Experts: Weiner’s behavior similar to addicts’
GARDEN CITY, N.Y. – So what’s wrong with Anthony Weiner? The New York congressman says he is seeking professional treatment «to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person» following a sexting scandal that threatens to drive him from office.
Weiner hasn’t specified what type of care he is getting, or where, raising questions about the depth of his troubles — or whether it’s a simply a ploy to buy time and sympathy as his colleagues seek to push him from office.
«He certainly has a media relations nightmare and saying he needs treatment sounds a lot better than the alternatives,» said Dr. Jeffrey T. Parsons, a sex addiction expert and psychology professor at Hunter College in New York City. «It’s a lot harder to bash someone who says he is seeking treatment and help.»
If he has opted for an inpatient treatment facility, experts say there are just a handful of places where he could be, including a Mississippi clinic where Tiger Woods reportedly sought help for his litany of marital indiscretions. Or perhaps he is getting outpatient advice on sexual addiction.
Parsons noted that sexual addiction is not officially recognized as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. There has been talk about including a passage on the topic in the next edition, describing it clinically as a hypersexual disorder, he said.
Experts witnessing the demise of the rising politician’s reputation, if not his career, are among those opining from afar. Some say Weiner’s actions — making electronic sexual contact with strangers — mimic the characteristics of drug addicts, alcoholics or problem gamblers.
«He’s exhibiting behavior of an addict. The secrecy, the risk taking, the denial,» said Robert Weiss, founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles.
«I am sure he understood on some level what he was doing,» Weiss said. «When someone like that is not in a state of arousal, they can have a more intellectual, nuanced view of things. But that gets lost in the euphoria. And he begins not thinking clearly.»
Weiss, a nationally recognized expert who has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey and Larry King programs, said Weiner probably can’t explain his actions because they are on some level inexplicable even to him.
«I have a lot of empathy for him. He really doesn’t understand why,» Weiss said. «He can’t figure out why he made these choices.»
Kimberly Young, clinical director of the Center for Online Addiction in Bradford, Pa., said that in many ways, Weiner’s online behavior was «very commonplace.» Plenty of men and women secretly live out their fantasies on the Internet, sometimes in compulsive fashion.
The treatment for online compulsion, she said is usually twofold. Patients have to first modify their online behavior; that might mean not using the computer during certain hours, or at certain locations, or only communicating with certain types of people online. Next, they must examine what mental health issues might be causing the behavior.
«Is he depressed, is he anxious and stressed out?» she said. «First you need to deal with the behavior, then deal with the reasons why that happened … It will probably take more than a 28-day rehab program. … The treatment has to fit the person.»
Timothy Lee, a licensed clinical social worker who runs New York Pathways, which treats sexual addiction on an outpatient basis, said Weiner’s proclivity for sending photos of himself to strangers likely has escalated over time.
«He didn’t wake up and just start sending pictures,» Lee said. «I assume this is some type of voyeuristic exhibitionism type behavior. But it does show how delusional one must be to engage in this behavior. To think that the person on the other end is going to get off on it?»
Behavior like Weiner has confessed to, Lee said, usually starts with an innocent joke or flirtation, perhaps with an acquaintance or co-worker, but can quickly escalate.
«The greater the risk, the more excited they get. It’s sort of like the high gamblers get,» Lee said. «The greater the risk in getting caught, the bigger the high. I would look at his abusing his sexuality like someone else might abuse a drug,» Lee said.
Weiner’s weekend announcement that he is seeking treatment was short on specifics; he did not explicitly say that he has entered a rehab facility. A statement said only that he requested «a short leave of absence from the House of Representatives so that he can get evaluated and map out a course of treatment to make himself well.»
Lee said that if the congressman has gone for inpatient treatment, he would likely have to be in a program for 30 days or more, although some facilities offer help in less time. He said Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, Miss., where Woods reportedly went, has a 45-day program. The Meadows in Wickenburg, Ariz., has about a 30-day program, The Keystone in Chester, Pa., offers a 14-day program, other experts said.
Calls or e-mails to clinic officials seeking comment were not returned; most boast of offering confidentiality to patients.
As far as Weiner’s prospects after treatment?
«People love a comeback story,» Lee said. «From a PR perspective, going into rehab is the best thing he can do. Obviously he is also dealing with the humiliation he has brought upon his wife. It’s just a sad case.»