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Alcoholism and Trauma Portrayed in Television: Mad Man Frontman Don Draper

The hit TV show Mad Men is a period drama that takes place in the 1950s and 1960s. It follows Donald Draper, a successful New York man who works in advertising.

He is portrayed as an intimidating, powerful businessman who makes his fortune by being reckless, daring, and unpredictable. The mystery that surrounds him is amplified by his ambiguous and problematic childhood that comes together in flashbacks throughout the series.

However, the main characteristic that grows and worsens with him as the show progresses is his heavy drinking. Originally accredited to the time period and his lavish career, the viewer watches Don descend into madness and desperation while his relationship with alcohol gets increasingly more damaging


Creating a New Identity

Throughout the series, we learn pieces of Don Draper’s traumatic childhood and early life. At a young age, he was abandoned by his mother and raised in an abusive family with very little money.

Once he was old enough, he joined the army and experienced the trauma of watching a fellow soldier die, feeling as though it was his fault. Ashamed and haunted by his childhood, he took the name of the fallen soldier and created a new life from himself, leaving behind his youth and a little brother that he loved.

This haunts him constantly. He lives in fear of the truth being revealed that he isn’t the confident, distinguished man that he appears to be. No one can know that he is a deserter of the war and a craftily formulated persona.

He does everything and anything he can to run from this truth, although the flashbacks of his past overwhelm him. Don becomes promiscuous and drinks heavily to quiet his fears, shame, guilt, and sadness.

The powerful businessman facade begins to crack. Family members, relationships, and his career are damaged because Don is gradually losing his grip on reality as the lines of his charade become blurry.

Alcohol becomes more than a crutch for him. As a man in advertising, his job is to convince people to buy products, and of this he is a master. But underneath the surface, he cannot convince himself that he is whole.

Don uses promiscuity and drinking to fill a void that only grows deeper and deeper over time, and is never satisfied with the blessings that life has given him. It becomes easier to hide behind the drinking instead of opening up to others, looking into himself and his troubled past, and recognizing that he is a broken man who needs to get well. 


The Representation of Recovery

Within Mad Men, there is a character who discovers that he has a similar problem with drinking. Freddy Rumsen is a coworker of Don Draper, he drinks throughout the day, and frequently loses consciousness.

He becomes a liability to the company when he urinates on himself before an important business meeting. The company lets Freddy go, and when he next makes an appearance on the show he seems happier, healthier, and at peace.

Freddy makes references to a community he is a part of, he even refers to his own sponsor and sponsees. Many of Don’s other coworkers cannot understand or accept the change in Freddy and question the possibility of his metamorphosis.

In the final season of Mad Men, Don has reached his breaking point. He is constantly running from himself, from others, and his drinking is at its worst.

The show concludes with a spiritual experience that Don has at a meditation retreat. It is at this facility that he finally faces his inner demons, free from the outside world and free from alcohol.

Once Don confronts his past and the pressures that life has brought him, he finds peace and is able to rebuild his success. He connects to his spirituality and finds his big break. 


As a viewer, it is hard to watch the well-liked, successful businessman that we root for fall farther into irritability, restlessness, and discontent, while it seems like he has it all. Although it is a fictional show, it’s not a far off representation of untreated alcoholism and unaddressed trauma and the decline it inevitably brings.

The root of our problems stems heavily from our past and issues we are avoiding. Additionally, like Don Draper, many of us create a false persona of stability and balance, even though inside we feel like we are drowning.

When we are ready to face ourselves and admitting we are powerless, that is when we are able to accept help and find a spiritual experience. That is when the miracle happens. 


No matter how far you may feel from yourself, there is a solution. If you’re interested in healing your past for a better future, our experienced staff can help. The Guest House is a welcoming and supportive recovery home where you will be met with open arms, wherever you are on your journey, without judgment or expectation. Call 855-483-7800 today for more information.