DISCLAIMER: Demi Moore and her family have publicly discussed her struggles with substance abuse at length, in interviews and in her recent autobiography Inside Out. Here, we will look at possible factors that may have played a role. More importantly, we will look at what we can all learn from her story.
Demi Moore is Hollywood royalty.
To begin with, she has had a long and successful career as an actress and film producer in such films as Ghost, A Few Good Men, St. Elmo’s Fire, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, G.I. Jane, and Striptease, and at one point, she was the highest-paid film actress in the world.
She has an equally-famous family. Superstars Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher are among her high-profile ex-husbands, and her three daughters with Willis — Rumer, Scout, and Tallulah — have all grown up in the public eye.
Most recently, the 57-year-old actress published her autobiography, Inside Out, which instantly became a #1 best-seller.
In her book, Moore is extremely candid about the intimate personal problems she has dealt with behind the scenes of her glittering and glamorous life — growing up in a dysfunctional household with substance-abusing parents, sexual trauma, her own addiction to alcohol and cocaine, her troubled and codependent marriages, her relapse after long-term sobriety, the effect it had on her daughters, and most importantly, her life in successful recovery today.
Using the words of Demi Moore and people close to her, we will take a closer look at these issues and compare them to what scientific data and evidence has taught us . In this way, we hope to learn more about how to help other women who are facing similar struggles right now.
Demi Moore: An Unstable Childhood in the Shadow of Alcoholism
“I traveled a lot as a kid…and I never felt I had any roots, any friends. So I became obsessed with the idea of being liked…I got involved with drugs because I was young and didn’t know how to become part of the crowd.”
~ Demi Moore
Born in New Mexico in 1962, Demetria Gene Guynes had a childhood that was far from ideal. Her parents divorced before she was born, after a brief two-month marriage. Her mother Virginia remarried when Demi was three months old, and Demi did not learn the truth until she was 13 years old.
“There is a man who would be considered my biological father who I don’t really have a relationship with,” she would say in a later interview.
Dan Guynes, her stepfather, was a problem gambler who would change jobs frequently, and as a result, the family would move an astounding 30 times before finally settling in Los Angeles in 1976. According to the Biography Channel, Dan and Virginia “were alcoholics who often fought and beat each other.”
Virginia would eventually be arrested multiple times, including charges for arson and drunk-driving. She tried to commit suicide several times, and after one attempt, young Demi even had to scoop pills out of her mother’s mouth to save her life.
She recalls, “The next thing I remember is using my fingers, the small fingers of a child, to dig the pills my mother had tried to swallow out of her mouth while my father held it open and told me what to do. Something very deep inside me shifted then, and it never shifted back. My childhood was over.”
Tragically and not at all coincidentally, Dan Guynes killed himself in October 1980, two years after he and Virginia broke up. Demi was just 17 years old at the time.
Even after she had achieved worldwide fame as a successful actress, Demi Moore was affected by her mother’s struggles. In 1990, Virginia walked out of a rehab facility that Moore had paid for. As a result, Moore broke off all contact with her mother. They only managed to briefly reconcile years later, in 1998, shortly before Virginia died of cancer.
Perhaps Tallulah Willis said it best — “I don’t think my mom was raised; she was forged.”
A Harrowing Assault
“It was rape and a devastating betrayal revealed by the man’s cruel question, ‘How does it feel to be whored by your mother for $500?’”
~ Demi Moore
When she was 15, Demi came home one night and found an older man in the apartment she shared with her mother. According to the man, Virginia had given him the key.The man raped Demi, and then told her that her mother had sold him the key and the access to Demi for $500.
As unbelievably horrific as this betrayal sounds, it wasn’t completely out-of-character for Virginia. By this point, she was already bringing young Demi to bars with her to attract men.
In a 2019 interview for Good Morning America, Moore was asked if she believed the man and really thought her mother sold her in such a way. She answered, “I think in my deep heart, no. I don’t think it was a straightforward transaction, but she still did give him the access and put me in harm’s way.”
Early Career and Success
“Everything is a matter of Demi trying to have a sense of empowerment. Given her early life, you can understand it.”
~ Andrew Bergman, the director of Striptease
Considering the circumstances of her upbringing, it comes as no surprise, then, that Demi moved out of her parents’ home at the age of 16. Shortly thereafter, she dropped out of high school, leaving during her junior year. She signed with a modeling agency, took drama classes, and began doing pin-up work in Europe.
Three months before her 17th birthday, Demi began a relationship with musician Freddy Moore, who is 12 years her senior. They married in 1981, when Demi was 18. Although they divorced in 1985, she continues to use his last name professionally.
Demi made her brief film debut in Choices in 1981, and soon landed a recurring role on the ABC soap opera General Hospital. By the mid-1980’s her movie career began to take off after she garnered lead roles in Blame It on Rio, St. Elmo’s Fire, and About Last Night… Moore was considered to be part of the “Brat Pack” of up-and-coming young performers.
