After recent revelations that former congressman and New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner continued sexting on social media sites after apologizing for his indiscretions, many have been quick to accuse him of being a consummate liar and a person of poor moral character who should be punished for his actions. Is it possible that Mr. Weiner is exhibiting the telltale signs of an addicted person needing treatment?
While there remains controversy as to whether sexual compulsivity is truly a disorder, his behavior clearly displays symptoms similar to a substance use disorder.
The most notable characteristic of any addiction is loss of control over the behavior in question. I have discussed this in detail in a previous blog, entitled What is Chemical Addiction? Few would argue that Mr. Weiner made a conscious choice to place his political life in jeopardy, as well as his marriage and overall reputation. Why would he continue such damaging behavior with evidence available in the public domain to prove his misconduct? We could cite many public figures, including sports celebrities and movie stars, who have placed their careers and exorbitant salaries in jeopardy by compulsive behaviors, most frequently involving compulsive substance use. The answer is loss of control over the behavior despite the evident negative consequences. A recent article in the Sunday edition of the New York Times dated July 28, 2013, asked why cigarette smokers continued to smoke despite knowing the serious risks to their health. The author, Eyal Ert, an expert in behavioral science, argued that smokers have a personality flaw involving poor self-control. Mr. Weiner seems to exhibit a similar lack of self-control over his behavior, suggesting the need for treatment.
Other characteristics of addiction (for which we lack information as it relates to Mr. Weiner) include preoccupation with the behavior and strong cravings for the behavior. It is my belief that Mr. Weiner would likely prove positive for these criteria as well, if he were to honestly confront this issue. Is it fair then to assume he lacks moral character, or should we consider that he is suffering from a debilitating disorder that needs to be addressed by trained professionals?
Nicholas Lessa is the Clinical Director of Chat2Recovery, an online substance abuse treatment program, and Inter-Care, a leading substance abuse treatment program in New York City. He has been in the field of substance abuse treatment for over 30 years. He is the lead author of two books, Wiley’s Concise Guide to Mental Health: Substance Use Disorders and Living with Alcoholism and Drug Addiction.