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The Latest in Victim-Blaming: Treating Addiction Like a Choice

Indiana Rep. Jud McMillan (R.-Brookville) recently sponsored and then withdrew a welfare drug testing bill which would have mandated testing for individuals 18 years of age and older who receive assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. There was a small hitch when South Bend Democrat Rep. Ryan Dvorak responded to McMillan’s proposal with an amendment that would additionally require elected officials to undergo drug testing. As a result of this amendment, McMillan withdrew the bill. However, he reportedly plans to reintroduce the bill on Monday.

The hypocrisy and victim-blaming is at an all-time high within the Republican party. If you don’t have insurance due to a lay-off or unforeseen financial struggles, they cheer for your death. If you don’t have a job due to the sad state of the economy and rampant outsourcing, they tell you to take a bath and shut up. And, most certainly, you are at fault for any personal weakness you may have and you should be either indifferently discarded or righteously punished for such weaknesses.

But apparently not all recipients of government money are created equal. As Assistant Minority Leader Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told the Huffington Post, “I don’t see anyone in the Republican majority demanding drug testing for folks who receive oil and gas subsidies.”

This bill is merely one of many manifestations of the too-common, bipartisan practice of victim-blaming frequently directed at addicts. It’s so easy to do – much easier than looking closer at the issues, concerning yourself with the fallible human factor, experiencing empathy or compassion for your fellow Americans, and creating progressive policies based on effectiveness. Blaming addicts for their addictions is the latest trend in political band-wagoning.

Addiction, whether or not you consider it to be a disease, certainly has the criteria. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, disease is described as “a harmful deviation from the normal structural or functional state of an organism. A diseased organism commonly exhibits signs or symptoms indicative of its abnormal state.” And, whether you believe it or not, no one intentionally sets out to incur an addiction.

People have weaknesses and are susceptible to irrational behavior, especially when distraught. Some of the major risk factors for drug addiction are mental illness, anxiety, depression and loneliness, according to research by the Mayo Clinic.

Do we blame those who suffer from bipolar disease for their distractability, rapid speech patterns, insomnia, impulsiveness, delusions and irritability? Do we demand that these people “stop being bipolar” in order to merit our sympathy or care? (The answer is no.) Fortunately, sufferers of bipolar disorder currently have the option to take medication (that is, if they can afford insurance or qualify for medicaid). Unfortunately, there is no reliable method for treating addiction.

Statistics show that 19.5 million people over the age of 12 use illegal drugs in the United States (Mayo Clinic). 12-step programs such as N.A. have failure rates of between 90-95%, depending on the source of the statistics. It’s easy to blame the participants in the program; it’s easy to claim that they’re not trying hard enough or that they don’t really want to quit. But the reality is that addicts have little to no control over their impulses and actions; their brains are, in most cases, physically impaired by chemical dependence on the substance. Even cigarette smokers have a nationwide 90-95% failure rate for quitting, regardless of their methodology.

These are things that most people don’t want to hear. People want to believe in the success story, like all those 80’s movies where babysitters become fashion designers overnight, or the mailboy makes corporate partner in a week. It makes them feel better about their life. It gives them hope.

Unfortunately, the facts are not very cheery and sometimes there’s no way to climb back out of the gutter.

Family members, spouses, and friends of drug addicts (if they’re not drug addicts themselves) often go the route of “tough love”; in other words, the shunning and alienation of  their struggling loved one. This method of encouraging recovery through ostracism is firmly anchored in victim-blaming. It’s also unrealistic. Without a support system, a person is unlikely to acquire enough emotional strength to rip themselves away from their sole source of solace. Additionally, an addict lacks realistic perspective and they need a trustworthy confidant of sound mind who cares enough to help point them in the right direction. Occasionally, a person gets their life together and beats their addiction despite their growing despair and isolation from friends and family, but more often, people fall deeper into the warm, comforting arms of their addiction instead.

Punishing those who struggle with addiction is a backward and harmful policy. The fewer resources and loved ones an addict has to conquer their addiction, the less likely they are to recover.

Not everyone can be helped, either. Some situations are irreparable. It’s not pretty, but it’s true. And the sooner we face it, the sooner we can move forward and make changes that might actually help addicts instead of kicking them while they’re down. “Tough love” policies may be convenient and quick ways to ease our feelings of guilt and responsibility for those in need, but they only make matters worse. Victim-blaming makes people feel better about themselves and their inaction. It’s time to end this cycle of behavior. It’s time to find ways to make things better.


