The hit television show “Nashville” has served as a positive example for thousands of individuals who struggle with addiction. The edifying scenarios expressed in this show have proven to be highly accessible to people who seek external reinforcement of their commitment to sobriety. However, far from being perfect paragons of abstinence, the characters in “Nashville” make realistic fumbles in their struggles with substance use that are all too easy to relate to for many people with addiction issues.
What Is Nashville?
“Nashville” is a television program that originally aired on ABC. This show filled a primetime slot on ABC’s weekly lineup, and “Nashville” was beloved by fans all across the United States. In many ways, this show hearkened back to “Dallas,” another show about the American South that dealt with poignant interpersonal themes.
This hit show aired on ABC for four seasons before it was canceled. This cancellation proved to be incredibly unpopular with fans, and thousands of “Nashville” lovers from across the country demanded that this show be brought back on the air with the social media campaign #BringBackNashville. This campaign proved to be such a success that Country Music Television agreed to revive “Nashville” on its network.
“Nashville” was cleared for two more seasons on CMT, and the series finale was announced for July of 2018. Filming of this show has been completed, and all that’s left is to let the powerful stories of the characters in this series play themselves out in the last few episodes.
As the name suggests, this show has centered around a group of people living in Nashville, Tennessee. This southern metropolis is often known as “Music City,” and hundreds of country musicians have made their way in life by playing this city’s many bars and concert halls. As a brief listen to any of the songs written by these artists will make clear, substance use is a common theme for country music artists and listeners alike.
How did “Nashville” broach the subject of addiction?
Many avid viewers who watched “Nashville” identified with the lead male character Deacon’s struggle with addiction. It’s been estimated that 15 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol use disorder, which made Deacon’s trouble with drinking highly relatable.
“Nashville” viewers were introduced to Deacon in the first season of the show. Both Deacon and the show’s female lead, Juliette, played in the same country music band. Deacon was the guitarist in the band, and Juliette was the lead singer.
The two lead characters had been engaged in an on-again, off-again relationship that finally ended due to Deacon’s alcohol use. At the start of the show, Deacon had been in recovery for 13 years, but he still struggled on a daily basis with the urge to take a drink. The writers of the show lent dramatic effect to Deacon’s struggle by frequently picturing him staring at a bottle of liquor with his fists clenched while willing himself not to open the bottle.
While the specific details of Deacon’s recovery issues may have been orchestrated to fit in with the tropes of a TV drama, the essence of his struggle fit perfectly with the pain felt by many viewers who also had issues with alcohol use. As the series progressed, increasing stressors in Deacon’s life caused him to break with his recovery and start drinking again.
Deacon is represented as a real person experiencing genuine struggles with addiction. This character perfectly typifies the difficult experiences endured by people in recovery who work in the music industry and are habitually forced to enter environments like bars that could serve as triggers for relapse.
This character is also represented as having inadequate support in his social life to stay true to his goals of sobriety. Even though his bandmate and lover, Juliette, ends up having and raising the child that Deacon fathered, these two star-crossed souls don’t experience a true reunion until near the end of the series. Deacon also has two different Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors throughout the show, but one of these sponsors eventually ropes Deacon into opening a new bar as his business partner.
Addiction as a Moral vs. Neurological Issue
Throughout the series, addiction is represented as more of a moral issue than a biological issue. Deacon’s struggle to stay sober isn’t attributed to his genetics or the chemical makeup of his brain, and viewers instead are given a front-row seat to Deacon’s attempts to summon up the willpower to ward off another relapse. This perspective is obviously taken to add a layer of soap opera drama to the series, and the technique is certainly effective.
While this position on addiction could be threatening to some individuals in recovery, Deacon’s moral struggle should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s true that modern science has found that alcohol addiction has a substantial neurological basis, but it doesn’t mean that acts of will have no place in recovery. For many people, an initial act of will is what caused them to seek out help in the first place.
Medical professionals and recovery experts never recommend that addiction be staved off by pure force of will. Exploring the neurochemical and genetic aspects of addiction is essential to establishing a good recovery plan. However, treating addiction as a purely neurochemical phenomenon also disempowers people from doing the most that they can to take control of their lives with sheer willpower, and Deacon’s example can give strength to people who are trying their hardest to never take another drink.
What Types of Addiction Are Represented in This Series?
Alcohol use disorder isn’t the only type of addiction that’s tackled in this hit series. While Deacon’s struggles with alcohol certainly take center stage in the first few seasons, other characters have their share of substance use issues as well.
