Does the Anthony Weiner Story Trivialize Addictions?

June 23, 2011 Kendra Sebelius

When I first heard of Anthony Weiner seeking professional “help” I was ready to blow a cork. I am so done with hearing about politicians, celebrities, and professional athletes seeking treatment for what may very well be an excuse for bad behavior.

Sex Addiction in the Mediaanthony-weiner-cybersex1

Do not get me wrong, I know addictions are serious, and understand the tyranny sexual and other behavioral addictions place on people. People struggle daily, and these are serious issues that require serious awareness. However, when I hear about another politician seeking professional help to excuse his bad behavior it makes me frustrated and annoyed. If I, as an addiction advocate and activist, am annoyed and frustrated, I can only imagine what the general public feels.

Seeking Professional Treatment for Addictions

I believe people who are struggling of course have the right to seek professional help! I am not saying what they are seeking is wrong. What I am saying is that when people do bad things, get caught, and then have to “explain” their actions; going to seek treatment becomes the go to thing to do.

Why Anthony Weiner is Not a Sex Addict

I absolutely agree with Stanton Peele when he wrote recently:

"Weiner may certainly benefit from therapy and from considering his behavior and what it says about him. But it would be misleading for him, for those treating him, or for those of us considering these questions to label what he did as an addiction. To do so trivializes addiction, including sex addiction."

What is a Sexual Disorder?sub-sd

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, Volume Four describes what society calls sex addiction, under the categorySexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified,” as “distress about a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are experienced by the individual only as things to be used.” According to the manual, sex addiction also involves “compulsive searching for multiple partners, compulsive fixation on an unattainable partner, compulsive masturbation, compulsive love relationships and compulsive sexuality in a relationship.” Remember, as I have written before, the current DSM-IV does not include the word addiction.

I worry that these stories about sex addiction (whether or not they are diagnosable as a sexual disorder) sensationalize the issues at hand. I question the concept that all awareness is good awareness. As Jackie Frank states “the sensational nature of public admissions by the famous and powerful to extramarital affairs, obsession with Internet sexting, or repeated accusations of sexual harassment, draws intense media attention – and a fair amount of ridicule.”

Awareness of Addictions at what Cost?

Is ridicule the kind of attention we want to bring to compulsive behavior and the topic of addiction? I worry that it stigmatizes addictions and makes them appear an excuse, a joke, and real, valuable information and awareness isn’t being discussed. Even people I work with have said “I am so sick of hearing about Weiner and his bad behavior.”


I want to again clarify, I know compulsive behavior is a serious issue; it is not a joke, but I worry that the media hoopla when these stories come out are making light of serious issues and struggles. I feel Weiner and other people who have followed this all too common pattern, are trivializing addiction as an excuse for bad behavior. I of course cannot diagnose people, and would leave that to the professionals, but most psychologists will agree that one or two affairs doesn’t make a person a sex addict, that a sex addict has an inability to stop, has a need for fulfillment, and it affects their work, their family and disregards consequences.

Is Addiction an Excuse for Bad Behavior?

Dr. Laura Berman recently said “Sex addiction has become something that’s sort of thrown around as a way to kind of make yourself more vulnerable, a little less to blame. And if you’re getting a lot of public negative opinions, it’s not uncommon to see these public figures say, ‘oops sorry, I’m really a sex addict. I’m not just a serial cheater…..I’m not just exercising poor judgment, I’m ill here.”

I guess this is why I struggle with these issues. I want to bring awareness for issues, and when stories like this come out a lot of the news actually further stigmatizes and trivializes addictions, and creates confusion between behaviors, and compulsive behaviors.

The fact is, not everyone who drinks, sends text messages, has extramarital affairs, has a diagnosable out of control compulsive behavior.

What do you think? Do you think stories like Weiner’s actually trivialize addictions?

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APA Reference
Sebelius, K. (2011, June 23). Does the Anthony Weiner Story Trivialize Addictions?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Kendra Sebelius

June, 25 2011 at 2:19 pm

Perhaps I didn't clarify. I listened to your video. In the video you admit that you don't know what's going on. That's the best anyone can do. However you wrote:
"when I hear about another politician seeking professional help to excuse his bad behavior it makes me frustrated and annoyed....I of course cannot diagnose people, and would leave that to the professionals, but most psychologists will agree that one or two affairs doesn’t make a person a sex addict, that a sex addict has an inability to stop, has a need for fulfillment, and it affects their work, their family and disregards consequences."
I love your thought process, but his behavior was much more than one or two. We may never know.
Another point, when we put people on pedestals like we do our politicians(for some odd reason), they have no where to go but down. We know this kind of stuff goes on, we just think that they are all Mr. Smith's who went to Washington.
If we are swayed by what the media and late night comedians say about illnesses, then we'd see that alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, eating disorders and a whole host of problems are all being trivialized. Depression is getting a step up because of the "happy" commercials on television.
When someone messes up and says they want help, yes, a lot of times (paris hilton, lindsay lohan) it is a ploy. This isn't. They have serious issues and it gets trivialized. Charlie Sheen seems to have serious issues of some type and people exploited him. This is more than bad behavior. For people who have control, they can judge. If someone has a secret life, it begs the question why?
Oh, btw, I just think Paris Hilton is spoiled.
Keep up the good work Kendra.

