Charlie Sheen and AA: A Psychologist's Take

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Actor Charlie Sheen has publicly denounced Alcoholics Anonymous a number of times over the past few weeks. He has also claimed that he "cured" himself of alcoholism "with his mind." Charlie Sheen is only one celebrity, only one dissenting voice among a chorus of professionals who believe in AA. But, thanks to a number of recent, highly-publicized interviews, some psychologists are concerned that Sheen’s comments about AA and alcoholism might affect the way their patients think of the twelve step program and the disease.

Joining us to discuss this is Dr. Harris Stratyner, Regional Clinical Vice President of the Caron Treatment Center and Vice Chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.


Dr. Harris Stratyner

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Comments [40]

CanWeDemandMORE? from Manhattan

Why does WNYC have to be part of this? The Takeaway can be replaced by such better programming. While some aspects of this conversation are clearly thoughtful/thought-provoking, I find the attempt to combine high-mindedness and tabloid sensationalism disingenuous, both in this case and in general on the Takeaway. IMLozach, I'm with you. I don't love scandal. And I don't love the show from which Sheen derives his fame (though, for the record, I love many other well-crafted comedies, incl. 30 Rock and the Office). There are SO many more deserving issues to be covered. The Takeaway is a sad attempt at hipness. NPR/WNYC can do better.

Mar. 05 2011 06:31 AM
MarkS from FLORIDA

Chuckie Chuckie Chuckie. At this point I am going to just assume you either can't read very well, or you can't comprehend very well at all. Either way, I am going to blow you a big wet kiss and say peace to you my farsighted friend. By the way, you can go into any dollar store and pick up a pair of reading glasses.

Mar. 05 2011 12:26 AM
Chuck from colorado

Marks AA is not very sucessfull for most folks,my main concern is there are a lot of good people in the rooms getting fed mainly a load of crap. When I found out the most popular guy in the room,had been married 6 time's, can't hold a job, I had to do a little research. I am glad I found the ORANGE PAPERS online. Oh and about the Guru that had been married 6 times ,people just hang on his every sappy word. What I wonder his how many people have he and his like put in the Graveyard. And by the way Im not dry Im having the time of my life. I don't by what the LSD JUNKIE Bill Willson is selling any longer.

Mar. 05 2011 12:00 AM

Sorry Tom - I forgot to answer the rest of your question. FOR ME, the constant study of the Big Book is key to my understanding of my disease, and aids in my spiritual growth. The more I grow, the more I find out about myself and my disease. Last, but not least, my working of the program has put me in a position to carry the message of what has saved me to the next person who wants and needs it. There is nothing - NOTHING - more satisfying than to walk side by side with somebody who used to suffer as I did, and through sharing what happened to ME, see similar miracles happy with them. I sponsor several people who recover and subsequently sponsor others who recover and so on. As the big book shares, it is not unlike the feeling of being saved from a sinking ship and being plucked out of the ocean at the last minute. This feeling of constant rejoicing is the closest thing that I have to compare my sobriety to. To be in the company of those who CHOOSE this and work it as directed - the feeling of the common joy is something phenomenol to us. To see others find what we have found only adds to the joy. Why anybody (not you) would wish to deny that what I know works and exists - actually does work and exist - and with such resentment is beyond me. If it isn't for them - then we are cool. But, it really is real!

Mar. 04 2011 08:38 PM
MarkS from Florida

Tom -
I wouldn't presume to say anything about you. If you are happy and not drinking - that is fine and dandy. I am happy for you. In fact your tone is that of somebody with peace not looking for an argument. I have said before and will always say - if it works for you - rock til you drop. I am sincerely happy for you as I know we have possibly come from similar drinking desperations. I am not forcing anything on anybody. However, when somebody posts disdain, argument and discouragement for something that I know has saved countless lives - I will defend AA as being a solution for somebody who might need it as I did. My definition of a dry drunk is somebody who has stopped drinking but has otherwise not changed. These people are sometimes more unhappy than when they drank. Sometimes they spend much time posting spew and discontent and lacking tolerance for others. Again - if you have found sobriety in your life and have escaped the horror of addiction - I am filled with nothing but joy for your peace!

