[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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Great read! A huge takeaway is that recovery is very personal and one size does not fit all.
agreed; each of us is still unique, addiction and recovery is much more complex and multi-dimensional than we used to believe. Thanks for the feedback Katie.
Really well written and very informative and old ideas about addiction need some adjustments!!
Totally agree Susan! Change is needed. Thank you
You make some truly exceptional & easy to understand points!
This is really great.
I’d love to make a meme with your quote-
“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.”
I wish everyone could comprehend that.
Glad you found it useful Rebel. Yes we have a long way to go in trying to help people understand the complexities of addiction. The current narrative is that if we reduce or eliminate the supply of substances, like a magic bullet it will reduce overdoses and minimize substance use disorders; yet research has shown that for many, substance use is a way to cope with unbearable emotions or life experiences. Even if the supply was eliminated, we’d still be left with many suffering people feeling unable to cope with life; which is not the public health answer that is needed. Please, keep in touch. Meme; feel free to use the quote to help our cause. Have a great weekend; come back and visit again.
Thank you Patrick. I did not know that “tough love” is an old construct.
This is very useful for me.
Glad this is helpful Barbara. While you still will hear many advocate “tough love”, we’ve learned much over the past twenty years; one thing being that while letting people hit rock bottom may help some, it’s not useful for most. Here’s an article to explain. Especially with the risk of imminent death accompanying opioid use disorder, where the next use could be the last. There never was evidence to support the approach; and because it worked with some, we took it and ran with it. We’re seeing much more success with harm reduction approaches with people who are not motivated to stop using drugs. Harm reduction is based on the fact that people have to be alive in order to have an opportunity for recovery. Things like needle exchange programs, supervised consumption spaces, providing shelter and food and healthcare regardless of whether one was interested in addiction recovery, or not. This approach is working very well with families, who report they want to have a relationship even though their loved one isn’t ready for treatment. Most families are very uncomfortable with the “tough love” approach. Through Family Coaching, families are learning how to support their loved one with addiction, without enabling; with the hope he/she will ask for treatment soon.
Thank you for your insight. I appreciate your blog posts because I know you have extensive experience in the field and you give a perspective on the issue that is not often addressed. I have a couple of questions:
1. When should a family not be involved in the treatment of an individual?
2. How do you determine if a substance abuse facility will be beneficial? And which facilities are better than others? (Especially since it seems the industry cannot be trusted).
Thank you for your input!
good questions Tiffany.
1. While family involvement is generally very useful, certain types of serious dysfuntion may not allow for it. For example, if a spouse, adult child, or parent is not close to being supportive of professional help and actively trying to pull a patient out of treatment for not healthy reasons. Where there have been harmful/damaging relationships that have not been acknowledged, would be another rule out of family involvement; e.g. abuse or neglect. And at all times the preference of the patient need to be respected; even if a treatment team disagrees. In our experience, the vast majority of families report that they are not invited or welcomed into the treatment; the patient is agreeable, and we see nothing but positive support available from family that is not accepted by providers/facilities.
2. This blog describes signs of corruption; and this guide is extremely useful for families researching for quality programs.