[photo courtesy Amazon Studios] ‘Beautiful Boy’, now on Amazon Prime Video, is an accurate portrayal of what research has shown; that rather than being unidimensional, addiction usually develops from a myriad of influences and risk factors.  There can be a strong connection between addiction and emotional illness, self-confidence, and the quality of peer and family relationships during childhood.  Addiction is much more than just the drug; it’s the context in which the substance is used, painted upon the canvas of experience and emotional life.  It’s what the substance-altered reality DOES for the person, how it makes him/her feel, or NOT feel.

The ‘Beautiful Boy’ movie, based on the autobiographical books by real-life father David Sheff and son Nic Sheff, corrects many misunderstandings about treatment and recovery.  Here’s three of the many addiction myths busted:

  • Family is not important to recovery.
    1. Wrong; but that’s what you likely will experience when your loved one enters residential treatment. Families report being turned away when trying to communicate with treatment staff.  Most programs don’t interview the family, nor set up or share information about aftercare; even when the patient is returning to the family home.  Family Weekends often provide general and sometimes false information.
    2. Correction; the movie’s father consults with specialists, relentlessly contacts his son and treatment staff, and travels distances to find and bring his son to safety. With most families, their involvement is life-saving and necessary.
  • Families need to back off and let the person hit rock bottom.
    1. There’s nothing loving about the “tough love” approach many ‘experts’ advise, where you ignore your loved one and withdraw all support until he/she does what you want. While some will tell you that’s how they got sober, there’s never been any evidence that this approach is the best/only way to help.
    2. We are now recognizing the value of harm reduction approaches of staying engaged with a person even when they struggle or are not ready to stop using. Our families are finding it much more helpful to continue to have a relationship with their loved one, while establishing boundaries such as not giving money to be used to get more drugs.  We urge you to make your own decisions on your relationships, after consulting with professionals and knowledgeable supports.
  • It’s best to rely on treatment professionals for information and advice.
    1. Sorry, often wrong; most of the $35 billion addiction treatment industry is operating on assumptions and outdated notions. Most believe that a person needs to be sober for a year before a co-occurring disorder can be diagnosed and treated.  Many do not have medical professionals and highly trained staff and believe that medication is not part of true recovery.  Many believe that the way he/she found recovery personally, is the one way your loved one will find it as well.
    2. Research has shown that most with severe addiction also have depression, anxiety, or another psychiatric disorder; and that both must be treated to give best outcomes. We now have medications that improve the chances for recovery; especially with opioid use disorder where buprenorphine or methadone decrease mortality by 50% and keep patients in treatment longer.  We’ve also learned that there are many different paths to recovery, and that patients tend to do best when informed and offered all evidence-based models of treatment.  The movie shows the father spending countless hours consulting specialists and researching the internet to learn more about current addiction and recovery theories.  We provide a variety of sources of information such as here, and coach families that they need to review and decide for themselves.  It’s an arduous process, yet it’s the only way.

The fact that the real-life son has now achieved 8 years of recovery from addiction/bipolar disorder underscores the fact that these are highly treatable illnesses with millions living full lives, giving us all reasons to be hopeful. @beautifulboymov