Time.com Viewpoint: We Need to Rethink Rehab

This article by David Sheff was originally published at Time.com.

When my son Nic became addicted to methamphetamine and other drugs, I was panicked, overwhelmed and desperate to save his life but had no idea what to do. I’d heard about rehab, where you send people with drug problems, but I soon learned that there’s no standard definition of it; instead it’s a generic word for a wide variety of treatments, including some that are outrageous. Past-life therapy? Exorcism? Tough-love programs in which patients are made to scrub bathroom tiles with a toothbrush or cut grass with scissors? Even in more-typical rehabilitation programs, patients are not seen by licensed practitioners — no doctors or psychologists — only self-anointed “experts” with no training or credentials, unless you count their own recoveries from addiction to heroin, alcohol or other drugs.

I chose a rehab center for Nic that was recommended by a friend who had sent her son there. The program lasted 28 days, after which he relapsed. Over the next six years, he was admitted to six residential treatment programs and four outpatient programs. He would do better for a while, but then relapse. Each relapse was crushing. I thought he might die.

Every year in the U.S., 120,000 people die of addiction. That’s 350 a day. Continue Reading →

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Media Award for 2013 from College on Problems of Drug Dependence

David Sheff was awarded the 2013 Media Award from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence/National Institute on Drug Abuse Media Award (CPDD/NIDA).

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Fashionably Stoned

This article by David Sheff was originally published at Medium

A “Celebrity Boutique” Celebrates Drug Use at Children’s Expense

The banner on the website of Kitson, the self-described celebrity boutique whose customers include Taylor Swift, Reese Witherspoon, and Paris Hilton, reads, “Pop one on and you’ll feel better. Just what the doctor ordered.” The prescription is for customers to check out the company’s line of jerseys and sweatshirts emblazoned with the words VICODIN, XANAX, and ADDERALL, three of the most misused prescription medications, the class of drugs now killing more people than any other nonnatural cause, even traffic accidents.

Pop references to drugs are nothing new. Miley Cyrus’s twerking at MTV’s Video Music Awards was talked about more than Syria, but not much was said about the song she sang that made “dancing with Molly” sound pretty great. Molly is MDMA—Ecstasy, the drug that killed two kids and left others in critical condition at the Electronic Zoo music festival in New York City on August 31. (The New York Times has reported more deaths since then.) Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Kanye West, Rihanna, and Rick Ross also sing the praises of Molly, but those endorsements are simply the latest in the tradition of countless songs, movies, TV shows, and products that make drugs seem awesome.

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Immorality or Illness?

Article by David Sheff originally appeared on Medium

When my teenage son was raging out of control on drugs — wasted on crystal meth and heroin, careening toward death — I finally got him into treatment, the first of a dozen rehab programs he would go to. This program included lectures for family members, like one titled “The Disease of Addiction.” By then Nic had lied to me, broken into our home, and stolen from me — and even from his little brother, too. I thought I’d raised a kind, moral, and loving child, but something had gone horribly wrong. As I listened to the speaker talk about addiction as a disease, Nic was in a lockdown ward in a wing of the hospital. Getting him there had been hell — he almost leaped out of our moving car and had tried to kick out the window. My son wasn’t ill. He was selfish, reckless, and remorseless, a narcissistic teenager obsessed with being high, with no concern for his family.That was the first time I heard what is sometimes termed “the disease theory” of addiction, but it wasn’t the last. I tell about my struggle to understand that addiction is a disease in my book Beautiful Boy, about about my family’s struggle when Nic became addicted. The disease theory was repeated in more lectures at more rehabs, in countless therapists’ offices, and in many Twelve Step meetings I attended. I’d become enraged by it. People with leukemia have a disease. Those with Alzheimer’s or lymphoma have a disease. Nic was choosing to use and could stop if he wanted to. There was no such option for cancer patients. Continue Reading →
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PBS Newshour: David Sheff’s Top 8 Myths about Addiction

Interview with Judy Woodruff – PBS Newshour.

Why We Should Treat, Not Blame Addicts Struggling to Get ‘Clean’

It has been more than 40 years since Richard Nixon called for a “war on drugs,” and yet our prevention and treatment efforts have largely failed to address the chronic illness of substance addiction that afflicts one in 12 Americans and affects millions more friends and family members.

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MSNBC’s The Cycle: Challenging everything about addiction

Interview with MSNBC’s The Cycle 

While helping his son battle addiction, David Sheff explains to The Cycle hosts that when it comes to how we view and treat drug addiction, we’re stuck in the past.

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USA Today: Making a ‘Clean’ sweep of addiction in USA

Interview by Craig Wilson – USA Today

David Sheff makes a ‘Clean’ sweep of addiction

The author, who wrote a memoir about his son’s drug problem, is back to argue that substance abuse is an illness.

Q: First off, how’s Nic (now 30) doing these days?

A: Miraculously, he’s doing just great. He’s sober now for about five years, which is the most important thing after his struggles of a decade. He’s in L.A., doing lots of fun stuff.

Q: You look back now and wonder what you’d do differently with Nic, asking yourself, “How could I have…” over and over. What’s the answer to that question? Was there a co-dependence?

A: Yes, in a word. I think I definitely was in denial for a long, long time. Parents like me are wired for denial because it’s just too scary to acknowledge our kids are on the descent. Continue Reading →

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NPR’s Fresh Air: Telling Story of Son’s Struggle to Stay ‘Clean’

Interview by Terry Gross – NPR’s Fresh Air.

A Father Tells The Story Of His Son’s Struggle To Stay ‘Clean’

Why do we imprison people who are addicted to illegal drugs instead of treating them for their addiction? That question is at the heart of David Sheff’s new book Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy. It reports the latest medical and scientific research about addiction and recovery, which, Sheff says, shows that drug addicts are gravely ill, afflicted with a chronic, progressive and often terminal disease.

Sheff’s research is motivated by having watched his son Nic’s addiction nearly destroy him and the family. Nic started smoking marijuana when he was 12 and eventually moved on to shooting heroin and crystal meth. He became homeless, living on the streets, in cars, in parks, and when he did come home, he stole from and lied to the family. Sheff wrote about how the family lived through his son’s addiction in the best-selling memoir Beautiful Boy. Nic wrote about his addiction in two memoirs and has been clean for five years.

David Sheff joins Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross to talk about his family’s experience and why he feels the nation’s approach to drug treatment failed his son. Continue Reading →

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David Sheff On Addiction: Prevention, Treatment And Staying ‘Clean’

Interview by Scott Simon – NPR’s Weekend Edition.

David Sheff wrote a book in 2008 that became a kind of landmark. Beautiful Boy was a painful, personal story of the battle he tried to fight with and alongside his son, Nic, who was addicted to methamphetamines. The book became an international best-seller and made David Sheff one of the country’s most prominent voices on addiction — not as a doctor, an addict or an academic expert, but as a father.

Sheff has continued to try to figure out a road that can lead out of addiction, and he presents that route in his new book, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy. He joined NPR’s Scott Simon to talk about prevention, treatment programs and the legalization of marijuana. Continue Reading →

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MSNBC’s The Last Word: Why America’s Losing the War on Drugs

Interview by Lawrence O’Donnell – MSNBC’s The Last Word

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