MacKenzie Phillips' Arrest for Cocaine and Heroin Possession in 2008 Saved Her Life: 'Sometimes the Universe Has a Plan'

"Addiction is elemental," the actress tells PEOPLE. "It's an equal opportunity employer."

Photo: Jade Alayne

When MacKenzie Phillips was arrested in 2008 for possession of cocaine and heroin, her life had forever changed.

Growing up, the actress was stuck in a longtime cycle of drug and alcohol abuse that left her feeling “hopeless” and “frightened of everything.”

In 1980, Phillips had joined her father, musician John Phillips from the ’60s band the Mamas and the Papas (whom Phillips claimed she had an incestuous relationship with in her 2009 memoir High on Arrival), in rehab for an out-of-control cocaine habit that had gotten her fired from One Day at a Time.

After her stint in rehab, sobriety didn’t last.

“Addiction is elemental. It’s an equal opportunity employer,” Phillips, 56, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “It doesn’t care if you’re famous, it doesn’t care if you’re not famous. It is a theme.”

As Phillips continued to struggle, she knew the cycle had to stop.

“There was an element in me – I had been clean and sober for a long period of time before – so there was this sort of ‘I know I can do it again, but not today,” she says. “I know I can get sober, but not today. Maybe sometime in the future.’

“There was a day that came that the decision was made for me. I was taken away in handcuffs at Los Angeles International airport for possession. Sometimes the universe has a plan to stop you in your tracks to save your life. That was that day for me.”

Now, the 56-year-old works as a full-time substance-abuse counselor at Breathe Life Healing Centers in Los Angeles, CA.

“This is my passion,” she says. “I just followed my passion instead of some misguided expectation that I had of myself. I just love what I’m doing.”

Phillips, who is mom to 29-year-old son Shane, says it’s important for her to share her story to give others hope that recovery is possible.

“Although it’s been the never-ending story, I’ve changed my life and I think it’s really important for people to see that there is a solution,” says Phillips. “You can recover.”

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