Tropes like “Off the Wagon”, “Alcoholic” and “Recovering” as seen on TV

A trope is a cliché.  The word is used often when describing the theme of a book, TV show or film.  For example, “we saw a movie last night and it was the typical horror themed trope”.  The reason I am mentioning this is because I came across this website called TvTropes. They have a selection of categories like “Off the Wagon” “Descent into Alcoholism”  and “Drunken Master”.  It makes for a really fun read.

Here is an example of the “Off the Wagon” section:

Rehab is for quitters!
In any show featuring a recovering alcoholic (or other such drug addict), they will inevitably return to drinking at least once during the series. This happens quite a bit to recovering alcoholics in real life as well, but it’s not as inevitable as television would have us believe. In a drama, this is almost always a Very Special Episode. In a comedy, it can be done either as a Very Special Episode or just for laughs. The relapse can be caused by trying to drown sorrows.

Then you can click on the sections like books, films, comics and TV shows and they list tons of examples with links.

I can’t do their site justice – it is very elaborate. However, I created my own Trope list based on some of the shows I watch:

Drinking like an alcoholic but somehow never drunk

1. Oliva Pope in Scandal. Have you seen her humongous wine glass? Oh my goodness, you can empty an entire bottle of wine, in each of those “single servings.”  Sometimes, she guzzles down the entire glass, faster than a frat boy using a beer bong. In any case, she never seems drunk to me.

women wine
You are what you drink article.

2. Alicia Florrick, in The Good Wife. Here is another lady that is never without a glass of red wine. In a NY Times article they write “the high-powered lawyer at the center of “The Good Wife,” wants nothing more than a giant glass of red wine when she gets home from a day of legal maneuvering. She reminisces about her pre-legal days as a suburban wife and mother, when “drinking a glass of wine at 5” was her ritual.” Alicia drinks heavily almost every episode, however she is successful and manages her life skillfully.

Full Blown Alcoholics

Oh my gosh, this category could be long. There are some many great TV drunks.

1. Tommy Gavin in Rescue Me. Wow, alcoholism is a major focus for this character. Tommy is either binge drinking or trying to get sober. In one episode, he is sober for a year, but decides to start drinking again. In a classic move, he talks the entire AA meeting into giving up their sobriety – they all drink too. Unfortunately, this results in one death (from drunken driving).

2. Don Draper in Mad Men. I was in denial about his drinking problem for a long time. He was so high-functioning. But like so many of us, his drinking caught up with him. He turned into a pathetic shell of a man who shows up late, passes out at meetings, sleeps with anyone and makes some stupid decisions. He drinks marathon style – from the time he wakes up right up until he jumps into bed.

3. Frank Gallagher in Shameless. He is a boozed up father with a messed up family. By far the worst drunk ever. At one point his liver fails and he can’t keep liquor down. So, he has his young son funnel alcohol into his anus. It’s hard to believe, but that is not even the worst example of his drinking problems. Most of the people around him are glaringly flawed and developmentally challenged. Everyone’s behavior catches up to them, except for Frank. He seems to get away with everything.

4. Frank Moody in Californication. This guy is a drunk loser, yet he still manages to make “using” look fun and cool. He sleeps with every hot women in town, even though he wants to get back together with his ex. He does every drug, you have done, plus ones you have never heard of.  And, he ends up at every cool party, you wished you were invited to. He is lovable, funny and pathetic.

5.The cast in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This is an under appreciated little gem of a show. The characters are always drinking and coming up with the stupidest drunk ideas you can imagine. “The Gang” has no sense of shame when attempting to get what they want. They often engages in activities which others would find humiliating, disgusting, or even preposterous, such as smoking crack cocaine in order to qualify for welfare, seducing a priest, or hiding naked inside a leather couch in order to spy on someone. In one of my favorite episodes, they find a baby left in a basket. They decide they will try to make money by auditioning the child for baby commercials. The producer says they are looking for Hispanic babies, so they go to a tanning salon and try to talk the owner into letting the baby tan there. Sick, yet still funny.

6. Calamity Jane in Deadwood. This show was great. In was in an era when everyone drank and lawlessness was a way of life. Calamity Jane had a “wooden leg”. She could drink the men under the table.  What is interesting is that Calamity Jane is based on real-life. In the end, it was alcohol that basically killed her.

