Charlie Sheen being HIV positive is not exactly earth shattering news. No one seems as focused on the most important part of the story: that this well known alcoholic/addict, despite his HIV diagnosis, is still drinking.
Alcohol is a Drug
This morning (Nov 17, 2015) The Today Show featured an interview with Charlie Sheen by Matt Lauer. After Sheen’s announcing his news that he was diagnosed HIV positive four years ago, Matt eventually asked a couple direct questions pertaining to Charlie’s substance abuse.
Matt Lauer: “Are you still doing drugs?
Charlie Sheen: “No, I’m not.”
Matt: Are you still drinking?
Charlie: “I’m still drinking a little bit, yeah.”
For whatever reasons, people still tend to separate alcohol abuse and drug abuse, creating the dangerous illusion of a distinction in the mind of an addict. When it comes to addiction, alcohol is a drug. Drug addicts are wise to abstain from alcohol as well as other drugs. Yet due to the societal influences which create the distinction, drinking too often slips into a gray territory so easily manipulated by the drug addict.
Alcoholics Drinking “A Little Bit”
Speaking from the world of addiction recovery, those on the other side of the illness would argue the reply to Matt Lauer’s question “Are you still drinking” requires a one word answer: yes or no. Adding the “a little bit” only points to the attempt to defend the behavior, as if to justify it is okay based on the quantity. In truth, that is the slippery slope of addiction. The mental obsession leads the untreated addict to justify “a little bit.” That “little bit”, however little, opens the door to the physical aspect of the addiction which entails the compulsion for more.
Imagine if Matt were to ask Charlie “Are you still having unprotected sex with prostitutes” and his reply were to be “A little bit, yeah.” Risky behavior is risky behavior. The point is, that a self-admitted drug addict who is still engaging in drinking is an active addict, regardless of how they may present in the moment. It’s a game of Russian Roulette - it’s a matter of when, not if, someone will get hurt.
“The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.” -Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 30.
Against Doctor’s Orders?
Sheen’s doctor explained to Lauer that his “biggest concern with Charlie as a patient is his substance abuse….. more than what the HIV virus could do in terms of shortening his life.”
Let’s take a rational look at whether or not Charlie Sheen, as the example here, should be drinking. If you’re an alcoholic, it’s not a healthy choice to drink. If you’re not an alcoholic, not drinking shouldn’t be an issue for you, right? If you can take it or leave it, go ahead and leave it if your doctors suggest that. Charlie’s doctors are very concerned about his substance abuse history and the fact that his health with HIV diagnosis relies on his ability to take consistent actions daily.
If Charlie drinks a little, and a little eventually leads to more, and he goes on a bender… not only are we talking about his behavior putting himself at risk for his HIV viral load to increase, but his recklessness would likely extend to harming others as well.
Leading by Example
A little later in the interview, Matt goes on to say, “A lot of people might say: ‘Charlie, you should stop drinking; you say you’ve stopped doing drugs- you need to stop drinking as well.’”
Charlie: “Well, perhaps the freedom of today might lead to that as well.”
We can only hope that to be true. As the saying goes, “you’re as sick as your secrets”. Only Charlie himself knows his true motivation for coming out with this information, whether entirely just to put an end to the “shakedowns” resulting from his shady encounters, or to genuinely come clean and make a fresh start.
Sheen claims that he will continue to speak to raise awareness about HIV. While that is an admirable intention, that fact is that speaking as a still-drinking addict with HIV, Charlie may be doing more harm than good.