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What can we learn from Charlie Sheen?

Posted by attorney Michael Morgan

If even half the news accounts are true, actor Charlie Sheen is an addict that has recently engaged in boorish and bizarre behaviors. For those of us that are either representing someone in the criminal justice system or care about someone in the criminal justice system these types of behaviors associated with addictions are a familiar sight--and can be the source of great confusion and frustration. Charlie Sheen's story, however, provides the following insights into addict related behavior.

Alcoholics/addicts are truly powerless over alcohol/drugs. This tome of Alcoholics Anonymous is often seen as pablum or dismissed by those that submit a "cure" exists for addictions--but Charlie Sheen's alleged relapses and associated behaviors resulted in his hit television show cancelling production which was estimated to cost Mr. Sheen $16 million. Whether it be the possibility of a deferred prosecution being revoked due to a relapse or in Mr. Sheen's case the loss of income, giving incentives for addicts to stop drinking/abusing drugs seldom, in and of itself, works because the addict is truly powerless over alcohol/drugs.

Alcoholism is a mental illness. The DSM IV considers alcoholism to be a mental illness and addictions are often the symptoms of other mental illnesses such as bi-polar disorder--yet while the AMA considers alcoholism to be a disease there is still the widespread belief that alcoholism is an issue of will power. As reflected by some of the provocative comments attributed to Mr. Sheen, the late stage alcoholic/addict often acts irrationally and is beyond being reasoned with and may need more than traditional alcohol treatment to address their behavioral issues.

Alcohol/drug treatment is a solution to the problem caused by addiction. There is probably very little chance of recovery without treatment, but Mr. Sheen apparently has been in treatment more than once but reportedly has not had long-term recovery. Rand reports that 95% of the people that complete treatment drink again.

The myth that addicts don't have any shame. Mr. Sheen, for example, made anti-semitic comments about his employers. Al-Anon and other organizations that have studied addictions have found that addicts are truly ashamed of their conduct--and consequently say hurtful things about other people in order to cut these people down to their size. The conventional wisdom of treatment providers is to neither clean up and sanitize the behaviors of the addict (which in Charlie Sheen's case reported case would involve continuing his tv show and making scheduling allowances for the time he is unable to work) or to state your disapproval of the hurtful behaviors (which often makes the addict feel the behavior has been addressed).

Alcoholism is a complex disease yet too many people in the legal community that deal with addicts and alcoholics have not spent much time studying drug and alcohol abuse.

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