June, 25 2011 at 8:11 am

Kendra, I have to disagree with you on this one.
You can't choose which "addictions" you support and those you don't.
If someone engages in a behavior compulsively to their detriment, despite risks to self, their family, society and their job, we have to question motive and decision making. If they find themselves unable to stop, get a "high", build tolerance, spend excessive time doing the activity, or feel like they need the activity in order to achieve a release, something is wrong.
I felt so bad for Weiner and his family for the media treatment, because his behavior was clearly not normal (sending so many pictures to strangers, not to a girlfriend). The media had a field day trashing him for the salacious nature of the story and forgot that he was human.
Confront anyone with a compulsive behavior and they will deny it to high heaven. He just did it on a national stage.
No Kendra, we don't get to pick the diseases. We do get to encourage the media improve their behavior, stop create cute little words called "sexting" and perhaps instead turn their attention to real treatment that works.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kendra Sebelius
June, 25 2011 at 8:17 am

Thank you for sharing your opinion. I don't believe I ever said we get to "pick" what we struggle with. I did not choose to abuse or become addicted to alcohol or choose my eating disorders, so that comment I would like to clarify I never said.
Also the quote "You can't choose which addictions you support and those you don't" i am confused on. I have never stated I don't support addictions. I am an advocate and think awareness is truly important - and I stated clearly these are serious issues, and these stories make a joke of them.
As for the media - I absolutely agree. If you wanted my video my problem is the bigger picture and how the media turns it into a sensationalized story. I struggle with eating disorders in the media as well because it feeds a lot of myths and stigmas.
My video actually shared the range of opinions and thoughts I have (I couldn't write about all of it due to word restrictions", and my replies to other cmoments made by people show how complex this topic is. There are a lot of opinions, and I value you coming here to share your opinion.

Holly Gray
June, 24 2011 at 12:01 pm

@Natasha wrote: "Politicians aren’t exactly known for their honesty. What they are known for is managing public perception and entering treatment does just that."
I don't see the honesty connection. I mean, it's already been clearly established that Weiner's been rather DIShonest. No one is suggesting he's a straight-shooter. So I'm not clear on what that has to do with his choice to enter treatment. Because while I agree that politicians, like many famous people, pay healthy salaries to entire firms just to manage public perception, entering treatment for sexual addiction isn't doing him any favors. And I seriously doubt any image consultant worth their salt would expect it to. When celebrities enter treatment for any addiction, public perception is not, 'Oh good for him. Look how humble he is. What a guy.' It's, 'Jesus Christ. Another low-life jerk gets caught acting a fool and it's boohoo I'm an addict guys!'
No. Entering treatment is not a viable way to manage public perception. Because public perception is reflected right here in this post, and it's comments. And all over the internet. The uproar is consistently, "He's just making excuses for bad behavior! What a politician! What a jerk! What an American!"
And as far as I can tell, that's where the stigma comes from. Not some dude's decision, well-informed or not, to enter treatment for sex addiction.

Natasha Tracy
June, 23 2011 at 10:30 am

I appreciate that many people with mental illness are told they are using it as an "excuse" for "bad behavior," and I would never want to do that to another person with a mental illness.
But seriously. Politicians aren't exactly known for their honesty. What they are known for is managing public perception and entering treatment does just that. True, a father of 3 working in a normal job in a normal life would only get treatment if he were in crisis, but a politician would strangle a cat at the blink of an eye if they thought it would get them one extra vote.
(Yes, I'm jaded about politicians. Shoot me.)
And the issue here, in my opinion, is a heck of a lot less about addiction and a heck of a lot more than middle America "values." I don't believe in the nonsense that he's "bad" or somehow a compromised person just because he sent stupid tweets. People insist on judging him for this and so he insists on publicly handling it to assuage their judgement. It's a big game Americans play. It makes them feel better to judge others when more than 50% of them are already cheating on their partners.
Addiction is a heck of a lot more than sending a few pictures over the internet and cheating on your spouse. If that were the definition, the entire world would be addicted.
[This is not to say the guy isn't actually an addict. I wouldn't know. The point is with the information we have is not really evidence either way.]
- Natasha

