7:29am

Sun March 6, 2011
Health

Sheen's Drama: For Recovering Addicts, It's Personal

Charlie Sheen's bizarre media blitz in recent days has involved what you could — perhaps — call talking points. Including what Sheen, one of TV's biggest stars, calls "the fiction of AA."

The "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous seems to be a sore point for him.

"It's a silly book written by a broken-down fool who was a plagiarist," he told NBC's Today on Wednesday.

In case you were wondering how seriously to take that statement, consider that Sheen went on to add, "It was written for normal people who aren't special, who don't have tiger blood and Adonis DNA."

Lizabeth Wesely-Casella listened to that interview with an occasional rueful smile. She's among the majority of Americans who've either watched someone they love struggle with addiction or battled addiction themselves.

"A lot of us can relate to the way he's presenting himself," she said.

'Disgusted' And 'Saddened'

Wesely-Casella has been sober for less than a year, and her life is obviously very different from that of one of the highest-paid actors in television. But Sheen's bombastic, narcissistic rants reminded her of her own days of heavy drinking.

"I always thought I had a tolerance or ability to deal with my situation, and that's similar to what he said" repeatedly in interviews, Wesely-Casella said. Even though for years she was drinking so much she eventually had to be medically detoxed, she, like Sheen, insisted she was fine.

"I would look at other people and say, 'Oh, absolutely, therapy's a great thing. Rehab's a great thing! I just don't need it.'"

Dr. Joseph Lee watched Sheen unravel in TV interviews from Hazelden, the renowned Minnesota drug and alcohol treatment center.

"The first instinct I had as a physician was that people would misinterpret this and it would become a YouTube comedy highlight reel," Lee said.

Which was inevitable — but some of the young people Lee works with don't find Sheen's rants that funny.

"Some ... were fairly disgusted," Lee said. "Every time they see celebrities out there and they're made a spectacle of, I think they're saddened because it invalidates their story."

By which, Lee means the young adults he sees want their stories understood as a fight against a serious chronic illness, not a media sideshow or a joke. They worry Sheen's behavior will be seen as somehow typical.

"And that all addicts are over the top and out of control," Lee said.

A Cause For Reflection

Stereotypes of addicts persist, as does the perception their problems are self-inflicted, says Dr. David Sack. He's the CEO of Promises, the swanky Malibu rehab center where Sheen's said to have spent time in the past. Sack said high-profile celebrity meltdowns can lead to more people seeking treatment.

"It does raise awareness," he said.

People who've spent a lot of time in recovery — for any kind of addictive behavior — recognize symptoms when a celebrity exhibits them. Rob Weiss, who treats sexual addiction, works at Elements Behavioral Health and The Ranch, outside Nashville, Tenn. He says when celebrities like Sheen flame out publicly, it can be a cause for reflection for his clients.

"I see a lot of gratitude," he said. "Clients saying, 'Thank goodness, I remember when I was out there like that and I'm so glad I'm not now.'" Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.