A Career-and-Life-Saving Wake-Up Call
“I feel like there are defining moments in our lives that shape who we are and the direction we go, and early in my career, I was spiraling down a path of real self-destruction, and no matter what success I had, I just never felt good enough.”
~ Demi Moore
But her career was very nearly over before it truly began. While filming St. Elmo’s Fire, her drinking and cocaine use got so bad that the director, Joel Schumacher, made her leave the set after she showed up high. Finally, he demanded that she get professional help or he would fire her.
In 1997, Schumacher recalled, “I told her I was firing her. I didn’t want to do what they had done with John Belushi, which was just give her the money to kill herself. When she came out (of rehab), we hired a counselor to live with Demi during filming. She’s been sober ever since.”
Years later, her mother would reveal in an interview that during this time, Moore had suffered a cocaine overdose that almost killed her, recalling “Demi was working on the movie — and just disappeared. On the third day, I got a phone call she’d been taken into South Beach Hospital in Redondo Beach.”
Afraid of losing her career and her life, Moore checked into a rehab program and was able to finally get clean, and reportedly stay that way for the next couple of decades. Best of all, her newfound sobriety supported the success that she soon enjoyed in her professional and personal lives.
In the 90’s, Moore cemented herself as an A-list star. Ghost was the highest-grossing movie of 1990, followed by A Few Good Men (1992), Indecent Proposal (1993), and Disclosure (1994), each of which opened at #1 at the box office. In 1996, Moore was paid $12.5 million for Striptease, making her the highest-paid actress in history. Not bad for someone who once called herself a “trailer park kid”.
Personally, she married actor Bruce Willis in 1987 and they had their three daughters. Even after they divorced in 2000, they maintained a close bond that focused on co-parenting their children. In 2015, daughter Rumer said, “They always made an effort to do all of the family events still together and made such an effort to still have our family be as one unit…”
The Ashton Kutcher Marriage
“I wanted to be that girl. The girl who could have a glass of wine at dinner, or do a tequila shot at a party. In my mind, Ashton wanted that, too. So I tried to become that: a fun, normal girl… I made my own story up that he could have wine with… that he could do stuff (with). He’s not the cause of why I opened that door up. I wanted to be something other than who I am. And it was literally like giving my power away.”
~ Demi Moore
Flashing forward to the early 2000s, Moore started dating actor Ashton Kutcher, of That 70’s Show fame, a rising star who was 15 years her junior. They married in 2005, and amicable ex Willis was one of the guests. Kutcher enthusiastically assumed his place in the family dynamic, and they seemed like a powerful, if unlikely, star couple.
But for Moore, this marriage was quite a bit different from her previous ones.
First, there was her perception of how she needed to change herself to please her younger husband. She became codependent, losing part of herself in the process. Today, she says that she was “addicted” to Kutcher.
Second, according to Moore, Kutcher was not exactly supportive of her efforts at maintaining her long-term sobriety. At one point, she recalls him saying, “I don’t know if alcoholism’s a thing. I think it’s about moderation.”
So to appease his misconception about her disease, she relapsed and started drinking again, ending twenty years of sobriety. Because, as she says, “When you don’t have an off switch, you go until you can’t go anymore.”
Much worse, Moore claims that Kutcher would mock and shame her by taking pictures of her when she was drunk. “It was confusing. Ashton had encouraged me to go in this direction. When I went too far, though, he let me know how he felt by showing a picture he’d taken of me resting my head on the toilet the night before,” she writes in Inside Out.
“It seemed like a good-natured joke at the time. But it was really just shaming.”
Third, about two years into the marriage, Moore got pregnant, but it unfortunately wasn’t meant to be. She lost the little girl she had planned to name Chaplin Ray, miscarrying at six months. Devastated, Moore blamed herself and her drinking.
To cope with her emotional pain, Moore drank even heavier and started abusing Vicodin. And when she learned that Kutcher had cheated on her, things quickly went from worse to worst.
Demi Moore’s Relapse: “A Monster Came”
“I remember there’s just the anxiety that would come up in my body when I could sense that her eyes were shutting a little bit more, the way she was speaking. Or she would be a lot more affectionate with me if she wasn’t sober.”
“It was like the sun went down and a monster came, you know? It was very weird, and there were moments where I would get angry. I recall being very upset and kind of treating her like a child and speaking to her like a child. Being like, please get away from me. She got very angry, and it happened in front of friends. It was not the mom that we had grown up with.”
~ Tallulah Willis
Moore’s descent into self-destruction had a profoundly negative impact on her relationship with her daughters. Up to this point in their lives, she had always maintained her sobriety, and she had only hinted at how addiction — both hers and her parents’ — had shaped her earlier life. But now, Rumer, Scout, and Tallulah were seeing their family illness up close.