I Know What’s Wrong With Charlie Sheen

I’ve figured it out.

After observing Charlie’s erratic behavior on television networks, reading his Twitter account, and analyzing his past interviews in contrast with his current behaviors, I collected some data, did some research, considered what others had to say about him, and I finally came to a conclusion: I think Charlie Sheen suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and is currently using drugs. My guess is that he’s using both meth and coke. I only speculate on the meth because he goes for long periods of time – for instance, during interviews – where he’s not seen sniffing anything, and he’s definitely not crashing.

Dr. Drew Pinsky has diagnosed Sheen as “hypomanic,” which is a symptom of Bipolar Disorder, the psychotic effects of which can be prompted by drug use.’s Sherrie McGregor, Ph.D. explains, “Speed (methamphetamine, crank, crystal) and cocaine are two that have sent many abusers into mania, often followed quickly by deep depression and psychotic symptoms. Hallucinogens, including LSD and PCP, can set off psychotic symptoms as well.” And, of course, who’s ruling out LSD or PCP? Either way, there’s something a little #tigersblood going on here…

Although I concur with the hypomanic diagnosis, hypomania is commonly comorbid (coexistent) with NPD – and so is substance abuse. I don’t think for a second that Charlie has stopped using drugs, even if he has found a way to circumvent the results of his urinalysis. (Obviously it’s a stupid idea to let him take the urine test in his own house. Duh. Cheating.)

According to the DSM-IV, symptoms of NPD are:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Charlie appears to feature all of the symptoms associated with the disorder and, as a child star, has many of the risk factors for NPD. The risk factors for NPD are:

  • An oversensitive temperament at birth is the main symptomatic chronic form
  • Being praised for perceived exceptional looks or talents by adults
  • Excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback
  • Excessive praise for good behaviors or excessive criticism for poor behaviors in childhood
  • Overindulgence and overvaluation by parents
  • Severe emotional abuse in childhood
  • Unpredictable or unreliable caregiving from parents
  • Valued by parents as a means to regulate their own self-esteem

In an interview with ABC, when questioned about whether or not he’s bipolar, Charlie says, “I’m not bi-polar; I’m bi-winning… if I’m bi-polar, aren’t there moments where a guy, like, crashes and is, like, in the corner like, [mock crying] ‘Oh my god, it’s all my mom’s fault,’ [as a frustrated respondent to the crying guy] Shut up! Shut up! Stop! Move forward.”  Shunning this make-believe person for crying is somewhat telling as well. Dr. Daniel A. Bochner, Ph.D. and author of “The Therapist’s Use of Self in Family Therapy” writes, “The narcissist grows up in an environment in which vulnerability is unacceptable. Any sign of weakness in this environment is met with disdain and disgust.”

Idealization and devaluation are also components of NPD. People are all good or they’re all bad. For instance, on his radio show, Sheen’s Korner, he used the tagline, “You’re either in Charlie’s corner, or you’re with the trolls.” In contrast to the trolls, he idealizes his live-in porn stars, referring to them as “Goddesses.” (Unfortunately, this lofty moniker simultaneously makes them faceless, nameless and disposable.)

A person who is suffering from NPD lives in a black-and-white world. It’s good or bad, right or wrong, love or hate. Here’s a quote from his radio interview on the Alex Jones Show:

“My motto now is you either love or you hate, and you must do so violently. And the reason you must hate violently is because – and you have to hate everybody that’s not in your family, because they’re there to destroy your family… and, therefore, there’s nothing in the middle. I don’t live in the middle anymore; that’s where you get slaughtered, that’s where you get embarrassed in front of the prom queen… and it’s just not an option…”

Check out some of his interviews here:

Good Morning America

Alex Jones Show

Charlie Sheen’s UStream

Clean Charlie Sheen in 2010

His recent behavior in comparison with his past conduct is drastically different.

And when I think about the fact that Charlie Sheen is, in fact, suffering from a disease, and decomposing, in front of billions of people, I almost feel sorry for him… until I think about this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this.

And then I smile and watch, quietly amused, as he publicly self-destructs. And, suddenly, it seems like – for once – the victims are WINNING.