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  • Profiles Of Addiction Recovery | Robert Downey Jr.

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    Profiles Of Addiction Recovery | Robert Downey Jr.

    While anyone can develop a drug or alcohol use disorder under the wrong circumstances, experts have identified certain risk factors that dramatically increase this likelihood. And, with the career of famed Hollywood actor Robert Downey Jr. in mind, two of these stand out:

    • a family history of substance abuse/substance use disorder
    • early use of drugs or alcohol

    Fortunately, despite a lifelong struggle with addiction and some dark moments, Downey has now been sober for over twenty years.

    Growing Up With Substance Abuse

    Robert Downey Jr. was born in New York City in 1965 as the namesake of his father, filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., and actress Elsie Downey.

    Downey’s father, who had a long history with substance use and drug addiction, introduced his son to both acting and drug use from a very young age, reportedly allowing Downey to sample cannabis at only age six. 

    As Downey Sr. would later recognize, “It was a terrible, stupid mistake.”

    The two would bond over drug use in the years that followed, with Downey confessing in 1988, “It was like him trying to express his love for me in the only way he knew.”

    Downey would use drugs and alcohol heavily throughout early adulthood, especially after his parent’s divorce at age 13, dropping out of school at 16 to pursue acting, and being cut off by his father after turning 18.

    Early Career

    Downey moved to Hollywood in the early 1980s and landed a role in the film Weird Science that would earn him a loose membership with the Brat Pack, with whom he partied often. 

    In 1985, Downey also joined the cast of Saturday Night Live for a year before taking up the leading role in The Pick-Up Artist with fellow Brat Packer Molly Ringwald.

    In 1987, Downey portrayed a wealthy, drug-addicted Julian Wells in the film Less Than Zero, delivering a performance that Downey would later go on to describe as being like “a ghost of Christmas future” for the character’s similarities to himself. 

    This was followed by a leading role in the biopic Chaplin in 1992 that earned him an Oscar nomination, and numerous other leads in films through the early 1990s.

    Spiraling Alcohol & Drug Abuse

    Despite his on-screen success, Downey’s private life was marred by recurrent and intensifying periods of alcohol and drug use that quickly escalated to include cocaine and heroin

    These benders, reserved mostly for periods between filming, would go on for days at a time, and eventually led to repeated arrests in 1995 and 1996.


    One of these involved Downey being stopped by police for speeding, at which point officers determined that Downey was intoxicated and in possession of heroin and cocaine with an unloaded .356 magnum resting in the passenger seat beside him. 

    Another saw the star arrested after passing out in the bedroom of his neighbor’s 11-year-old son.

    Despite cycling in and out of rehab facilities in the next few years, Downey’s situation would not improve. 

    Prison, Court-Mandated Treatment, & Final Rock-Bottom

    In 1999, Downey was sentenced to 36 months in state prison, ultimately serving 12 months before parole. Within a year, however, he was arrested for possession twice more before being sentenced to a court-ordered six-month stay in an addiction treatment center.

    For Downey, this period was at last his rock bottom, as he lost his freedom as well as his wife and son (Deborah Falconer would leave him in 2001 and take their son Indio), his career (with his firing from Ally McBeal), and his financial security due to imminent bankruptcy.

    Recovery & Resurgence

    By 2002, Downey was at last making a comeback following his longest stint in rehab to date and jumped back into acting with roles, including the box office hit Zodiac

    But only after striking up a relationship with producer Susan Levin while working on the 2003 film Gothika, and having clear and frank talks about substance abuse and her expectations, that Downey really took his need for change to heart.

    Recovery Efforts

    Downy abstained from substance abuse in the years that followed, building a recovery that prominently featured Eastern martial arts, yoga, and support from a 12-step program, as well as a close and honest relationship with his wife Susan. 

    The two would marry in 2005, only a few years before Downey was revealed in his defining role in 2008, anchoring Marvel/Disney’s superhero lineup, The Avengers, as Tony Stark/Iron Man.

    But after rising from the depths of drug and alcohol abuse to become one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors, Downey would repeatedly downplay this triumph. 

    Recovery Is Possible

    Recovery isn’t a journey anyone should face alone. If you or someone you love struggles with addiction, recovery is possible with professional support. 

    Our inpatient and outpatient treatment programs offer leading, evidence-based services to help you or your loved one stay drug-free and build an enduring recovery. To learn more, please contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
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