In response, Rumer and Scout distanced themselves, eventually breaking off all contact. As for Tallulah, the youngest, she admits that she always felt intimidated by her seemingly-invincible mother, and had never felt particularly close to her. So in the midst of Moore’s struggles, none of her children could relate to her.
Later, oldest daughter Rumer would say, “We grow up thinking that our parents are these immovable gods of Olympus. Obviously, as we grow older, we start to realize how much our parents are just people.”
“Everyone was witnessing my body flailing. My daughter was terrified she was going to see me die right in front of her.”
~ Demi Moore
The scariest moment of Moore’s downward relapse spiral happened seven years ago, when she was rushed to the hospital after suffering a seizure at a birthday party she attended with Rumer. Moore had smoked synthetic marijuana and inhaled nitrous oxide, also known as “whip-its”.
Moore would later say that she felt as if she was “going into the light”, reminiscent of scenes from Ghost.
“And all of a sudden, I was back in my body. It was a moment that I was somehow being given a choice. Something had to give. When you come up to those places, you either go in or out.”
The experience was the catalyst that turned things around for the actress. She checked into a rehab program that addressed not only her substance abuse, but also her trauma and codependency issues. Importantly, she also sought help for the other health problems that were plaguing her, namely autoimmune and digestive problems.
“When I read ‘Inside Out’, that was the part that I really related to, the generational trauma of it all. What Demi had experienced in regards to her mother’s addictions and transgressions against her, and then how the trauma from her mother and her mother’s addiction and Demi’s addiction affected her girls.”
~ Jada Pinkett Smith, on “Red Table Talk”
Just as Virginia Guynes’ addiction-driven behaviors affected her daughter, so were Demi Moore’s issues shared by her daughters, each of whom struggled with substance abuse and body image issues.
As recently as 2017, Rumer and Scout both posted on social media announcing their lengths of sobriety, at the time, six months and one year, respectively.
Tallulah has written about feeling the need to be the “loud, stupid, drunk girl at the party” and how she smoked a lot of weed as a teenager. She has also revealed that she almost died from alcohol poisoning at the age of 15. An eating disorder caused her to starve herself, and in college, she battled crippling depression. To deal with all these issues, she eventually checked into a residential facility.
Demi Moore Today: A Woman in Recovery
“I’m so proud of her vulnerability, and I think so many women have watched her — and just as her daughter I’ve watched her — as this kind of beacon of strength and this kind of leader. I think what I really respect about her is, she’s never the victim in her story. She takes accountability, she takes responsibility, and — mind you — this is her perspective, her story, and she’s the first one to say that.”
~ Rumer Willis
Once she was again properly in recovery, Moore was able to reach out and begin reconciling with her daughters. Right about now, she, Rumer, and Scout should be finishing up a 10-month course that they took together on spiritual psychology that teaches “soul-centered living”.
When she started writing Inside Out, the revelations it contained actually helped rebuild the bridges between them. Where Rumer, Scout, and Tallulah were once largely shielded from their mother’s past, they now were able to learn more about her as a real person, frailties and struggles and all.
In fact, all three were given advance copies of the manuscript, with the right to request changes to any portions that they objected to or were uncomfortable with. None of them took the option.
Respecting their mother’s story wasn’t easy. As Scout says, “It’s challenging because she’s making this amazing effort to put out the most vulnerable moments of her life. It just happens that it also coincides with some of the most challenging and traumatic times of mine.”
What Does Demi Moore’s Story Mean to YOU?
“(I’m) sharing of myself in a way (so hopefully it) can elevate or open someone else to loving themselves a little bit better.”
~ Demi Moore
There are several takeaways from the story of Demi Moore and her family:
FIRST, the link between parental substance abuse and subsequent addictive issues among their children is inescapable. Children of alcoholics (COAs) are four times as likely to abuse alcohol as non-COAs.
SECOND, trauma, especially sexual trauma, is an extremely-common factor that may contribute to the development of a Substance Use Disorder among women. In fact, 75% of women in treatment for SUD have been victims of sexual abuse.
THIRD, the very nature of SUD means that drinking or using drugs in moderation simply isn’t possible for victims of this disease. As Demi Moore said, their brain no longer has an “off switch” that allows them to control their consumption.
FOURTH, toxic shame and guilt are NOT productive. In fact, they are among the biggest barriers that prevent many SUD sufferers from ever seeking treatment.
FIFTH, relapse is an unfortunate possibility for anyone at any stage of recovery, even after years of sobriety. The important thing is how you respond after that relapse.
SIXTH, Demi Moore’s life today shows that the cycle of addiction CAN be broken and real recovery IS possible, with timely treatment and the proper support system.
Getting the Help You Need
If you are a woman in Colorado, your best, most trusted-resource is Women’s Recovery. As one of the top gender-specific outpatient drug and alcohol rehab programs in the Denver area, Women’s Recovery can provide the individualized treatment services you need to safely and successfully regain your sobriety.