On Feb. 24, actor Selma Blair dazzled onlookers at the Vanity Fair Oscar party in an ethereal cape and gown, a patent black cane in hand. The event was her first major public appearance since she opened up about her multiple sclerosis diagnosis in October 2018. Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system, resulting in a range of symptoms including pain, vision loss, and issues with mobility. Blair mentioned grappling with symptoms for years before finally being diagnosed with the disease in 2018, according to her Instagram post. Now, in a new interview with Vanity Fair, Blair described how she self-medicated with alcohol to cope with the disease’s detrimental effects.
“After I had my son and he’d go to his dad’s, I started drinking because of the pain, one, of him not being with me, and two, my physical pain was so extreme that I would drink by myself,” Blair told Vanity Fair. “That was also a warning to me. I’ve never been one who handled alcohol like a lady. I was self-medicating.”
Blair’s history with alcohol began when she was seven years old, and she began drinking at such a young age due to her “history of sadness,” she said in the profile. For Blair, developing MS translated to years of pain. She dealt with symptoms like neck pain, trouble walking, and loss of sensation in her limbs, alongside anxiety and depression. “I’ve never known how to self-soothe,” she said. “That’s why people drink. And I won’t do that anymore.”
After re-evaluating the toll her coping habit was taking on her and her family, she decided to give up alcohol "cold turkey," the profile writes. But Blair is not alone in turning to substance use as a means of coping with disability. While reliable statistics on the the rate of substance use among disabled people vary, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Disability estimated in 2006 that of the 74.6 million Americans living with some kind of disability, approximately 4.7 million adults also had a substance use disorder. Some of the risk factors for substance use the report describes include chronic medical problems and pain, as well as social isolation, among others. Another 2016 study found that depression and anxiety was common for people with MS in particular, and alcohol dependence and smoking were associated with the depression and anxiety, putting the population with MS “at risk” for these behaviors.
By speaking frankly about the realities of living with the disease, Blair will hopefully raise awareness on the issue and help new audiences learn that they're not alone with what they may be going through. Her experience highlights the importance of getting help beyond self-medication, regardless of an individual's specific condition.
“There’s no tragedy for me,” said Blair about her story. “I’m happy, and if I can help anyone be more comfortable in their skin, it’s more than I’ve ever done before.”
If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, you can call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).