Mar. 04 2011 08:20 PM

I am sober and very happy and I don't work the steps or go to AA mettings anymore. Would you say I am a dry drunk and on the road to relapse? What would the majority of AA members think about this? I don't understand how that there is some magical thing going on by reading the Big Book that promises to keep one sober. I think if people are happy with life they will have no reason to go back to drinking and throw it all away.

Mar. 04 2011 08:06 PM
MarkS from Florida

Chuck -
I am to say its not a bunch of quack medicine.I am witness and if you give me your address perhaps the 100's of thousands of people who have recovered could line up at your door. Seriously, Chuck, if you didn't like it, or it didn't work for you - so be it. Walk away and do as you please. Nobody says you HAVE to do it. Clearly your own program of recovery is working soooooo well for you, why not turn the other cheek to those who it works for. You can post and post and post and it will not change that it works - as it has worked for me and all the people I have witnessed it work for, as long as they work it the way instructed. So you can stop with your dissent - we get it. You don't like it. Problem is, your constant and repeated babble and complaining doesnt reflect that of a peaceful man, but that of a bothered one. So, show some tollerance for people who think differently than you and who have had different experiences than you, and simply walk away from the conversation - instead of looking to fight and argue. You are starting to display the differences between somebody with sobriety and somebody who is merely 'dry'.

Mar. 04 2011 07:39 PM
Chuck from colorado

Who's not to say that the big book is just a bunch of quack medicine,I wasted a fair amount of time in those meetings. I bet if there wasn't a big book written yet,the people in today's meetings could write close to some of same ridiculous stuff.Maybe Bill did a lot of his writing under the influence of LSD that he was know to take every now and again.He didn't even have 10 yrs sober when he died let alone 36 yrs.He also claimed in Bills story that he had never been unfaithfull to his wife. I see the book as complete and utter nonsense.

Mar. 04 2011 07:26 PM
MarkS from FL

The Big Book contains a specific set of instructions as to how to work the steps. Working the steps promise to remove the mental obsession necessary to stop a real alcoholic from taking the first drink. Once the first drink is taken it sets off the physical craving that demands another and another drink be taken. This physical 'allergy' will never be removed - but it is the mental obsession that must be treated and removed for an alcoholic to recover. As long as the steps are taken thoroughly, honestly, and promptly the obsession IS removed. Before any doubters question whether it works, let me say the I am witness to it working over and over and over and over again... including myself. The only thing that fails in aa is the individuals failure to work the steps as directed - thoroughly, fearless and honestly. NO DOUBT. Its a promise!

Mar. 04 2011 06:25 PM


What is it in the Big Book that that keeps a person sober..can you explain this to us

Mar. 04 2011 05:29 PM
MarkS from FL

Mona Lisa -
It hasn't been ignored at all, you must have missed it. Also, NO individual speaks for AA. If it isn't reconcilable with the big book, then it isn't the message of aa, so don't blame aa for the misguided message of a misinformed member of aa. Just for the record - it literally took me 25 years to find REAL fundamental AA. Until then I abhored my failures in AA. Sadly the FELLOWSHIP of AA has truly misrepresented and corrupted the PROGRAM of AA. The program of AA hasn't changed and it DOES work - the problem is, AA is more and more becoming defined by the fellowship and that is sad and harmful. My message to you as a member of AA is that I am grateful for ANYBODY in and out of the program who has been able to find a way out of this horrible disease! You go girl!

Mar. 04 2011 10:47 AM
Mona Lisa

What has been repeatedly ignored in the discussion about Charlie Sheen is the obvious fact that 12 step does not help a significant percentage of the people who reach out for help with addictive behaviors. Whether that percentage is 95% or 50%, the percentage is high enough that we should be focusing on providing more effective, or at least alternative, treatment. Instead, the treatment industry is geared almost exclusively toward 12 step, and those of us who decry the situation are rerided as dangerous lunatics for daring to point out the truth.

