Drug Addiction in the Fashion Industry

The fashion industry is all about glitz, glamour and beauty. We see models walking the catwalks showing designer clothing, as well as advertisements in magazines and catalogues showing us how to put together looks for each season of the year. Who among us hasn’t wondered, at least in passing, what it would be like to spend a day modeling beautiful clothes?

We know, though, that modeling is a highly competitive field that only a very few can enter. Young women, especially, are required to have a certain body type that the vast majority do not possess, or they will not be able to work in the industry, no matter how enthusiastic they may be.

Fashion Model Career Pressure

With the fashion industry being a highly competitive one, both for new models trying to break in and working models trying to make the most of their careers, it’s no wonder some people may be looking to drugs to give them an advantage.

drug addiction in the fashion industry

The average model’s career lasts only five years, and their median salary is $32,929 per year, according to PBS.org. Supermodels like Cindy Crawford are the exception to this rule, and no doubt everyone who enters the industry hopes they could be the “Next Big Thing.”

A working model wants to continue working, and that person will want to do everything they can to keep up with the demands of the job when they are going through a busy time with multiple demands on their schedule. Modeling may seem like a very glamorous way to make a living, but the reality is the work involves long days.

For models who are involved in commercial work, the end of a long day of shooting may be capped off with spending time with the client. The model is expected to return the next day, if the shoot is scheduled for more than one day or if they have a booking for another client, looking fresh and well-rested, no matter how much or little sleep they’ve had.

Some models manage to resist the urge to use chemicals to help them wind down after a day of shooting or to stay energetic through a long day. Others find they get started using something to help them cope with the often crazy schedules they are expected to keep, especially during the busy times of year when they are doing back-to-back shows or bookings.

Models know they may only have a relatively small window to build a career, and they have to make money while it’s being offered. This desire for success and to keep working as long as possible may lead to drug use.

drugs and fashion

Pressure to Have the “Right Look” for Clients

There has traditionally been pressure put on fashion models to look a certain way in order to meet clients’ expectations when they are on photoshoots or so they can fit into clothing for runway and catalogue work. A model may be booked to work on a certain day but be told to lose a few pounds very quickly before the gig starts.

The day of the shoot, the model is expected to put in long hours before the camera, holding certain positions for the photographer or up on the catwalk doing a show. Often, there may not be time to take breaks to have a meal, let alone anything nutritious.

Keep in mind that the model is required to keep their figure within a very specific, and difficult to maintain, size range. If they gain too much weight, the agency will tell them to lose it, or they will not get any more bookings until the weight comes off. Too many warnings about weight, and the model could end up being dropped altogether.

Having Your Appearance Judged Is Difficult

It’s difficult to reconcile messages we may have been given as children that beauty is only skin deep and that what is inside is what counts while working in an industry that hires people based on whether they have the right “look” for a specific campaign. When a model goes out on calls to meet with photographers and marketing people for a campaign, they know they are being evaluated on appearance and whether they can portray what that client is looking for.

It has nothing to do with education, talent or skills — the decision about whether a model gets to work has to do with the vision a client and their marketing team has for a campaign. Either the model fits the mold — or can be made to fit it using cosmetics and lighting — or they can’t.

drug abuse in the fashion industry

A person working in this industry either develops a very thick skin or becomes susceptible to looking to something that will soothe away the emotional bumps and bruises that come with hearing “no” far more often than “yes” when going out for jobs.

Fashion Models and Drug Use

Fashion models have been known to use several types of drugs over the years. The media has published several stories about a number of famous faces who have had issues with drug addiction — some of them have been addicted to more than one substance — while seeming to “have it all.” The most common types of drugs used by fashion models, as well as some famous cases of people in the fashion industry experiencing addiction, are as follows:


injecting cocaine

This white powder can either be snorted through the nose, smoked or dissolved in water and injected into a muscle or a vein. Injecting or smoking cocaine produces a quicker but more intense high than snorting the drug. The effects of snorting it may last between 15 – 30 minutes, while the high derived from smoking it may only last between five and 10 minutes.

To keep the high going, people using cocaine may use it repeatedly within a short time. This type of binge usage with increasingly higher doses can lead to addiction very quickly, as the user will develop a tolerance and need the higher doses to achieve a high during subsequent sessions with the drug.

Cocaine works by stimulating the central nervous system, causing it to release higher levels of dopamine. This is the neurotransmitter responsible for enjoyment and pleasure. It causes the brain to release a flood of this chemical, resulting in the high the user experiences.

Fashion models may tend to be drawn to cocaine because it gives them a boost of energy to help them stay awake and alert during long shooting days. Bingeing on cocaine will lead to irritability and jumpiness. The drug does decrease appetite, which is a favorable trait among people looking for a way to keep weight down. However, using too much cocaine can lead to malnourishment from lack of interest in food.

drug addiction and fashion

A number of top models have admitted to or been known for having a problem with cocaine.


Heroin is an illegal drug derived from the opium poppy, which grows in Mexico, South America and Asia. It can look like either a white or brown powder or a sticky black or brown substance. The latter form is called “black tar” heroin.

heroin addiction in the fashion industry

This drug can be either smoked or sniffed. Some users prefer to dissolve it with water and then inject it into a vein, a muscle or just under the skin — which is referred to as skin popping. Using a needle to inject the drug into a vein gives the user the fastest high. The person starts to experience it almost immediately.

