David Sack, M.D.: Debunking The Myth of Forever 27 Club

Aug 04, 2011, 16:00 ET from David Sack, M.D.

MALIBU, Calif., Aug. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- When Amy Winehouse died last month, pop culture historians couldn't help but notice that she was 27 years old, thus joining a long line of celebrity musicians who have died at that age, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain. Call it "The Curse of 27" or the "27 Club."

Is "Club 27" just urban legend? In fact, statistically, there is a spike of well-known musicians who die at that age. So, then, what's really going on here?

According to David Sack, M.D., addiction specialist and CEO of Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu and Los Angeles, being 27 and a celebrity doesn't necessarily mean that you're on a one-way course to personal destruction. Rather, the 27th year of one's life tends to be a passage between unbridled youth and the sobering reality of adulthood. People with a substance abuse problem tend to have a harder time breaking through to the other side, relatively intact.

"It is not so much the age as it is that people with drug or alcohol problems in their youth tend to get worse as they get older. This transition often occurs between adolescence and age 30," says Dr. Sack.

In fact, the younger you start using drugs or alcohol, the more likely you will grow up to be an addict, (40 percent for those who start at 13 or 10 percent for those who start at 17). By the time you're 27, you might have a decade or more of heavy drug and alcohol use, all waiting for that tipping point when one more high becomes an overdose. Both blues-rock legend Janis Joplin and Winehouse, who was inspired musically by Joplin, reportedly began their substance abuse while teens.

"Creative pressures, performance anxiety, a history of low self esteem and traumatic childhoods probably have more to do with their substance abuse than do fears of growing up," says Dr. Sack. "Part of the attraction of achieving celebrity, is the notion that you will not be held to societal norms, and that the rules won't apply to you." 

Of course, not every celebrity artist addicted at 27 dies. Actor-singer-comedian Russell Brand got sober (from alcohol and heroin) when he turned 27 and went on to new heights of professional and personal success. (He married singer Katy Perry last year.) Brand was a close friend of Winehouse's and delivered a touching, widely reported, heartfelt tribute on her untimely death upon hearing "the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it's too late, she's gone."

Says Dr. Sack, "When people reach an impasse in their lives, they are more likely to look outside themselves to find help and meaning.  For some it takes a serious medical illness, prison, or a tragic accident to get their attention, while for others it comes more quietly with the loss of friends, partners or opportunities because of their drug use." 

SOURCE David Sack, M.D.