This is appalling and incredibly frustrating. If we were talking about any other illness, a person who wasn't helped by the proffered treatment would not be told that they were crazy or "constitutionally incapable of being honest" (AA Big Book, page 58)...but that is what happens when it comes to addictive disorders.

It even happens to those of us who have achieved sobriety through methods other than 12 step. I have been contentedly abstinent from alcohol for 12.5 years and just the other day was told that I am "not really sober" because I am not an AA member, not a member of "the club".

If anything does a disservice to addicted individuals, it is the over-focus on 12 step, not the actions of those of us who are speaking out agains the status quo.

Mar. 04 2011 08:15 AM

you don't have to be a rocket scientist to see the contradiction in the sentiment of those two statements. now please, not so much with the replying.

Mar. 04 2011 12:06 AM

Those were two different statements. Nothing dishonest about them.

I could not sit IN the rooms and bring people IN anymore.

And I stay out of the rooms.

Nothing dishonest about that. Thats actually very honest and respectful to the people in the rooms. I would not sit there and dislike it.

You are a very cruel person. I dont care whats showing.

Mar. 04 2011 12:00 AM
MarkS from Florida

See Jackie? This is where all your arguments fall apart and end the entire debate. You can't even remember what you say from one post to the next, subsequently making your argument a dishonest one. I will make my point with YOUR OWN WORDS:
I have NO committment to keeping anyone out of the rooms. Just me.

Your previous post:
I have a moral obligation not to bring people into an organization like that once i know the truth.

I don't know what your motives are, but they have now been proven to be dishonest. So, that homespun 'sobriety' of yours that is supposedly full of peace, is now full of resentment, dishonesty and self-righteousness. You can now stop replying as previously promised, your 'slip' is showing and its not very attractive.

Mar. 03 2011 09:55 PM

"I am glad that a detractor from the message is no longer in the rooms diluting and contaminating the message". Thats exactly why i dont go anymore. Because once my eyes were open i could be nothing but that and i did not want to do that. And I dont do that to any of my friends who are still in AA. And have never done it in the rooms. I have NO committment to keeping anyone out of the rooms. Just me.

As for the false accusations...I spoke of what i saw and witnessed over and over. Nothing false about it.

I loved fundamental AA. That is what i was raised on. I dont find it here very much anymore. You dont need to keep twisting my words around. This is not a battle. Its just my experience.

Mar. 03 2011 07:11 PM
Chuck from Colorado

Charlie is right L. Ron wilson, i mean Bill Wilson was more than likely a broken down old fool.Any one who has honestly done any research on him knows about his constant skirt chasing,at least a hundred grand a year goes to the heirs of his last mistress.Her story in the book is freedom from bondage.Bill used LSD off and on, some say well into the mid 19 sixtys. But say one thing against the patron saint in a meeting and love and tolerence go out the window.His story in the big book is a bunch of insane ramblings that he probley didnt even write himself. For myself I left AA about a month ago,went home and wrote nonsense on my big book and complete nonsense on the 12 and 12. Im sober and loving life in the great Rocky Mountain west.

Mar. 03 2011 05:55 PM
MarkS from FL

Sounds like you are at peace - except for the resentment, anger, and false accusations, not to mention your commitment to keeping people out of AA and potentially kill them yourself. I am sorry you have had bad experiences with AA - join the club - but there is fundamental AA to be found which is phenomenal and you are only going to add to the problem of keeping solution and hope from the sick and suffering addict. On the other hand, I am glad that a detractor from the message is no longer in the rooms diluting and contaminating the message. You have clearly identified yourself as one of those who you yourself site as being problems in the rooms. Then again, you just might not be one of us. And by the way - thanks for not replying!

