Fictional Addicts Telling Untold Stories
Since entertainment and media began, the entertainment and media industries have attempted to tell stories that are relevant and relate to real issues that society is facing through the medium of fiction. This tactic can be a double-edged sword. When done well it can raise awareness on the issue at hand, and perhaps even be a catalyst for change or reform. When the issue is portrayed in a negative light though, these fictional characters can create stigma surrounding the issues they are highlighting.
In this article, we will highlight a few fictional characters who tell the story of alcoholism or addiction. While these characters are 100% fictional, they tell a story that is all too real for many Americans. We will let you decide for yourself if these characters are bringing awareness or perpetuating stigma.
Dr. Gregory House
Dr. Gregory House was the main character of a wildly successful and popular medical drama called House. House aired in 2014 and ran through 2012. The show follows Dr. Gregory House and his co-workers in the hospital. Dr. Gregory House can best be described as an eccentric genius in the world of medicine. Dr. House has an uncanny ability to diagnose and treat the most unique and complicated cases, but Dr. House also has a dark secret. He becomes injured in a motorcycle accident, losing most of the function of one leg. After the accident, Dr. House is prescribed prescription opioids. He begins to abuse them but his genius and professional success masks his problem for a time.
As things progress his problem becomes more and more apparent. As the show progresses Dr. House faces a series of increasingly serious consequences. These consequences start out as write-ups and formal reprimands at work, progressing all the way to Dr. House facing jail time. While this story is dramatized for entertainment value, at its core this is a story that is all too familiar in the United States, especially in the last 15-20 years of the opioid epidemic.
Fiona Gallagher is a fictional character is a popular comedy Shameless. She is present from Season 1 through Season 9 and was a fan favorite. Fiona Gallagher plays the role of the eldest Gallagher sibling and due to her father’s alcoholism, is expected to play the role of the de facto second parent to the younger siblings. While her father Frank Gallagher’s struggles are much more prominent and obvious, Fiona’s struggles are more subtle. Growing up in the southside of Chicago, Fiona faced a lot of temptation. Mix that with her poor choice in men and the stress of being responsible for her siblings, Fiona struggles with drugs and alcohol periodically throughout the show.
We felt it important to highlight Fiona over Frank because Franks’s alcoholism is obvious to almost anyone watching Shameless. Fiona on the other hand is a much more subtle case. Fiona uses alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. In the substance abuse treatment industry, we refer to this as self-medicating. This is something we, unfortunately, see far too often.
Barney Gumble is a character on the iconic show “The Simpsons”. Barney plays the role of the town drunk in the Simpsons. He is portrayed as sort of a bumbling idiot who will do anything for a few dollars to get back to the bar. He is frequently volunteering himself for medical research to act as a human guinea pig for whatever product the researchers are testing. Barney was a high achieving child who was slated to attend Harvard University until Homer introduced him to beer the night before SATs. While portrayed in a humorous light on The Simpsons, the Barney Gumble story is a sad one. Alcohol is one of the leading causes of early death in America even though it is acceptable in the mainstream and legal.
Christopher Moltisanti was a major character in the record setting series “The Sopranos”. The Sopranos is a crime drama that follows a northern New Jersey crime family and their leader Tony Soprano. Christopher is Tony’s nephew and becomes a made man and major player in Tony’s organization. Christopher struggled with substance abuse throughout the show, which eventually progressed to Heroin and Alcohol.
Like so many people, Christopher was afraid to reach out for help because of the shame associated with drug use. In the Italian mob culture drug users are looked down upon. For this reason, Christopher tried very hard to hide his use although eventually he could not. Although this is a very theatrical reason to hide substance use the theme rings true in the real world. Due to the stigma associated with drug use many addicts suffer in silence for fear of what people will think if they ask for help.
Sherlock Holmes is an almost legendary fictional detective about which both books and movies have been made. Sherlock is known to solve crimes that no one else can. He is a man who is tormented by his work despite his extreme talent and success. While there has been much speculation around Sherlock Holmes mental health and which disorders, he may or may not have. One thing is clear, in the absence of the stimulation of a case, Sherlock frequently turns to alcohol, cocaine, and even morphine. He suffers varying levels of dependence throughout his fictional life, but his substance use is more than just a casual pastime or social lubricant. Sherlock Holmes uses substances to cope with boredom.
In the substance abuse treatment industry, we see many young people who mimic Sherlock Holmes in that their answer to boredom is substance use. For some this is a harmless pastime but for a percentage of young people this is the start of a lifelong battle with alcohol or drugs.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse issues, we are here to help! Please call us at 855-698-3554 or directly at 201-663-2914 for a confidential and no-obligation consultation to discuss treatment options.