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November 22, 2015
by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D

Charlie Sheen Admits to Having HIV: Self-medicating, Substance Abuse and Mental Health

November 22, 2015 03:41 by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D

On November 17, 2015, in an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, viewers were shocked to hear actor Charlie Sheen disclose that he is HIV positive. After numerous reports of Mr. Sheen having over 700 women, many of his ex-lovers were livid about the confession leading some to panic. Some commented openly about his negligence in not disclosing his status prior to being intimate. To make matters worse, Mr. Sheen is reported to have boasted about increasing his sexual behavior after being diagnosed and could have possibly slept with over 5,000 women including sex workers.

According to Mr. Sheen, he was diagnosed over 4 years ago with the illness and trusted few people with the information. However, he disclosed that several of his trusted cronies demanded money from him to keep the information to themselves. While a diagnosis of HIV is no longer considered a death sentence, Mr. Sheen has been on a downward spiral since his teen years.

Bipolar or Chronic Substance Abuse

In an article written in 2011 in Psychology Today, Deborah Serani, Psy.D., gave a brief history of Mr. Sheen’s troubled life beginning with his teenage years. He was somewhat of a “bad boy” and had several run-ins with the law. His early behaviors were characterized as typical Hollywood escapades but as time progressed, came to include domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse, money binges and visits to rehab. Dr. Serani concluded that Mr. Sheen had a mood disorder, in particular, Bipolar Disorder. While a diagnosis of a mental health disorder based on reported behaviors and videos is not considered best practice, Dr. Serani wasn’t the only one to question Mr. Sheen’s mental stability.

Several authors in 2011 speculated that Mr. Sheen may possibly have a Bipolar diagnosis. He reportedly made claims that he had “tiger’s blood”, he’s a “Vatican assistant” and that he deserves “3 million per episode” for “Two and a half men”. Despite his bizarre comments, Mr. Sheen denied being mentally ill and reported that he was on the drug “Charlie Sheen” and that he was “bi-winning” and not Bipolar.

What may be even more disconcerting is that Mr. Sheen continued to be the face of CBS during his years of drug abuse and domestic violence. In fact, he wasn’t terminated from CBS until 2011 after he made disparaging comments on a radio show about the executive producer Chuck Lore. Though, the producers reported that Mr. Sheen’s termination was a culmination of things, his deviant behaviors appeared to be tolerated for some time. After his termination, Mr. Sheen appeared in several television interviews behaving in a grandiose, bizarre and arrogant manner. Substance abuse specialists argued that shortly after becoming sober individuals can exhibit egotistical and peculiar behaviors and that Mr. Sheen’s actions may be the result of prolonged drug abuse impact on the brain. Further, another possibility to consider is the self-medication theory.

The Self-Medication Theory

The Self-Medication theory asserts that true addiction is fundamentally psychological in nature. The person who self-medicates gains personal independence from established medicine. The drug of choice provides relief specific to the person’s condition. For example, someone with depression may seek a drug that causes a feeling of euphoria. Someone with anxiety may choose a drug that is calming (heroin) versus a drug that causes excessive energy (cocaine).

It is no secret that Mr. Sheen had several bouts with substance abuse. He openly admitted in 2011 during an ABC News interview to using crack cocaine. He spent several stints in rehab in an effort to become sober. Some believe that his erratic behavior may be indicative of prolonged drug abuse instead of a mental health diagnosis. Or is possible that his behaviors are a combination of both? Was Mr. Sheen self-medicating an underlying mental illness by the prolong abuse of drug?

The story line of actors, superstars and musicians abusing drugs and engaging in reckless behaviors is not uncommon. Many actors including Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and John Belushi abused drugs and demonstrated behaviors that suggested a possible underlying psychiatric disorder. Sadly, Mr. Sheen is now faced with another hardship. He has placed his life and possibly the lives of the women that he has been intimate with in danger. If indeed Mr. Sheen has an underlying mental health disorder, psychiatric treatment may have proved to be beneficial earlier in his career.


Lang, B., Molly T. (2011, March) Charlie Sheen Joking Aside: Is he Mentally Ill? TheWrap. Retrieved November 22, 2015

Serani, D. (2011, February) Charlie Sheen, Wild Boy, Troubled Man. Retrieved November 22, 2201

Ellis, M (2015, November 22) Charlie Sheen: Insider Reveals Bombshell Claim About Number Of Sex Partners He's Had, HIV Confession Leads To Panic, Lawsuits. Retrieved November 22, 2015 

Lewis, M. (2012, August) Addiction as Self-Medication. Retrieved November 22, 2015

About the Author

Dr. Dawn Crosson Dr. Dawn Crosson, Psy.D

While there are a variety of places that offer psychological services, many of these services use a "one size fit all " approach to treatment. Dr. Dawn Crosson provides quality services that are tailored to meet the need of the individual.

Dr. Dawn Crosson has a clinical practice in Harrisburg, PA

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