Trapped in a Disease: The New Cuckoo’s Nest

Stanton Peele By: Dr. Stanton Peele

Posted on June 25th, 2021 - Last updated: October 2nd, 2023
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Britney Spears is the map of the future

Britney Spears' Boyfriend Calls Singer's Dad a 'Total Dick' - Rolling Stone

The documentary Framing Britney Spears revealed the story of how a youthful female singing-entertainment star (now 39) has been under a guardianship arrangement since 2008. The basis for this arrangement was her mental health and substance use problems in her early twenties.

We should first note that this scenario — early substance and emotional problems for a young woman in the spotlight — is not rare. Perhaps the most notable such case was Drew Barrymore, “little girl lost,” who faced a host of emotional and drug difficulties as a young teen.

Flash forward. Barrymore (now 46 and the mother of two daughters) is a multimedia powerhouse, a Hollywood heavyweight with a daily talk show where she and other prominent entertainment figures dispense wisdom and advice to a massive audience.

My, how Barrymore’s image has changed! However, she is forced to confess, she isn’t “sober” (12-step speak for totally abstinent). Drew finds solace and enjoyment in her busy, productive, responsible life as a parent and media force by imbibing wine.


This emergence into responsible maturity anchored in work and family has also occurred for another entertainment “wild child” who was once much in the news, Lindsay Lohan.

But the most remarkable case of a young woman entertainer who was caught in the headlights of early fame and notoriety but who came out the other side is Demi Lovato. Lovato — whose life had been directed since she was a teen by professional and personal guardians, and who almost died in the process — has rejected her disease label and 12-step sobriety in favor of what she calls becoming California Sober:

Cashin’ in my chips for forgiveness

Trading in my shame for perspective

Tired of being known for my sickness

It didn’t work, I’m tryin’ something different.

Lovato’s story involves an existential act of liberation, freeing herself from both the manacles of the control of others, and the label of “addict” (Lovato now drinks and smokes cannabis).

The Therapeutic Enslavement of Britney Spears

Spears, too, is caught in the binds of a disease and dictated treatment for it. As she described in her recent court appearance:

Spears said she was forced to take medications that she did not want.

She said she has had no control over her healthcare, alleging that doctors changed her medication to lithium, a mood stabilizer, after she had told management she wanted to discontinue her Las Vegas residency. “I felt drunk. I couldn’t even have a conversation with my mom or dad about anything,” she said of the experience, adding that her family did not come to her aid. “My whole family did nothing,” she said. She said she wants to do therapy at home, but instead has been forced to go to a location where the paparazzi stalks her.

Spears is caught in therapeutic hell! Based on her behavior and state of mind 13 years ago, every aspect of her life is being controlled (including, she revealed, being forced to use contraceptives).

She has struggled against her enslavement for years, but has been unable to break free.

What are the grounds for this enslavement? The very diagnosis and prescribed treatments from which Lohan and Barrymore broke free, and that Lovato has officially rejected with the meme California Sober.

And it is one that more and more people are roped into as we find drug addiction all around us, and more and more people are forced to take medications.

Only the treatment of the “disease” Lovato, Barrymore and Lohan discarded when they grew up, but from which Spears cannot escape, now includes brain surgery.

Have we circled back to an updated version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Do, please, keep in mind that Egas Moniz received the 1949 Nobel Prize for his startling advance in medicine — the lobotomy. That procedure, too, stemmed from the idea that mental disorders, addiction et al. are due to brain malfunctioning that we can “fix” with the right tool kit.

It’s not. It’s a life process.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.


  • Richard Pop says:

    The whole point in treatment is to make the patient better , I am 16 years sober and had a brief breakdown episode due to stress – the best thing I read was to get well you have to get away from coerced medical treatment and out of the mental health system , that I did and have been better ever since.

    The mental health system is a shambles , free Britney from this madness and maybe lock the Father up he is the one that has severe mental health issues, his daughter had a simple breakdown that with the correct treatment can cured.

  • Dani says:

    Wonderful! Thank you for writing about this in an accessible way, for helping to provide a language explaining what is wrong with the system.

    • Zach Rhoads says:

      Thank YOU Dani, I hope you will continue to leave reflections on this content so that we can continue to do what’s valuable to you and others.

  • Sober mom says:

    I got sober in 2013 because I was afraid I was going to fall in the same addiction pattern my family has. I had to be a mom and pay full attention. So how can I tell my kids they have to wear a helmet when they ride there bikes or go skiing? I do the same. No matter how goofy I look, we all wear them. I did same approach with drinking and smoking. I needed to show my kids that life is hard but we can find ways to get threw. It has not been easy and I dont have near the friends but I sober and doing the best I can to be me. My 14 year old is a cutter and says he hates life and doesn’t get why he can’t be normal. Id love to keep him locked up and hidden from all the dangers that loom in every corner and with kids on social media, they can get anything delivered to secret spots around our neighborhood. It sucks! Its scary and everyday I worry my boy will just take off. That said, kids need to fall and learn to get back up. They need a little freedom to prove they can do the next best thing/choice. Its how we learn to handle life. If they mess up, then we start over. Keeping Brittany locked up basically is only making her life worse. The whole family suffers. Yes, she has made bad choices but let’s look at the people who pushed to far, to hard, for too long. Her parents and anyone else who made money off of her. Its incredibly sad. My heart breaks for her! As a mom myself, I havent been perfact but I dont know anyone who is. No matter how much people pretend they have it all together, its not always true. We need to love our people and give them grace. Im adhd, and im impulsive. I work very hard to keep my life in check. I dont have the money for fancy treatments because if I did I would find a camp to go to with my kids to learn more tools on how to live life on lifes terms. Addiction from anything isnt just an issue for the addict or person who is in pain, its a whole family issue. I wish I could open up a sobriety healing camp for all! Trust gets broken as do hearts. A camp could open up a door for healing. An understanding. That they aren’t alone. More and more families struggle and to get a whole group to rebuild without braking the bank is hard or impossible to find. I wish Brittany well and that her dad/family take a look in the mirror as they are a big player in her pain.

    • Zach Rhoads says:

      Thank you so much for the feedback and for your story– especially for your compassion, as per this segment of what you said, “Yes, she has made bad choices but let’s look at the people who pushed to far, to hard, for too long. Her parents and anyone else who made money off of her. Its incredibly sad.”

      That’s pure good nature and common sense– a kind of dignity that makes people as good as you (and me, I hope) wonder, “why don’t people just treat their kids with a shred of humanity?” Our hearts go out to Britney as well, and to all people who are enslaved to a story about their own lives that suggests that there is no personal agency worth exercising.

      All the best to you on your journey!

  • Laurie Smith says:

    Thank you for this. I can relate as a Survivor of a suicide attempt, retraumatization and coerced treatment in a Physician Health Program. Absolutely dehumanizing.

  • Mary Kay V says:

    Spot on!!! Yes, this is revised Cuckoos nest. Really disturbing. Physical and emotional abuse

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