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kendra Sebelius
June, 23 2011 at 12:02 pm

Natasha - that was a thought I hadn't even talked about out of fear of being called out on it. I am jaded by politicians as well, and I agree on the values comment you had. I don't think it's inherently bad because he sent stupid tweets. Is it cheating? Yes. It is bad? It is stupid! And he got caught. Is it an addiction? I don't know, the American public, media are the ones having opinions on that, and that is why I wrote this post. Does it stigmatize the issues? Is it sensationalized? Yes in my opinion it does. I worry in the same way celebrities weight changes are deemed as eating disordered or not. It takes away from valuable conversations.
I am glad you came and shared your opinion because I had a lot of the same thoughts when I first heard of it - total annoyance at politicians, and the hoopla that follows behavior that is stupid. It takes up a lot of the media's time and takes focus off of real issues (like actual political issues and social issues).
I think your comment is valuable and an important side to this whole discussion and I am wondering what other people think of as well!
So far everyone has had a different take on it, and I love this discussion!

Tami Rosenberg
June, 23 2011 at 8:43 am

Yes, that is well said. It's hard to contain such a media response when it involves the name he happens to have and the nature of how the story unfolded I suppose. It's just like a ready made gift to late night comedians and on something like Twitter, it's too easy to make a quick one liner joke. I've been guilty of that myself. But I do see your point on the bigger picture and perhaps more people talking about it in the context that you have will help dispel the joke that's been made of all this and start a larger discussion of the real issues behind this kind of behavior. I agree that everyone should be able to seek treatment for an addiction, illness, or even to address whatever issues one need's help with, without feeling shame. I don't know if anyone but him and how he decides to seek help can know if it's a compulsion or some need for approval and attention to address underlying insecurities. I do hope that more mainstream media will look at the bigger picture though too and at least some try and discuss it in terms of those that truly struggle with such behavior and can find better resources to help them recover from true addictions and mental health disorders.

Holly Gray
June, 23 2011 at 8:35 am

@Tami "He did everything he could do lie, cover it up and diffuse the situation by even going so far as to imply someone had hacked his Twitter account. When it became obvious that he was caught, then he went to the “I’m so sorry for the people I’ve hurt” and the revelation that he would seek treatment for his illness."
You've just described how *all* addicts handle their addictions. Lying, going to ridiculous lengths to avoid detection, only admitting wrongdoing when there is absolutely no other way out. That's addiction.
@Kendra To be clear, I agree with you. I do think media attention is helping stigmatize and further shroud addiction and addictive behavior in a veil of myth and misconception. But it's not by considering that Weiner might be a sex addict. It's by insisting that he's not. That's how people respond to addictive behavior across the board, whether it's a celebrity, a politician, or their spouse. By refusing to entertain the idea that Weiner might genuinely have a problem, we are helping to ensure that addicts everywhere continue to get blown off as making excuses.
Great discussion, Kendra. Thanks for bringing this issue up!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kendra Sebelius
June, 23 2011 at 8:42 am

I LOVE this discussion!!! I think it is a fascinating thing to discuss all the angles and areas that are a challenge! Absolutely interesting point about the Weiner being an addict or not! I am actually looking forward to see what happens in the future with this in the media, when I was writing it I was so done :)
So thank you Holly for opening the dialogue up to different talking points! It is always a challenge when the media decides to diagnose or say a person doesn't really have a struggle. I personally did not intend nor want to do that, since I am not a professional. I just was wondering out loud on these topics.
I really wanted to do the video because I wanted people to see I was not trying to minimalize peoples struggles, that even I have these conflicting thoughts and opinions and really wanted to open it up to people so I could further open my mind to other ideas and thoughts!

Tami Rosenberg
June, 23 2011 at 7:59 am

I love this post. The phrase that keeps sticking out in my mind is does it "further stigmatize addiction"? I think it does because of the way he, himself, handled it. He did everything he could do lie, cover it up and diffuse the situation by even going so far as to imply someone had hacked his Twitter account. When it became obvious that he was caught, then he went to the "I'm so sorry for the people I've hurt" and the revelation that he would seek treatment for his illness. To me, this does not seem like illness, but rather bad behavior that he thought as a man in a powerful position he could get away with. Just from some of the images that came out, it did not seem like a man who was acting in so much a compulsive sexual manner as it did someone who was exhibiting how he could exploit his power and use it to address his own indiscretions.
Other famous people and politicians that have been caught in what truly seems like addictive behavior have actually sought treatment and then gone on to actively work to reduce stigma on these issues. It remains to be seen if former Congressman Weiner will do so in the future. But I suspect not, he will probably try more to rehabilitate his "image", I think, in order to further his political ambitions one day. If he were truly to work to help others gain awareness of addictive behavior and mental illnesses then that would be a different story. I guess it remains to be seen. But no matter how the press or comedians cover this story, the overall impression that I have is that this was just a man, who for whatever his personal reasons were, was behaving badly and maybe even enjoying he fact that he was getting away with it. The consequences don't seem like they will help any kind of awareness but rather seem to further ridicule of those who actually do have diagnosable addictions and illnesses. So, in my mind, this actually does the opposite, it fuels stigma.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kendra Sebelius
June, 23 2011 at 8:11 am

