Reality Television May Have Saved Amber Portwood's Life

Illustration for article titled Reality Television May Have Saved Amber Portwoods Life

Yesterday Amber Portwood, star of MTV's Teen Mom, was sentenced to five years in prison. We've watched her unravel before our eyes in a swirl of violence, drug addiction, and self-harm that ultimately led to her losing custody of her toddler. Some would argue that reality television ruined this girl's life. But it was actually good for her.


Two weeks ago, Portwood stood before judge at a hearing and requested that he reinstate the original five-year sentence she initially received in February, instead of mandating rehab. Her lawyer looked on in dismay, shaking his head. She said that prison was the only way she could get sober. Portwood did a two-month stint in rehab last year after a suicide attempt, but said she could not stay clean and admitted that she's struggled with drug addiction since she was 13, long before she appeared on Teen Mom.

Portwood was in court because she had violated the terms of her drug court program. She was in drug court because of a felony arrest in December 2011 for possession of over 40 pills—pain killers, opiates, and muscle relaxers for which she had no prescriptions—after police searched her home. Police searched her home because she was in violation of probation stemming from a 2010 arrest for domestic violence.


It was a disturbing episode of the second season of Teen Mom—in which Portwood is seen punching, slapping, and choking her baby's father as their child looked on—that first prompted police in Anderson, Indiana to conduct a seven-week investigation into the violence. She was subsequently arrested and charged with three counts of domestic violence and was released from jail on $5000 bond after pleading not guilty. Child Protective Services then stepped in to monitor the family for six months, eventually removing Leah from Amber's care.

Had authorities not seen the violence that was filmed, Portwood would've most likely flown under their radar. Sure, the 21-year-old can blame the cameras for being the catalyst to this misery — and her subsequent fame certainly didn't help the situation — but if she has really been dealing with addiction since she was 13, arrests and rehab and prison and CPS would've all played a part in her life eventually. Or hopefully; if her behavior wasn't captured by cameras, she very well could never receive help at all. And Amber has needed it. (To wit, in the very first episode of Teen Mom, before she ever had to deal with the "pressures" of reality TV fame, Portwood is seen getting a prescription for anti-anxiety medication, with no follow-up therapy.)

Much ado has been made over what kind of influence MTV's Teen Mom has had on the network's young viewers, fueling an ongoing public debate about whether or not the reality show glamorizes teen pregnancy. But hopefully that argument will be put to bed; studies link teen pregnancy with drug and alcohol abuse, issues Amber struggled with before she ever answered a MTV casting call. The cameras only illustrate that Portwood's story is not glamorous at all. Sadly, it's common, and the root of it has nothing to do with reality television.


This isn't someone who was destroyed by fame. Her downward spiral started long before MTV's cameras exposed her private problems and — thankfully so — before anyone, namely her little girl, got seriously hurt. It's heartbreakingly sad that she will be absent from her daughter's life for such a long period of time, but it's also probably a good thing for everyone involved.

Sentenced to 5 Years In Prison ... Again [TMZ]

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Phillipa Marlowe

Does the show glamorize teen mothers? I think if people think that, logically, all TV shows should never show anything bad. In the same way, does Intervention glamorize addiction?

I think the shows are really useful because they create a dialogue about things that are otherwise largely ignored by public discourse and policy. It good that people are finally having to face the real problems of poor sexual health education.