Mar. 03 2011 05:54 PM

Hi Again. Actually Mark. Sorry for even replying. You are right there are plenty of organizations with human beings in them. I guess I just got tired of what I saw. It really changed over 28 years. And I could no longer sit back and watch. I have alot of anger at AA and have been sorting through that because i dont want to carry it with me the rest of my life. I was a very young person when i came into AA. And I myself made alot of mistakes as a human in the rooms. So its not even a judgment of the people. I dont want to argue about it. There are always two sides to everything. I just know for me, its best to stay out of the rooms and have a good life.

Mar. 03 2011 04:07 PM

Hi Mark. What I meant by hiding behind their anonymity is once the person is told to get off meds and they die, then there is no one around to take accountablity for their actions because no one has too. Your right, used the word anonymity out of context. And i am WELL aware of the pamphlet. Maybe people in AA should read it before they start talking about medical issues they know NOTHING about. And giving advice out of school. You can write all the pamphlets you want and say thats "AA's approved position" all you want. That does not mean thats whats happening in the rooms. And do not bother saving a seat for me. I sat in one way longer than i ever should have. And hate to burst your bubble but I have more Peace now than i have had in years being out of AA. The only time my Peace gets wrecked now is when I hear about AA. You are right again I have a HUGE resentment against AA. And i can live with that. As far as other organizations that have psychopaths and sociopaths in it? I have heard that argument from the speaker circuit before too. I have a moral obligation not to bring people into an organization like that once i know the truth. Just the fact that you had to take to task everyone one this board shows me once again the truth about you people self righteous people. Makes me glad once again regarding my decision to leave. Thanks for sharing.

Mar. 03 2011 03:55 PM
greg b from atl

Its not that i agree or disagree. Chemical dependency is a complicated subject and we can go on for hours about it. The point is people suffer, and then find a way out. He can bash AA all he wants, and that is his right. But the truth of the matter is it works for people. SMART and Narcanon and other programs work for others. I went to treatment at the same time as an old family friend. He eats sugar cookies and no longer drinks, I used a 12 step program and no longer partake in mind altering substances. I also took meds for a time because i needed too. The point is to find something that works for you. I know from experience that when I spend all my time viciously attacking someone or something it is because I am not happy with something going on inside of me. I feel for Charlie but he is obviously having some sort of fun making a spectacle out of himself. God for him and good luck to the winner with tiger blood.

Mar. 03 2011 12:17 PM
MarkS from FL

By the way Andrew - please name ONE scientific-based program of therapy that has documented success in treating addicts - and before my 'case is closed' please tell me who the 'we' are when you state 'We'd like science-based therapy to replace it asap'???????? You.. and...?

Mar. 03 2011 04:50 AM
MarkS from Florida

Here comes Andrew with some more mis-information. I hate to burst your bubble Andy - but you are incorrect. AA most certainly DID have input from the scientific community - namely one of the great heroes of AA, Dr. William Silkworth, a medical doctor whose observarvations are now accepted by the AMA - an organization that I think you would agree is founded in science? Although you are only partially correct that AA was INSPIRED PARTIALLY by a failing religious cult, the twist that made AA suceed where the Oxford Group failed was the absolute necessity to change AA from being religious, to being an ALL-INCLUSIVE SPIRITUAL group.

I truly wish that you people who obviously are lacking in actual facts would stay on the sideline in silence, instead OF feeling compelled to vomit out any innacuracies that come to mind. FAIR ENOUGH? (Scientific therapy huh? Does that include prescribed magic pills?)

Mar. 03 2011 04:23 AM

AA does not enjoy the full endorsement of the scientific community. It's not like climate change or Darwinian evolution, ok? It's an organization with a lot of problems. We'd like science-based therapy to replace it asap. If you need information showing why it is a horrible cult that needs to die, go to the orange papers. You can argue about it back and forth, but you can't argue two points 1. AA is a religiously inspired program that that was built using no input from science. 2. Science-based therapy is the greatest invention of humankind. I rest my case. Go home, cultists.