Thank you Tami and I absolutely had ALL of those thoughts when I first heard about it. I saw obvious differences between Weiner and others who in the past have exhibited more compulsive behavior. However - I will say I cannot know if he truly does suffer from a compulsive behavior. Only he and a professional would be able to answer that. And I see no issue with him seeking treatment, because even if it isn't compulsive, when we want help in our lives, we deserve that.
I too think may stigmatize addictions in the general public, because of how it appears to people, the media. The media is actually questioning the validity of sexual disorders, and that makes me concerned. People are confusing behaviors and compulsive behaviors and are appearing to lean to the direction that they see it as bad behaviors. I have talked with a lot of people outside of the addiction and advocacy world and they are sick of this story, his bad behavior, and how awful people are to cheat on their partners, and how they are using treatment as an excuse. I of course see the bigger picture, and understand this is a complicated issue, involving truly large struggles for many people, and they deserve reputable and valuable information. Instead I worry sex addiction is being made a joke, and not taken serious, and that is a problem.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions. I appreciate you contributing to the dialogue!

Holly Gray
June, 23 2011 at 7:38 am

There was a time when I would have agreed with everything you've said here. Then I saw Robert Weiss, a renowned expert in the assessment and treatment of sex addiction, in an interview on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show. When asked about this "excuse for bad behavior" thing - an all too common belief - he said: "I don't know any kind of addict who goes into treatment because they want to be a better person. Addicts go into treatment because they're in trouble."
In other words, yeah. Making excuses *is* part of addiction. Everyone, no matter what their addiction of choice is, makes excuses for their behavior and choices when they are in the throes of their addiction. Not just politicians and movie stars. Everyone.
I also question the basis of your assumption that Weiner is " ... seeking professional help to excuse his bad behavior ...." Has Weiner actually said, 'Guys, this isn't my fault. I'm an addict!'? I haven't heard him make an excuse once ... unless the simple act of entering treatment constitutes an excuse. In which case, where's the line? Is everyone who enters treatment just making an excuse? Or just famous people? Politicians? I guess what I'm asking is, in the absence of any statement by Weiner that alludes to shirking blame, why are we assuming that's what he's doing?
Here's the thing - this is precisely what people say about *all* mental illness. And you don't have to be famous or a politician to hear things like, "There's nothing wrong with you. You're just making excuses for bad behavior." That's what illness looks like. It looks like odd or aberrant or bad behavior. You're depressed? People tell you you're just lazy. You're anxious? People tell you to chill out. You're bipolar? People tell you you're just moody and arrogant. And on and on and on. This, as I see it, is no different.
If you're interested in watching Robert Weiss' interview, you can find it here:
and here:…

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kendra Sebelius
June, 23 2011 at 7:56 am

Thank you so much for sharing Holly. I actually thought of the same things and didn't address that in my video *it would probably have made it 10 minutes long*. I had considered that when I was using, I would of course explain behavior away, make excuses, lie, and that is absolutely part of addiction.
My video tried to discuss how I am conflicted and more worried about the media response to the Weiner story than what Weiner is actually doing. I wondered if it was good awareness, bad awareness, or a good talking point and beginning of the discussion.
And you are right - Weiner has not directly come out and said those quotes, however I do think his seeking treatment "may" be a PR move to help his future and look better. But then again, that is just my opinion.
I guess my overall concern - are these stories (not just about Weiner specifically, but whether it is Clinton, Tiger Woods, and other famous people) are a true representation of addiction. Are they sharing truths about addiction, or are they stigmatizing and making light of them. I am coming more from the place of the medias response to the stories, and not their specific behavior.
And I am human, and noted in the video that I am absolutely conflicted as a person and an advocate. I have tossed these issues around and go back and forth. As I read your comment I found myself nodding and honestly agreeing with you.
I think this is a good discussion and why I wrote on it, and asked for feedback, because I am open to discussing all angles to help create better awareness and make me a better advocate.
So thank you Holly for sharing your voice, the links and creating a discussion!

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