The Addict Dads of Teen Mom

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Since my addiction to trashy TV knows no bottom, I’ve been obsessed with MTV’s Teen Mom from the very beginning. It started as a spin-off of the popular show 16 and Pregnant, following four teenage girls as they navigated new motherhood, relationships and important life events like (ahem) high school. All these years later, the show (now rebranded as Teen Mom OG, for “Original Girls”) has spawned numerous offshoots and become a cultural phenomenon, not to mention just plain good TV. Before you laugh, consider the fact that a national study actually reported a more than 5% decrease in teen birth rates in the 18 months after the show premiered. So, it looks like I’m not the only one watching.

Like any juicy drama, most of the insanity that plays out on screen is about relationships. In the current season of the show the Teen Mom characters, who now are in their mid-20’s, seem to be struggling with a common issue: the men in their lives are addicts. Despite the silly package, this show is actually addressing some important core issues about how addiction can affect families.

First let’s talk about Butch Baltierra. He’s the father of Tyler, one of the teen dads. Tyler and his girlfriend (now wife) Catelynn are the only original couple on Teen Mom who are still together. Their difficult decision to put their first daughter, Carly, up for adoption dominated the first few seasons of the show and cemented their status as fan favorites. They got married in 2015 and welcomed another daughter Novalee, who they are raising together on camera. In a somewhat confusing twist, Butch is not just Tyler’s dad, but also Catelynn’s ex-stepdad and the father of their mutual half-brother, TJ. Butch was married to Catelynn’s mom, April for several years before they divorced in a flurry of drug abuse and domestic violence charges. What did I tell you about this show being good TV?

Butch has been in and out of prison all of his adult life. He has tried unsuccessfully to stay clean and sober and recently relapsed during this season of filming Teen Mom after five years of abstinence that was largely due to incarceration. On the show, we watch as Butch struggles for sobriety and Tyler grapples with boundaries. Catelynn and Tyler are in a position where they are parenting this man. He is staying in one of their houses, they are paying him an allowance and they are the only ones he is accountable to aside from his parole officer.

The child-acting-as-parent role reversal is a familiar one for children of dysfunctional families. Having a parent who struggles with addiction changes the way a child navigates life, even if the parent eventually stays clean. Watching this play out on TV is fascinating, but also heartbreaking and probably all too familiar for some. Let’s just hope that the attention and resources afforded to Butch by the show and his son’s success will give him the opportunity to finally get the help he needs and break the cycle for good.

Sometimes the cycle of addiction in a family is perpetuated in the partners we choose based on our family of origin. This is certainly the case for Teen Mom’s Amber Portwood, whose father died in 2014 at the age of 50 from complications of liver disease. Amber opened up on camera about her dad’s alcoholism and the role he played in her life this season. Not surprisingly, the man Amber has chosen to spend her life with the last few years, her fiancé, Matt Baier, is an addict, too.

Amber has had her own struggles with substance abuse and mental illness and spent about 18 months in an Indiana prison on drug charges back in 2013. Since her release, Amber has gotten help for her bipolar and borderline personality disorders and stayed off drugs. She hooked up with Matt in 2015 after they met on Twitter. They were engaged shortly after, but have postponed the wedding several times. Most of the drama in their relationship stems from Matt’s dishonesty. Matt is a self-professed recovering addict (who still drinks beer on camera). He’s also much older than Amber and has way more kids and ex-girlfriends than he admitted when they first began dating.

At last count, Matt officially claimed to have five children. However, the show followed him as he addressed seven open child support cases in different states. Since then, more women have some forward claiming Matt may have fathered as many as nine children. We may never know the truth about Matt’s kids, but his drug addiction has been front and center on the show this season. Most recently, cameras caught him offering a fellow cast member a Xanax after she complained of anxiety. He claimed he was carrying pills in his pocket “just in case” somebody needed it. Because “recovering” drug addicts always have pockets full of prescription pills, right?

Matt’s future with Amber is not set in stone, but another man facing addiction issues on Teen Mom this season is not going anywhere. Original cast member Ryan Edwards is the father of eight-year-old Bentley. Ryan and his ex-girlfriend, Maci Bookout, have shared custody of Bentley since they broke up shorty after he was born. Well, it would be more accurate to say Maci has shared custody with Ryan’s parents, Jen and Larry Edwards. Ryan has never been very involved. At first, it appeared to viewers that Ryan was just caught up in youthful selfishness and not cut out for the commitment of fatherhood. But this season, it has come to light that Ryan’s reasons for being MIA from Bentley’s life have more to do with addiction.

On a recent episode, Maci revealed Ryan’s increasingly serious drug use and stated that she would need to take legal measures to protect her son from having contact with Ryan unless he got help. Although their romantic relationship was short-lived, Maci has made an effort to always encourage Ryan’s role as Bentley’s dad. She was heartbroken, realizing that his addiction had become a life and death situation. This scenario is common for the family members of addicts, who often don’t realize how bad their loved one’s drug use is until it’s too late. Luckily, in the case of Ryan, it’s not too late. Last month, he reportedly checked himself into a rehab program and is working hard to address his substance abuse issues.

The dads on Teen Mom are struggling with addiction in a very public forum. For them, this no doubt poses a unique set of challenges, but it also brings opportunities. Unlike many men with similar issues, these guys have plenty of resources available to help them rebuild their lives. Let’s hope they take advantage of this chance and use the show to be an example of recovery, not a cautionary tale.

Photos courtesy of Instagram

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Becky Sasso is a writer and editor who worked at the world headquarters of an international 12-step organization and has a master's in communication from Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.

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