Alcoholism in TV shows

Heading on a web page dealing with alcoholism in TV shows.

The first article available in a Google search for “alcoholism in TV” is one outlining the hilarity of it. “The problem with some people is that when they aren’t drunk they’re sober,” typed in a large font, is the what viewers are first greeted by.

The article includes a list of TV’s most popular alcoholics, including cartoon favourites such as Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin, as well as the entire cast of the popular sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. What these characters have in common is that they all spend a lot of their time in local bars.

By definition, the characters are alcoholics. However, the dictionary notes that alcoholism tends to be characterized by the effects and repercussions of the compulsive need to drink. These often include an avoidant personality, negligent hygiene and health practices, and poor interpersonal relationships. Few of the listed characters meet these standards. Homer Simpson holds a job, has a wife and kids, and a steady group of friends. The same goes for Peter Griffin. The group from How I Met Your Mother all seem to hold onto careers (with a few exceptions, when the characters are fired for reasons not pertaining to alcohol abuse), manage relationship ups and downs, and can afford to live in expensive New York City. At one point in the show, one of the couples bring a new born baby into the bar on it’s very first outing since birth and, still, no mention of alcoholism.

“many movies and TV shows glamourize smoking, alcohol and drug use,” says Jenna O’Hearn, a registered nurse.

O’Hearn points out that the shows are often targeting a younger, easily influenced audience. This concerns her in that a younger audience “generally will try anything their peers do” and she categorizes this audience as vulnerable. Without seeing the negative effects of alcohol abuse, they are likely to become careless with alcohol and substance usage.

One television character that embodies some of the harsher effects of alcoholism, but who was not listed, is Richard Webber of Grey’s Anatomy.

Webber is the chief of surgery at the fictional Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital and struggles with a behind-the-scenes alcohol addiction. His alcoholism remains contained throughout the first few seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, but in the sixth season, Webber’s drinking causes him to err during a surgery, risking the life of a patient. This incident brings his addiction to the attention of several of his coworkers, which ultimately leads to him losing his position as Chief of Surgery. Additionally, his marriage is tested throughout his struggle with addiction and attempted recovery.

Grey’s Anatomy writers explore Webber’s alcoholism and the effect it has on his career, social life and mental health. Unlike many of the characters listed in the online article, Webber shows the consequences of alcoholism that real people affected can relate to.

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