One of the other musicians that this series follows is Will Lexington. This character is played by Chris Carmack, and Will starts to run into problems when he begins losing the rough masculine physique that has made him into a star. Desperate to maintain his popularity with his fans, Will starts dosing himself with steroids.
As Will’s problem continues to spiral out of control, his friends and musical collaborators start to notice telltale signs of addiction. It isn’t until Will collapses onstage, however, that his problem with steroids is made clear for everyone to see.
If Will were a real person, some experts might have diagnosed him with muscle dysmorphia. This condition is one of the driving factors behind steroid addiction, which is a type of dependency that has both physiological and psychological aspects.
While injecting steroids certainly doesn’t impart any “buzz” or high, these muscle growth stimulators can fill a void in the lives of people like Will who are afraid of losing their muscular appearance. While the unfolding story of Deacon’s addiction has all of the hallmarks of television drama, Will’s issues with steroids are painted baldly in a matter-of-fact way that many people who suffer from steroid dependency can easily identify with.
However, Deacon’s struggle with alcohol dominates the narrative throughout much of the series. His relationship with this substance evokes all of the typical symptoms that are elicited by AUD. Deacon loses his romantic partner, gets caught up in risky business decisions, and fails to take care of his physical health due to his relationship with alcohol.
While Deacon’s alcohol problems certainly serve as a central axis around which the drama of the show evolves, his struggle to attain and maintain sobriety is expressed in a very genuine and relatable way. As the series comes to a close, fans can rest easy knowing that it appears that Deacon has kicked his habit for good, and other problems such as fatherhood and business responsibility have emerged to fill the dramatic gap.
What Other Difficult Subjects Does “Nashville” Cover?
Besides addiction, “Nashville” also tackles various subjects surrounding the topic of mental health. Mental health is, of course, a highly salient factor when establishing a firm foothold in recovery, and much of the series centers around Deacon’s psychological evolution in relation to his substance use issues.
The show’s other main character, the female lead Juliette, also fleshes out the topic of mental health as the series progresses. After Juliette gives birth to her second child, she starts to experience the symptoms of postpartum depression. She tries to ignore these issues for as long as possible, but other events eventually push her mental health issues to the front of the show’s dramatic evolution.
Juliette’s career takes a turn for the worse when a long-anticipated gospel album ends up being a flop. Then, she nearly dies as the result of a plane crash. All of these factors start to bear on her mental health, and she finally announces that she is depressed on a live radio show.
Her mental health issues have a negative impact on her career. She has to cancel an upcoming tour, and many of her fans wonder if she will ever be a productive musician again.
“Nashville” also explores how compromised mental health can cause people to make decisions that they would otherwise avoid. Lack of judgment is a feature shared with substance use issues, so Juliette’s struggle to explore her spirituality is relatable to a wide group of viewers.
In the final season of the show, Juliette takes up with a spiritual group that bears a striking resemblance to Scientology. Many of the other characters in the show view this group as a cult, but Juliette’s mental health issues spur her to adopt the teachings of this group to attain some degree of solace. Decisions like these may be familiar to viewers who suffer from compromised mental health, which simply adds to the allure of “Nashville” as a show that isn’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects.
What Are Some Takeaways as the Series Ends?
“Nashville” is wrapping up, and no amount of social media fury is likely to bring the series back this time. However, since the writers of this show have been very careful to tie up loose ends and bring closure to character dramas, it’s unlikely that any public outcry will occur.
While many aspects of “Nashville” borrow from the tried and true formulas of soap opera drama, it’s well understood that a show is more gripping and dynamic when characters are plagued with realistic problems. In the end, the theatrics evident in the unfolding of the character relations don’t take away from the power that this series has to evoke the realities of what it’s like to live with addiction.
The characters in this series suffer from many flaws. They make vows that they don’t keep, they let down people they love, and they fall into the same traps again and again. Through it all, there is a pervading sense of dedication and commitment to being a better person that shouldn’t be underestimated.
This hit show dares to explore some of the grimy corners of the music industry that many would rather sweep under the rug. Issues like alcohol dependency and depression are expressed in an unflattering and believable way, and significant emphasis is placed on how these problems affect others. In the end, the characters in “Nashville” don’t have to be perfect because they learn more and more throughout the show what it means to be a better person and be of service to those around them.
Even though no more new episodes of “Nashville” will be produced after the summer of 2018, this series will continue to serve as a reference point for anyone who wants to witness a candid dramatic representation of substance use and mental health issues. This poignant expose of the seedy underbelly of the country music industry will continue to live on in the minds of fans who have used it to bolster their defenses in their struggles with dependency.