Sheen's Drama: For Recovering Addicts, It's Personal For some who battle addiction, actor Charlie Sheen's public rants are reminiscent of their own experiences. But others worry that Sheen's behavior will make their struggles seem like a joke.
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Sheen's Drama: For Recovering Addicts, It's Personal

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

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

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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More than half of all Americans have watched someone they love struggle with addiction, or they've battled an addiction themselves. Many Americans have also witnessed the struggles of one of TV's top stars, Charlie Sheen, most recently in his bizarre and widely disseminated statements about his drug and alcohol use.

As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, Sheen's antics have churned up emotions among some people in recovery, as well as addiction professionals.

NEDA ULABY: Charlie Sheen's media blitz involved what you could generously call talking points. One being...

Mr. CHARLIE SHEEN (Actor): The fiction of AA, it's a silly book written by a broken-down fool who was a plagiarist.

ULABY: The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous is a sore point for Sheen.

Mr. SHEEN: It was written for normal people; people that aren't special, people that don't have tiger blood and, you know, Adonis DNA.

Ms. LIZABETH WESSLEY CASELLA: A lot of us can relate to the way that he's presenting himself.

ULABY: Lizabeth Wessley Casella has been sober for less than a year. Her life is obviously much different from TV's highest-paid actor's. But Sheen's bombastic, narcissistic rants reminded her of her own days of heavy drinking.

Ms. CASELLA: I always thought I had a tolerance, or I had the ability, to deal with my situation, and that's similar to what he said. He said: I am built this way, I have this...

Mr. SHEEN: I just have a different constitution. I have a different brain, I have a different heart. I have a different - you know, I got tiger blood, man.

ULABY: Sheen's spectacularly clouded judgment, and insistence he's perfectly fine, is another thing Wessley Casella can identify with - although she was drinking so much, she was eventually medically detoxed.

Ms. CASELLA: 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.

Mr. SHEEN: Just deciding you're going to harness the power of your mind and stop believing the gibberish of fools, and just do it. Just look in the mirror and go, I can do this - and do it. And then...

ULABY: As Sheen unloaded on TMZ, CNN, "The Today Show" and "Good Morning, America," Dr. Joseph Lee was watching from Hazelden, the renowned Minnesota drug and alcohol treatment center.

Dr. JOSEPH LEE (Psychiatrist, Hazelden Center for Youth and Families): The first instinct I had as a physician was that people would misinterpret this, and that it would simply become like a YouTube comedy highlight reel.

ULABY: And it has. But the young people Lee works with found it less funny.

Dr. LEE: Some of the young people I saw were fairly disgusted. Every time they see celebrities out there and they're made a spectacle of, I think they're a bit saddened because it invalidates their story.

ULABY: By that, Lee means the kids he sees want their stories understood as a fight against a serious, chronic illness - not a media sideshow or a joke. And they worry Sheen's behavior will be seen as somehow typical.

Dr. LEE: And that all addicts are somehow, at one point or another, over the top and out of control.

ULABY: Not the case. The cultural view persists of addicts as either dissipated rock stars or total bums, and that their problems are self-inflected.

Dr. DAVID SACK (Physician/CEO, Promises Treatment Centers): And if they would just pull that bottle out of their mouth or yank that pipe away from them, that they would be better.

ULABY: Dr. David Sack runs Promises, the swanky Malibu rehab center where Sheen's said to have spent time. He said noisy celebrity meltdowns can lead to more people seeking treatment as a result.

Dr. SACK: Ordinarily, they do. It does raise awareness.

ULABY: People who've spent a lot of time in recovery - for any kind of addictive behavior - recognize the symptoms when a celebrity breaks down.

Rob Weiss works treating addiction along with Dr. Sack.

Mr. ROB WEISS (Founding Director, Sexual Recovery Institute): I see clients coming together and saying, can I write that person? And I see a lot of gratitude - clients saying, thank goodness, you know, I remember when I was out there like that, and I'm so glad I'm not now.

ULABY: No one has to live like that, says Weiss. And you don't have to be as off the rails as Charlie Sheen to get help.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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