Addiction, television, and courage

Alcoholism and addiction are two the biggest categories by which people are “othered.”  To many a substance abuser is a celebrity, a skid-row drunk, or maybe your crazy Uncle Bob––but it’s always someone else, not you or the person sitting next to you. Hence, there is shame attached to this illness for the afflicted  and those close to them. The fact is the one in ten people have problems with drugs or alcohol, numbers that tend to be much higher within creative communities. And most of them battle heroically with this problem in the face of a society that views them as derelict, dishonest, or morally bankrupt.

Users don’t fit typical stereotypes, as over 75% are productively employed and many highly successful. Among people who get flashes of brilliance from occasional mania, the numbers go to 85%.  Science has recently shown that genuine addiction (as opposed to occasional binging) results from faulty brain wiring that those afflicted can contain, but never correct (See forthcoming DSM V).

This is why a TV show like Rehab with Dr. Drew should be a good idea––a program that treats addiction as the illness that it is. Rebranded this year from the former Celebrity Rehab, the program now features all sorts of people living through some of the worst moments of their lives. The problem is that the program relentlessly zeros in crisis, often exacerbating it for the camera with a brutally confrontational style. This may make for entertaining television––and it may do a little to “normalize” addiction as a common malady. But it makes treatment look like a living hell.

Truth be told, participants are “paid” for their appearances, both with an actual appearance fee and free treatment (valued at $50,000-60,000) at Drew’s Pasadena Recover Center. And many drug counselors will tell you that hurt feeling are a small price to pay for saving a life.  So watch the show sometime, decide for yourself.  And have a bit of respect for the courageous and frequently invisible people in your life who silently fight this illness.

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