Mar. 03 2011 01:10 AM
MarkS from Florida

One last thing Jackie. I would suggest you also read up on what anonymity is referring to in the literature and what it certainly ISN'T referring to. Your comment "AA stands on its stupid anonymity" just further proves your ignorance regarding AA. The purpose and context of anonymity has absolutely nothing to do with what your ill-informed rant implies. Not to worry. We have a seat saved for you. Let me know if you need a sponsor who is well-versed in fundamental AA and we'll see if we can get you that promised spiritual awakened afterall. Until then, I wish you the peace that you obviously are missing from your life.

Mar. 03 2011 12:17 AM
Marks from FL

Jackie. You really do need to get a grip on the truth. AA has human beings in it and because humans are not perfect you will ALWAYS be able to find misguided and self-serving people in ANY organizations. ANY. Until you find me an industry, religion, profession, sport, etc. without personalities at odds with morality or guidelines, let me direct you to the AA approved literature entitled AA Members - Medication and other drugs. If you read this, you will see AAs approved position on interfering with prescriptions and medical doctors' treatment. Please write back when you do locate such an organization without faults or individuals who contradict the will of the organization. Until then, it appears you need to do a 4th step. Your character defects and resentments are showing!

Mar. 02 2011 11:54 PM

After 28 years in AA, I am out. Funny that he is saying all this publicly. I agree! Its about time. I wish he wasnt acting so irratically because the truth of AA needs to get out. Its more insane in AA then out. These gurus who claim to be sober are all addicted to something else; sex, gambling; work etc. They are killing people who really need medical help. I have seen people in meetings tell other people they have to get off meds, then they do and die. And then AA stands on its stupid anonymity. Its a cult and I am ashamed I got into it at 17 years old. Now 46 and the wiser and OUT!! I hope he doesnt crash and burn because the message REALLY needs to get out. There are many ways to get sober and happy besides goofy AA!!!

Mar. 02 2011 11:20 PM
MarkS from Florida

I love the way that people pretend to talk about AA as if they truly understand it. It is true that people who come to AA meetings recover at a rate of 5% but that is misleading. The fact is that AA meetings ARE NOT the program of recovery but the fellowship of AA and that is where we have our problem. Unfortunately, over 75+ years since the founding of AA the original PROGRAM of recovery has been diluted and pushed aside for people who now in massive numbers fail by trying to get and stay sober on the FELLOWSHIP of AA. You can NOT get sober by going to AA meetings. You should be going to AA meetings and hearing the wonderful message of solution and THAT IS the PROGRAM of AA that is SPECIFICALLY instructed in the BOOK called 'Alcoholics Anonymous'. The success right for those who work the PROGRAM of AA honestly, fearlessly, and thoroughly is closer to the 75% success rate documented in the archives of AA back in the 30s and 40s NOT the 5% failure rate of those people who think all they need to do is to just don't drink, and go to meetings. Thats NOT PROGRAM - and that doesn't work. The God thing is another misconception. The vast ranges of God interpretations are as wide and many as there are people enjoying wonderful sobriety. Admittedly, the word 'God' comes with a prejudice, but the Big Book is very clear on the interpretation of a Higher Power being ANYTHING that works and it is also specific as to being something that one can find in their own conscious - NOT in a thrown up in the clouds!

Mar. 02 2011 06:55 PM
Kevin Cummins from Denver, CO 80233

Its about time some real honest to goodness AA bashing has hit the mainstreem media. Its not the Bill and Bob show any longer. You have these mega years sober so called Gurus that run the show now,the help the new pretty females get sober by 13 steping them,and by God you better do what the say or you will get drunk. I like the anti AA Agent Orange voted with my feet and left,still sober w/3 yrs.

Mar. 02 2011 06:43 PM
James from NYC

Charlie Sheen Rants to Music... Brilliant:

Mar. 02 2011 01:22 PM

Michael-Shawn apologies for
any spelling errors in my "Charlie Sheen comments". Unfortunately, I either missed the "spell check" function tab??...or I should have "previewed" my comments prior to posting. Either way, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it ;).
PS...The date of my last drink is 11-28-1983....(not 11-27).