When someone uses heroin, their brain produces fewer — or may even stop producing — endogenous opioids. These endorphins are naturally produced by the body in response to pain. Opiates block pain messages from the spinal cord to the brain. The person feels an initial rush of joy or pleasure, followed by a deep-seated sensation of relaxation. A heroin user may feel wakeful and then drowsy, going back and forth between these states.

Heroin tends to make mental function cloudy. It also numbs the sensations of physical pain, hunger and anxiety. Heroin makes people less afraid. For a model who is being asked to do a photoshoot where they have to hold a certain pose for an extended time, to model lingerie or swimwear or to pose nude, being under the influence of this drug could make the experience more tolerable.

That does not mean it’s impossible to work without drugs, but some people can get in the habit of taking something before work to make their work day easier, which can lead to dependence. From that point, the road to a full-blown addiction becomes inevitable. Eventually, a person can get to the point where it’s impossible to work without using drugs, first due to a psychological addiction and then due to a physical addiction. A person becomes physically addicted when they are unable to forego taking drugs for an extended time without starting to experience physical withdrawal symptoms.

One famous model turned actress revealed that she battled a heroin addiction for five years, starting when she was only 14 years old. The death of her boyfriend, a famous fashion photographer, from a heroin overdose made her examine her own life and choose to get help.

physical addiction


Methamphetamine, or meth, is a very powerful stimulant with a high potential for abuse. Meth causes increased activity in users and decreases appetite. It creates a sense of well-being and users of meth become very talkative.

This drug is available for legal use by prescription. Doctors use it to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and may prescribe it as a weight loss supplement due to its appetite-suppressant qualities for overweight or obese patients. If it is prescribed for this purpose, it will only be used for a short time and at a very low dose. Prescription doses of methamphetamine are generally much lower than doses used by those who become addicted to the drug.

meth abuse in fashion

Meth can be ingested in a number of ways: smoked, snorted, inhaled or injected. Smoking and injecting the drug are the two quickest ways for a user to introduce the drug into the bloodstream. Its effect is immediate, causing a “rush” of pleasure that may last up to a few minutes. Snorting does not produce an intense rush, but the high will start within three to five minutes. Ingesting the drug orally takes the longest amount of time for it to take effect: between 15-20 minutes.

Since meth is a stimulant like cocaine, users often use it in a similar fashion, bingeing on it repeatedly within a short time. A user will start to “come down” even before the meth has left their bloodstream. Some people will stay up for several days, going without food or sleep while continuing to use meth so they can continue to remain in their euphoric state.

Models may turn to this type of stimulant to lose weight or to keep energy up when they have a very busy schedule. The issue with this type of drug is if someone is bingeing on it, they may not be able to get enough sleep. For a person who is making money based on their appearance, taking a drug that could potentially keep them up for days at a time without eating may not be the best choice when the goal is to perform well on assignments.

Prescription Drugs

Most people take their prescriptions in the way and for the purpose their doctor intended. Prescription drug abuse occurs when someone takes medication for a purpose other than which it was prescribed, takes more of the drug than prescribed or takes someone else’s prescription.

commonly abuse prescription drugs

Benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat anxiety and help promote sleep by affecting the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA slows down brain activity, which helps to create a feeling of calmness.

Barbiturates are another prescription drug that is often abused. They are used to treat seizures, as well as for anesthesia. These drugs may be used to treat insomnia or anxiety, but usually on a short-term basis.

Opioid pain medications, such as oxycontin and hydromorphone, are used to treat moderate to severe pain. They may be given to patients living with chronic pain or used on a short-term basis to treat acute pain. Opioids can produce a mild euphoric sensation when taken, and a patient may feel relaxed as the drug takes effect. When taken as directed, they usually do not result in dependency issues. Crushing the medication is not recommended, nor is snorting it to get the effect sooner.

When patients take higher doses than what their doctor has prescribed or take the medication more frequently than recommended, they open the door to substance abuse and possible addiction.

At one time, stimulants were used to treat asthma and obesity. Now they are used under a doctor’s supervision to treat ADD, ADHD, obesity and depression, in some instances.

Crushing the pills to get an enhanced experience or buying them from someone who has a prescription in order to take advantage of their appetite-reducing qualities is not a good idea. Models may be drawn to these types of drugs in an effort to keep their weight down and hunger pangs at bay while they are working. They may reason that taking stimulants is more attractive than smelling like tobacco, since cigarettes were used as a popular appetite suppressant at one point. Those days are likely gone.

drug abuse in fashion

Drug Use in the Fashion Industry

While drug use in the fashion industry is widespread, it does not mean all models, designers and photographers are using drugs. There are some people who have never touched drugs during their careers at all. Others may have done some experimenting and been able to walk away from these substances. Some people, due to a number of personal factors and circumstances, developed a substance abuse issue while working in the fashion industry. Of these, some are able to make it to rehab and are in recovery.

If you are looking for help for yourself or a loved one who is working in the fashion industry and may be experiencing a drug addiction, contact 12 Keys Rehab today. Take that first step toward a new life right now.

The Addiction Blog