Even for Sheen, Recovery is Possible

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Over the past few days, I’ve been saddened by Charlie Sheen’s decision not to accept treatment—and by his aggressive ranting about substance abuse and recovery.  During a recent radio interview on the ‘Alex Jones Show,’ Sheen reportedly said he escaped the “troll hole” of AA, which he believes is “followed by stupid people.”  He went on to say, “I have a disease?  Bulls**t.  I cured it right now with my mind.”

Despite Sheen’s denial, it’s clear from his outrageous statements that he does have a serious problem. When people with a history of abusing drugs suddenly can’t control their words or behavior, it’s a strong indication that they may, indeed be abusing drugs again.  Why else would he go on air and call the co-creator of ‘Two and a Half Men’ a “contaminated little maggot”?

View the video

Addiction is a brain disease that leads individuals to behave in a way they wouldn’t without the drugs or alcohol.  But this doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for their actions.  Sheen now faces serious consequences for his ugly comments, as CBS and Warner Bros. have decided to halt production of ‘Two and a Half Men’ for the remainder of the season.

While this may be a setback for Sheen, I still believe there’s hope for his recovery.  I have seen people in Sheen’s state or worse—friends who have destroyed their careers and families, and even lost their freedom—get well; the only difference is that Sheen is playing out his struggle in the public eye.  His behavior is not evidence that he can’t get better, but an indicator of just how badly he needs help.  Those of us who are in long-term recovery know that if a person commits themselves to treatment and to managing their chronic condition, it’s never too late to get your life back on track.

Deni Carise, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House


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  • I am a new hire for Phoenix House in Dallas and grew up around the corner from the great facility in Hauppauge. Long Island, NY.

    I think this Charlie Sheen thing is such a learning experience and should almost be followed with shows that chronicle the disease. He has many people that begin to believe him and agree with him and has convinced himself, so strongly, and altered his identity to fit his need to justify himself. I am not clinical but I see this as such an eye opener for all who are watching and need help. This is a powerful epidemic in society from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich.
    Charlie Sheen has human needs and issues like we all do no matter how much money he has and happiness is not based on money or fame, etc, but clearly, mental.
    A great example at the same time as the Sheen saga is watching my Long Island fellow native, Natalie Portman, experience immense success and have happiness that is most important with her fame and fortune a seeming side note.
    She is recently in love and married, pregnant, has been on a major upward career trend and just won Best Actress Oscar. Not only that but had the strength of character to call out someone she works for, or some similar type relationship at work, that was loaded and made anti-semitic remarks. Despite maybe having to change her career, she said she does not want to be around this influential person and would appreciate an apology. Elegant and confident.
    Big contrast.

  • Lori

    Too true!! I lost 15 years of sobreity back in 2009 and now have 60 days clean. Anyone can fall and anyone can get back up. This last time was hard for me to admit I needed help, but it was hard to deny when I was jobless and sick. I finally sought help and am working my way back, even got another job after the 6 months it took me to get to a state where I even could work. A sick mind (or addicted mind) can’t really understand how sick it is and Charlie needs everyone around him to help keep him alive until he realizes he needs help. I just hope he actually finds a bottom, for some people that bottom is death and a person of means…it can be a long fall. I believe you can get better at Promises or the Salvation Army…you just have to want it. I hope he does soon.

  • Dr. Carise,

    Thank you for bringing into focus the critical, clinical component of “hope” concerning addiction and other mental health challenges.

    “Hope” is a requirement if the true goal and focus of interactions, communicating and treatment is the increasing well being and sustainable recovery for the person with an addiction or other mental health challenge. Hope clearly and consistently communicated/ demonstrated by family members, friends, clinicians, peers, (society) provides the foundation for which increasing well being and self-efficacy is gained by the person with an addiction and/or mental health disorder.

    Hope is a powerfully healing, lendable commodity in humanity –We experience it as unique to the species “human”. And, for those of us fortunate not to suffer from the debilitating effects of a chronic substance use disorder or other mental health disorder, it becomes a pivotal truth to understand that we can’t “lend” what we, ourselves, do not choose to cultivate and have on hand. It takes work and accountability to cultivate and share hope.

    It is, indeed, very sad when we witness someone posturing defensively, refusing and withdrawing from what probably are sincere efforts to encourage him into treatment. But what is more sad is rampant societal ambivalence… and, then, to the opposite extreme, hostility, in the way we as individuals, and groups, choose to interact with and speak about another person who is clearly exhibiting an addiction or other mental health crisis/vulnerability. “That” is sadder.

    Our society is, collectively, doing a poor job of consistently providing that which would best serve to increase healthier decision making, toward increased emotional well being, on the part of those challenged by addiction and other mental/behavioral health issues.

    We exist so fixated by the sound of our advisements- preaching what it is that the addicted/behaviorally imbalanced individual is accountable for that our own responsibility as a member of humanity, essentially, becomes eclipsed in the dull roar of “This is what you need to do to fix yourself”.

    Let’s cut to the chase: We want them to just “straighten up and fly right”… and do it right now! “And do it like this”!

    That would be swell, if only it were plausible. But it’s not. “Right now” and, “Do it like this” is not the way addiction and other behavioral health-related changes/improvements occur. “Little by little”, inspired by the momentum of self-discovery, is how healthy change occurs. Steps forward… and, sometimes, steps back. Relapse is part of the journey. In order to support those battling uphill for the forward steps, there is requirement first and foremost that hope be the vehicle used to deliver commentary, advisements, and education. Hope can not exist in the same space with spirit-crushing, stigma-making words and labels such as lazy, loser, junky, crack head, train wreck, f’up, arrogant, crazy, etc.…That kind of ignorant, shameful commentary abounds in our culture when communicating about (and to) someone with a substance use disorder or other mental health disorder. I’ve even heard family members use these terms to describe their own. It’s no wonder we are witnessing increasing addiction and mental health issues in our society.

    We need, for the sake of the individual, the family system, community and society to become individually accountable for increasing the odds that our family members/friends/co-workers…our fellow human beings, who are struggling with addiction and other mental health-related conditions, have the best chance to live their lives in increasing health. This can only occur in the absence of judgment, condemnation and exploitation. This will require that we all educate ourselves on what addiction and mental health issues are a product of, and not a product of. This kind of focus and commitment will serve to cultivate the kind of hope that will ultimately deliver sustainable recovery and healing on an immeasurable scale. Hope”, that is, of the authentic, sustainable variety- There isn’t any other kind. Hope constructed of responsible empathy, realistic expectations, and education regarding addiction and mental health disorders.

    Collaborative hope requires collective commitment. I have hope that we are individually and collectively capable of supplying the kind of support that will ultimately deliver recovery and healing.

  • Leandro

    Insightful article. Definitely thought provoking stuff, thank you.