloane, licensed social clinical worker, says many professionals are also moving toward viewing addiction on a continuum. "You may identify yourself as having a substance abuse problem, but not an addiction," Sloane tells SELF. "Each person is unique. Each person has their own history and their own story of how they ended up where they were." In recognizing this—and not getting bogged down in black-and-white terminology—mental health care professionals can help people find solutions that meet their needs. This often means finding community in a rehabilitation program or developing healthy ways to respond to triggers, she says, but it varies from person to person.
After one particularly exhausting all-nighter at age 23, Kirke enrolled in a rehab program in Arizona. "I learned a lot about myself in rehab," she says. "I have a lot of sober friends who never got to go to rehab. It was fun. It was just nice." After that, she went to a center called Lifeskills—which she was ultimately kicked out of. Then, she moved to a facility she declined to name.
Ultimately, therapy helped Kirke get to a healthier place and avoid the benders that characterized her youth. (In the interview, she didn’t specify what form of therapy she underwent.) "I recognize that I use things as an anesthesia," she says. "That can be anything, from shopping to sex…anything is an anesthesia." And Silva says Kirke's explanation makes a lot of sense—one of the common causes for substance abuse is avoidance and the desire for escape.
Kirke's interview is a reminder that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery, and that it's important to find personalized solutions to personal problems. "One of the programs [Kirke] attended obviously wasn't the right model for her," Sloane, who did not work with Kirke, says. "That created a layer of difficulty, which prevented her from getting the help she needed—what good is that? But the therapist she's working with now seems to be better suited to her needs."
One in every 12 adults abuse or depend on alcohol, and it's the third "leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation," according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance abuse problem, you can call the 24-hour National Treatment Referral Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP or visit the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment Web site.
- Subtle Signs You Might Have a Drinking Problem
- This Creepy Fake Instagram Account Teaches a Surprising Lesson About Addiction
- This Is Exactly What Drinking Too Much Does to Your Body
This story originally appeared on Self.
More from Self: