What We Learn From Scott Stapp's Addiction Journey


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Scott Stapp is no stranger to drug addiction. The former lead singer of early 2000s rock band Creed came forward on May 2015 to formally address his widely-publicized manic episodes last fall and open up about his problems with drugs and bipolar disorder.

It’s been a very public and uphill battle for Stapp, who helped popularize multiplatinum hits like “With Arms Wide Open” and “Higher.” From posting online videos declaring he has become “penniless” in 2014 to placing a number of maniacal phone calls to 911 and the White House, his behavior caused a multitude of negative consequences in his personal life. Months after his meltdown, however, Stapp finally opened up about the underlying condition that no one knew about, including himself: bipolar disorder.

The former Creed lead singer’s widely publicized addiction story is a prime example of a very common problem in diagnosing addiction disorder.

Battling the Illness

Bipolar disorder, historically called “manic depression,” is characterized by extreme stages: high and low. During a high or “manic” stage, people feel little desire for sleep or food and become hyper-energetic and extremely talkative. Many bipolar individuals tend to enjoy this stage and may take amphetamine drugs to keep it going. After a powerful manic episode, however, individuals will “crash” into a frighteningly depressed state that can be dangerous to both themselves and those around them. This is often the most terrifying time of the condition — especially for those who do not understand that this downhill slide is part of the cycle — and when suicide is usually attempted.

In Stapp’s case, despite having seemingly defeated his substance addiction, his co-occurring bipolar disorder was left untreated. He was living with a psychological condition he didn’t know he had and may have felt unable to cope without drugs, leading him to lie to his doctor in order to get a prescription for Adderall (an easy thing for him to do since he had a previous diagnosis of ADHD).

Taking drugs, however, increases both the mania and the effects of the depression and can create severe side effects. In fact, Adderall can cause audio-visual hallucinations, similar to those experienced by schizophrenic individuals. This is a drug-induced psychosis, which may or may not linger after the effects of the drug wears off, and the reason why when individuals such as Stapp continue to abuse high doses of such medications, they may stay in a psychotic state for a long period of time. Amphetamine abuse is also known to cause brain damage and lingering psychotic episodes.

What to Do

It is easy for doctors to miss a co-occurring disorder. In Stapp’s case, he was initially treated for his substance abuse issues that masked his underlying mental health disorders. His previous ADHD diagnosis also shared very similar symptoms with bipolar disorder, making it easy to misdiagnose.

With that said, patients who are self-medicating should always be honest with their doctors. During a serious hypomanic episode while under the influence, it is very easy for a doctor to misdiagnose a patient with schizophrenia and provide incorrect treatment. The patient must always disclose the amount and frequency of his or her drug use as these are key factors for doctors to consider when coming up with diagnosis.

Stapp’s story is just one of many addiction cases entwined with co-occurring disorders, particularly mental health illnesses. However, when celebrities like himself talk about their disorder, they pave the way for further research and acceptance of mental health illnesses. This, in turn, allows many others to safely talk about serious, increasingly common diseases that plague our population and help move forward in removing social stigma.

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