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Friday, April 19
The Indiana Daily Student


OPINION: The brutally accurate depiction of addiction in 'Shameless'


I recently rewatched the pilot episode of “Shameless,” and it got me thinking about how much I love the series. I am definitely a TV person and have watched many shows. But no show has ever come close to topping “Shameless,” and a big reason for that is because of how real “Shameless” gets when depicting substance abuse. 

“Shameless” is a comedy-drama that follows the Gallaghers, a low-income family in the southside of Chicago. Fiona, the oldest daughter, has to care for herself and her five siblings, as parents Frank and Monica are alcoholics and drug addicts who don’t provide for them. 

“Shameless” perfectly encapsulates the impact that having absent parents with addictions has on a family. In shows such as “Euphoria,” we see substance abuse almost aestheticized. This could not be further from the truth for “Shameless.” Scenes with substance abuse are raw, unfiltered and accurately depicted from the eyes of a third party looking into how substance abuse impacts addicts and the people close to them.  

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Frank Gallagher, the patriarch, is both an alcoholic and a drug addict. He does not live in the Gallagher house for most of the series, and viewers see him lie, cheat and steal from people in order to keep up with the financial demands of his habit.  

The prioritization of his addiction over his family leads to many emotional scenes of confrontation between the Gallagher children and Frank. But he never seems to be able to learn and better himself for the sake of his family or himself. Even when his addictions leave him hospitalized, he is thinking about when he can get his next fix. This, coupled with the Gallagher mother, Monica, being mostly absent from the Gallaghers’ lives due to her own addictions, takes a very noticeable toll on the Gallagher children. 

Firstly, we see underage drinking and smoking normalized in the Gallagher household. The Gallagher children drink underage and smoke cigarettes casually. This makes sense due to the fact that they grew up around the substances their entire life. With that, they don’t have either parent around to set rules for them. So, the Gallagher children drinking beer or smoking a cigarette doesn’t feel unrealistic or out of place. But we see some of the children move on from casual substance use into addiction. 

Viewers get to see Fiona and the eldest son Lip engage in heavy substance abuse as a result of their circumstances and their family history of addiction. According to researchers at Rutgers, alcohol addiction is about 50% heritable from a parent and other drug addictions are up to 70% heritable. So the fact that some of the Gallagher children adopt their parents’ addictions is very true to real life. 

Lip’s battle with alcohol sobriety is a very real and accurate depiction of that fight. Lip’s life truly takes a turn for the worse when he turns to the bottle, and the audience gets to see the good, the bad and the ugly in real time. This struggle is a very real one for many people in low-income situations because substance abuse is more common among them.  

This can consequently lead to greater financial troubles as well, as buying the supplies to maintain an addiction is pricey. That reality comes to the screen when Frank spends the little amounts of money he has on alcohol and drugs. Addiction takes people down a dark hole that is hard to escape from, and we see both possible endings where Lip manages to get sober while Frank does not. 

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Fiona has her own struggles with both drug and alcohol abuse. Fiona was forced to grow up and become a maternal figure as a child. She never got to experience being a fun-loving, carefree teen and young adult. Unfortunately, she turns to drugs and alcohol to cope. We see Fiona at her breaking point, and her life spirals out of control. Her addictions ultimately land her in jail when she leaves out a bag of cocaine that the youngest Gallagher, Liam, gets into and is consequently hospitalized. Fiona has to fight like hell to escape the pattern of addiction that she saw her parents lose the battle to.  

“Shameless” got its name for a reason. They shamelessly depict the very real and hard-to-discuss realities of Americans of lower socioeconomic status, including addiction. I have never seen a show depict substance abuse so accurately and completely, and more shows need to follow the precedent that “Shameless” has left. 

Ravana Gumm (she/her) is a freshman studying journalism. 

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