Mar. 02 2011 11:23 AM
Michael-Shawn from Orange County, CA

As a "member"(for lack of a better term) and sober in AA since my last drink 11-27-83....I can see both sides of the story.

I was only 22 when I stopped drinking, and am now 49. AA, while undeniably has helped thousands over it's life span, is not the "cure-all/miracle pill) for everyone's addiction issues.

I was taught early on in AA to take what I cooks use, and leave the rest behind. After all, in an AA meeting(a room full of alcoholics), it truly is the blind leading the blind. Some good things do happen there(even a broken watch gets it "right" at least once a day).

Regarding the "God thing" in AA....God DIDN'T get me drunk, and God WON'T keep me sober.

Underneath it all, when one gets truly honest with themselves about their drinking, addictions, etc...then and only then does recovery take place. Stopping by an AA meeting occasionally may indeed offer comfort, the the recovery is truly an inside job....between the person and perhaps a "Higher Power or God" of his understanding(no one else's).

Over the past 27 years if sobriety, my life has improved immensely. While AA has been a part of my recovery, it in no way defines me or my sobriety.

I wish Charlie Sheen the best....

Mar. 02 2011 11:04 AM
LG from Boston

Perhaps everyone would be better off if Charlie Sheen were installed in Tripoli and Gadhafi took over on Two and a Half Men. Both situations could only be improved by the change.

Mar. 02 2011 10:05 AM
Tinaorange from South Florida

I think we all as loving Americans should embrace Charlie Sheen and give him all the support that he can get; drugs; alcohol these things when used out of proportion in ways to harm the body can be devastating; I'm sure most of us have seen family or friends experience hard dilemmas but with truth, faith, love, GOD, peace, Charlie will and is okay, I will vouch to that as a true spiritualist, Bless the Sheen family, bless all of us on the roads to recovery, we must not give up, Americans are winners, we shine for the World Tina

Mar. 02 2011 10:00 AM
LLR from Miami, FL

I was enraged that the national news spent time broadcasting an interview with Charlie Sheen, but did not utter even one word about 100,000 people (the most since the Vietnam War) protesting in Madison. I hope Sheen gets help, but it is NOT news!

Mar. 02 2011 09:58 AM
DJL from Missouri

AA helps some I'm sure - but it can easily become a substitute addiction. People don't learn true self control or self mastery, they learn that they are helpless and AA becomes their god....or their comfort, affirmation, direction, control....all the things that truly healthy people DO for themselves. AA keeps people from drinking/drugs - but - "dry drunks" still wallow in addictive-behavior.

Mar. 02 2011 09:32 AM

To: IMLozach from NYC - If you're a newsJUNKIE, do you need help from AA or would a good dose of Aljazeera help you?

Mar. 02 2011 08:28 AM
Loma from Upstate NY

Charley Sheen is most likely in denial, but he is right on about AA. As a person with a history of chemical dependency, I have been pushed to do the AA thing on more than one occasion. My experience with AA has been that the entire program is based on learning the fine art of denial, and unfortunately promotes lying to yourself and others. The whole premise of AA is you're powerless to help yourself, and without belief in a higher power you're screwed - This kind of message does more to harm than help for most people with chemical dependency issues.

Why do we warehouse most addicts through a program with only a 5% success rate? There are alternate methods to address this problem.

Mar. 02 2011 08:20 AM
IMLozach from NYC

Your show gets a sustained sssssssssssssssssss. (during pledge drive)
Gaddafi is in a position to massacre his countrymen and wreak havoc in the world economy. Charlie Sheen is a TV star with N-O power and no consequence.
I am a news junky who has, until listening to your show today, managed to completely avoid this story. Cover something more relevant, please !

Mar. 02 2011 07:56 AM

Can we send all Climate Change deniers to AA?

Mar. 02 2011 07:45 AM

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