Justin Bieber's Arrest: Addicted to Wealth and Power?

An addiction expert examines what could be fueling Bieber’s troublesome behavior.

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 23: In this handout photo provided by Miami-Dade Police Department, pop star Justin Bieber poses for a booking photo at the Miami-Dade Police Department on January 23, 2014 in Miami, Florida. Justin Bieber was charged with drunken driving, resisting arrest and driving without a valid license after Miami Beach Police found the pop star street racing on Thursday morning.

Justin Bieber was charged with drunken driving, resisting arrest and driving without a valid license after Miami Beach Police found the pop star street racing on Jan. 23.


What's "Sudden Wealth Syndrome," and how might it be a factor here?

People who come into wealth suddenly – lottery winners, celebrities – have some pretty profound adjustment problems in terms of incorporating that identity into their psyche. There's typically an increase in anxiety, sleep disorders, irritable moods and guilt over the amount of money they have. And this fuels a lot of self-destructive behavior.

Research suggests that affluent youth suffer from higher rates of anxiety and depression than their less-affluent peers. Why's that?

It's really a function of access and availability – because the kids have more money, they're able to buy drugs. And then, in terms of anxiety and depression, it's about performance. If we look at young celebrities who have enormous success early in life, there's this terror that it's unsustainable. And that anxiety forces them to self-destruct, which in a way kind of normalizes them. In this strange, bad way, it makes them human, because the world tends to beatify them and make them into gods. And a lot of times, they don't feel like gods. They just feel like a sad, lonely, 19-year-old kid.

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What kind of treatment is standard in cases like this?

When you have a substance abuse disorder where somebody's repeatedly engaging in self-destructive behavior, and doesn't seem to be able to stop it, then residential rehab is indicated. The person needs to be placed in a safe, contained space, where they can be part of a community of people who are healing and stabilize themselves. A 90-day stay is really optimal.

During that time, they're getting stability, and they're removing all sharp objects out of their way – meaning they're no longer connected to their drug sources. Then we really begin to look at the underlying character pathologies that fuel the addiction. That's a fancy way of saying we look at the personality issues that are not serving someone well in life, like narcissism. We also take a look at underlying emotional disorders, and give them tools to effectively manage those.

Do you think Bieber can recover from this?

Someone as young as he is certainly has a lot of time to change. He's a very young man – not even a man, really. He has profound influence on millions and millions of people, and he's been an exceptional role model. I would really want him to have that in the forefront of his mind as he moves forward with his life – he has an amazing opportunity to make positive changes. And I hope he takes care of himself, so he can take care of all the people who he entertains and makes happy and gives joy to every day.

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How can parents discuss the arrest with their kids, who consider Bieber a role model?

It's a good opportunity to have a teachable moment with a child and explain the nature of celebrity – and say that celebrities, just like you, Johnny or Suzy, are people who have more than one side to them. And even though he may seem like he has everything in the world, he's probably struggling with a lot of emotional pain and sadness. He probably gets really sad, he probably gets really lonely, he probably gets afraid. And one of the things we need to make sure we're doing, and we hope he can, is figure out healthy ways to manage those uncomfortable emotions. They don't last forever, and you can overcome them.