Released earlier this fall, Beautiful Boy is a film about the relationship between a father and his teenage son who struggles with addiction. The movie is based on the memoirs of both the father, David, and his son, Nic: Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff.
Thousands of families struggle with a loved one’s addiction on a daily basis. So, how accurately did this film portray addiction? And what is it’s significance today?
As an expert in addiction, Dr. Tom Doub, chief clinical officer at American Addiction Centers, shares his thoughts about the film.
1. Did the film accurately depict addiction?
“I really thought, overall, it was a great depiction… [However,] there was a moment in the movie where they went to see a professional counselor, and the counselor said ‘Well, the success rates for addiction treatment are in the single digits.’
And, that’s just not factually correct. There are really excellent treatments available today. What you want to look for [are] providers who are accredited, who share their outcome information, who are using evidence-based practices. Even for methamphetamine addiction, which was the subject for this film … there is true hope for recovery if you go to a good program. And, for methamphetamine addiction, really the best programs tend to adopt a method called the MATRIX model — it’s an evidenced-based program specifically developed to treat meth addiction.”
2. What advice would you give a family in this situation?
“The first thing I would say is — it’s not your fault. Addiction, even though we understand from the science and biology of it, it’s a brain illness. The brains of people with an addiction are different than the brains of people who aren’t struggling with an addiction. As a society don’t really accept that yet. By that, I mean we look for someone to blame. So, if I’m a parent, I’m going to ask where have I gone wrong? Is it something like I didn’t buy the right toy when Nic was in 5th grade? He might’ve turned out differently had I done it…
We blame ourselves, we blame the addict, we blame Nic for not being strong enough to just power through it because sometimes people can — but why can’t Nic? That doesn’t recognize the fact that this is a brain illness that needs to be treated as such. It’s not something that where a parent did something wrong, it’s not necessarily did anything wrong or whether they’re weak. We need to treat this as a serious medical condition just as we would with any other chronic condition like diabetes or cardiovascular disease or anything that requires long-term, sustain behavioral change.”
3. What struck you most about the movie?
“One of the things that most struck me in the movie was Nic’s experience with addiction. He was engaged in all of these self-destructive behaviors — stealing from a family member and acting out in ways that were alienating the people he loves — he didn’t want to do it either…When someone is really struggling with addiction, they’re not able to manage their behavior.
They’re hurting the people that they love, they’re doing things that aren’t consistent with their values, but that doesn’t mean that they have changed. It’s the effect of the disease that makes them behave in ways that aren’t consistent with who they are. I think we always have to remember that as family members, professionals in the industry, that that’s not who the addict is. Our job is to help them move through that process and recovery really who they are.”
4. Where should someone look for online treatment resources?
I think today, one of the benefits we have is that [when] looking for addiction treatment, there are many more resources available online for people to educate themselves and be more informed buyers. It’s not quite as simple as going on Yelp and picking out a good restaurant with good reviews. But, now that there are a lot of reviews out there. You can hear from people — patients who have been through that treatment center and really find out in the voice of the patients.
What are they about? What do they do well? What do they not do well? You can also look and see: Are they accredited? What practices do they use? What are the credentials of their professionals? There are a lot of benefits to having this information out there. So, that’s one of the reasons why we try to create transparent resources on the web for families and for individuals to review and evaluate for themselves what’s the best fit for them.”
5. How important is it to watch Beautiful Boy?
“It was a very painful movie to watch, but I also think it was a very important movie for all of us to understand. We’ve lost over 70,000 people in this country due to overdose, this more deaths than we had at the height of the HIV epidemic, it’s more deaths than we lose in car crashes. It’s a tremendous national tragedy. And, even though it’s talked about a lot, it’s not talked about nearly enough given what is happening to our country, the toll this is taking years after year.
I think whether your family is directly impacted by addiction or not, and most are in some way — families or friends — it’s important for you to see so you can really understand what people go through and why we really need to take a much more aggressive response to deal with this problem of addiction in America going forward.”
Additional Reading: Beautiful Boy: Can a Film About Addiction Ignore Social Causality and Harm Reduction in 2018?
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