Some honorable mentions for Cartoon Alcoholics

Homer, from the Simpsons, Peter Griffin from Family Guy and Futurama’s Bender. The guys are fun drunks. The drinking is more a part of their personality, not a part of the show’s humor. They are shown having fun in a very unglamorous, middle-class way. They Drink with their work pals and getting into little trouble.

Who am I missing here? Well, I know I skipped over many of the classics. Who can forget the show Cheers? For many of us ex-drunks, a Recovery Center is the only place where “everyone knows our name”.

p.s. I thought I was finished with my blog post and I remembered an absolute favorite episode of Law and Order SVU. Detective Rollins is a recovering gambling addict. She goes to 12 step meetings where she meets her sponsor Nate. Nate is a recovering alcoholic who also is a serial philanderer?? She has him move in with her. He uses every canned recovery slogan ever invented. It is so funny.  The only half-way good slogan seems to be  “detach with love the one who drags you down.”  She finally gets rid of him.
Our 800RecoveryHub site offers free and confidential help

12 thoughts on “Tropes like “Off the Wagon”, “Alcoholic” and “Recovering” as seen on TV

  1. I may be misunderstanding the point of your blog but this make me so very sad. Media exposure is damaging and these charter after normalize maladaptive behaviors. Those in recovery have a hard enough time staying clean and sober without the media making light of their issues. That may be your point and I missed it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you understand this blog. Alcoholism, addiction and mental illness are super sad subjects. I wrote this article because it had to do more about “main-stream” culture. I was looking to reach out to people who normally look at this subject. And, guess what – you stopped by. 🙂 Thank you.


  2. I just want to know how they drink that much AND NEVER GET FAT. Well, except the cartoon dudes, BUT THEY EAT DONUTS so THAT MAKES SENSE.

    A bottle of wine a day means I would be living on air salad….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Guess these program makers never read the UK safe drinking guidelines! Interesting that normalisation of excessive consumption of alcohol is so acceptable in the media! 😀 TTS


  4. I think the characters on “Mom”, Booth on “Bones” and Holmes on “Elementary” actually come fairly close to the trials and problems faced when going through recovery. Granted, they are portrayed as people doing their best to get away from their addictions (but still ALWAYS tethered, an important observation) however, they frequently misrepresent how “normal” meetings take place. I think this has the potential of scaring off those close to approaching those places of (supposed) non-judgement and help. In NO way should these rooms attempt to force someone into the spotlight, especially when they are new. I’ve seen people sit there for months before finally speaking up. “Tag” meetings I feel are out of step with the basic philosophy of any 12 step program. Don’t get me wrong, i think talking is the best way to invite opinions from those who have the tools to help, but it should never be forced. Sometimes a small homegroup is better for those times where secrets must be purged. My original homegroup was actually in a home. It included about 12 people and it was here where I bared my soul.

    By the way…..I was the drunk that got away with everything. Drove under the influence for 10 years every day and was never pulled over. Never got into any legal issues either.

    I about peed my pants laughing when the older mom on “Mom” declared she was going to be a life coach six months into her recovery. Man, I’ve met those people. I’ll have twenty years in a few weeks, and just now do I feel I have enough experience under my belt to share with those looking for a better life.

    TV does screw up the portrayal of addiction a lot, but every so often they get it down pretty good. I think there’s a lot of screenwriters in recovery, thus the recent explosion of storylines. Addiction, as common as it really is, does seem to be the most used backstory for television characters these days. It’s getting a little old, but if in the long run it helps more people than hurts, then by all means, I support the “fad.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am not too far behind you — I will have 20 years in November. Your Sober Coach comment was hilarious. My husband and I knew a woman who became a life coach and we dropped our jaw. My reaction was “gosh – you charge for that …… I just call it sponsoring and I do it for free”. Whatever …. in the end, it is pretty funny.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve just nominated you for the Dragon’s Loyalty Award. I really appreciate the work you’ve done with this blog. Not only does it look snappy (congrats on spending the time to do such great work), you’ve got relevant, important information and discussion out here for so many people. Thanks for creating this site and being a blogger.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I actually like your take on alcoholism in this article, you are presenting a very serious issue from another angle the media looks at it. Funny how it turns around to actually affect many of these same actors and actresses in real life!

    Love your blog layout by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

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