Years ago, drug and alcohol addiction was a disease that people chose not to talk about in public. They had their own reasons to sweep it under the rug at the time. Some people chose not to talk about it because they were too embarrassed, while others chose to deny they were even addicted.
The disease of drug and alcohol addiction had long been seen as taboo when it came to the mass public. Often, the only time you would hear about drug or alcohol-related problems or deaths was on the nightly news.
Fast-forward to now and you will find that things are very different today. Drug and alcohol addiction is a topic that is now front and center in our culture. Most of us now know someone who has battled an addiction.
So for a disease that is so ugly and so unforgiving, why would millions of viewers tune in to watch TV shows about addiction? When did it all change? Why did addiction become one of the highest rated topics for television programming?
The Success of Intervention
One of the biggest successes for the A&E network is a show by the name of Intervention. It made its debut to audiences in March 2005 and gave viewers a glimpse into the chaos that addiction causes everyone touched by the addict. Once ratings were through the roof, A&E ordered a full season of episodes for their line-up and the wheels were set in motion.
Every Monday night, viewers tuned in to watch an addict slowly destroy their life right before their very eyes. I like to compare it to watching a train wreck in slow motion. If you are out running errands and drive by a car accident scene, don’t you slow down to take a look? Sure you do.
A&E understood that as well and simply provided the television audience with a weekly scheduled accident scene. Intervention even ended up winning an Emmy for Outstanding Reality Program in 2009.
Explosion of Addiction-Related TV
Once A&E had a winning horse with Intervention, other networks began to scramble and follow suit. Within months of Intervention’s debut, copycat shows began popping up on nearly all of the networks. Shows about drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling, compulsive shopping, and hoarding were becoming normal parts of life to a TV viewer.
Once the networks became saturated with addiction shows, the executives decided they had to go a little further with the content in order to compete with one another. Due to high competition between addiction-themed shows, networks worked hard to provide audiences with the highest shock value in an attempt to gain and hold the viewer’s attention.
A&E had huge success with the exploitation of addiction, so other networks created shows that took things to a new level. They set out to show viewers even more disturbing battles with addiction and/or anxiety disorders.
For example, TLC gave viewers a new show called My Strange Addiction. In this show, the addicts are suffering from a range of problems quickly presented to the audience. My Strange Addiction profiles people who are addicted to things such as drinking laundry detergent, huffing gasoline, or eating rocks. While the show does provide professionals to work with each addict, it is apparent that My Strange Addiction is solely focused on shock value.
The theme of addiction is not relegated to reality TV shows. Cable networks have created shows that revolve around addiction, including Showtime’s Nurse Jackie and Shameless. These shows often make light of serious addictions that cause the main characters to get into “humorously” troublesome situations. These shows make pure entertainment out of drug and alcohol addiction and its effects on relationships. The success of these shows paved the way for AMC’s hit Breaking Bad, which then opened doors for Recovery Road on Freeform, Flaked on Netflix, and Mom on CBS.
The topic of drug and alcohol addiction is now out of the shadows and into the spotlight when it comes to television entertainment. How do you feel about TV shows that tackle drug and alcohol addiction?
Contributed by Nikki Seay.