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TV characters' drinking problems: Not that funny

I've never been a huge fan of the popular TV show Two and a Half Men - I'll tune in occasionally - but in recent years I've grown increasingly turned off by how the main character's serious drinking problem is played for laughs. The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley also took notice of this show and others' inappropriately playful depiction of alcoholism, noting recently that "jokes about serious drinking [on TV] aren't taboo, they are de rigueur." About Two and a Half Men she writes:

When the show began in 2003, Charlie [played by Charlie Sheen] was more of a roue than a lush. Perhaps partly because of the star's well-publicized record of arrests, substance abuse and rehab, the show's writers have steadily painted his character's drinking in harsher colors; he was a peacock, now he is mostly pathetic.

In a recent episode Charlie was flailing on the far side of Dean Martin drunk, staggering so much his brother put a biking helmet on his head. When told the new maid was given detailed instructions, Charlie says with a slur, "Did you tell her to roll me over on my stomach, so I don't choke on my own vomit?" Later the new maid wonders if she should have made his bed with plastic sheets.

Gross. And not that funny, right?

I asked Stanford addiction expert Keith Humphreys, PhD, what he thought of the whole thing and wasn't surprised with his answer. He has concerns with the show, too, and in large part because of Sheen's real-life issues:

...Charlie Sheen is the only person I can think of who has played a comic drunk on television while simulataneously doing great damage to himself and others with addictions in real life. News accounts of Mr. Sheen's intoxicated behavior document him destroying property, threatening people and engaging in serial violence against women. Two and Half Men is feeding national denial - and perhaps Sheen's own denial - of how devastating addiction can be to the individual and those around him/her.

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