Charlie Sheen's Addiction Philosophy - Pros and Cons

Charlie lectures on drugs, alcohol, and harm reduction

Posted Feb 18, 2011

Charlie Sheen has engaged himself lately in the national discourse about drugs, alcohol, and addiction. Surfacing after his show went into hiatus - apparently because of his most recent substance-induced outburst, which resulted in his hospitalization (albeit temporarily) - Sheen has appeared on radio several times to offer his opinions.

Here are three of them:

  1. Charlie's advice to Lindsay: "Work on your impulse control ... just try and think things through a little bit before you do them."
  2. Charlie claimed he never showed up for work drunk or high, and that he wanted to continue working on his show, Two And A Half Men, because he has a two-year deal and he said he is a man of his word. He is expected back on set soon.
  3. "I was sober for five years a long time ago and was just bored out of my tree."

The last comment, in particular, provoked howls from addiction therapists, because it proved he was in denial.

Let's start with that comment. Wouldn't Charlie, who tried abstinence for a while, be in a position to know if he preferred occasional binges or not?

Well, the addiction therapist might say, he can't really have controlled binges. He can't? Don't quite a few people do that?  I've known some.

Which brings us to his second comment. Charlie is VERY successful - the highest-paid star on episode television (leaving out the likes of Oprah), at about $2 million per show.

To accomplish that, he has to show up on time ready to perform, which he claims he always does in the second comment above. Two and a Half Men has been ranked in the top twenty programs for the eight years it's been broadcast. As Charlie points out, he's in the middle of a two-year extension - and the ratings have been up!

Moreover, Charlie looks good on the show (not so good in mug shots) - trim and fairly youthful (did you know he's 45?).

Having a top-ranked TV show for a decade is tough work. So it seems as though he's doing well maintaining his professional life while periodically partying.

Well, not always - which brings us to his third comment - the one where he advises Lindsay Lohan to "try to think things through a little bit before you do them" (a comment which Lindsay reportedly took as supportive).

That's where Charlie falls short - wrecking a hotel room with his kids nearby, getting arrested, ending an evening in a hospital.

However, when you make $2 million for each week's work, there is quite a bit you can do to prevent such highly visible and disturbing episodes - disturbing to his small daughters, to his employers, and to people who respect law and order.

It's called harm reduction. Everyone should abstain permanently, we know, like the therapists being interviewed. But, it seems, quite a few do not - and never will, whether they be Charlie or others.

It's hard to make people abstain. So when they do consume, even if it's excessively, the goal is to protect them, those they love, and other acquaintances. With forethought (like Charlie recommends for Lindsay) and appropriate resources, it can be done - certainly done better than Charlie has been demonstrating lately.

Therapist's Note

I am a psychologist with a treatment program, where we discourage even managed bingeing of the type Charlie prefers.  But - unlike the therapists I have seen comment on Charlie, or Dr. Drew - we don't consider it therapy to lambast substance abusers and tell them how stupid they are, and that they should shape up or ship out.