“Addicted” – Recovered and Helping: The reality (tv) of addiction treatment.

With the success of shows like A&E’s Intervention and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, America has shown an almost insatiable appetite for television programs that deal with addiction. Whether this reflects the breadth and depth of the addiction problem in this country or a national appetite for tragedy and schadenfreude is open for debate, but regardless, TLC has now thrown its own hat into the ring with a new series, Addicted, that follows a trained family interventionist who is, herself, a recovering addict. Though the line between education and exploitation in such shows remains a debatable matter of personal opinion, it calls to our attention a crucial element in modern addiction treatment: the unique position of the recovering addict to make a positive difference in the lives of those still caught in the grip of dependency.

Hey, it’s what got me starting this website over three years ago.

Addicted on TLC – Addiction treatment reality

Kristina from the TLC show AddictedKristina Wandzilak, the main character of the TLC “Addicted” show, is a professional interventionist specializing in family-style interventions, targeted towards not only the addicts themselves but the families for whom having an addict as a family member has destabilized their lives and sense of control. The central philosophy of family-style intervention revolves around working not only with the addict but with the entire family to restore that feeling of control and healthy boundaries, after which, the theory goes, recovery of the chemically dependent individual can follow. Wandzilak’s faith in this style of addiction treatment is hard-earned; as a cocaine and methamphetamine addict, she cites her own mother’s ability to establish a firm boundary and “walk away” as the impetus for her to finally get clean.

Wanzilak’s story is a sadly common one. Falling in love with alcohol from her first drink at the age of 13, addicted to cocaine and methamphetamine by age 15, and in and out of treatment by 18, Kristina was clearly on the fast path to an early grave. Returning home after another escape from rehab, she was turned away at the door by her mother, a firm line she would later credit as the first step to her recovery. Though the next three years of her life would involve a continued spiral of cocaine and methamphetamine addiction, prostitution, and robbery, it was allegedly at a moment of complete rock bottom that her mother’s strength and grace in turning her away served as the inspiration for her to finally take control of her own life. After seeking her own addiction treatment, Kristina has now been sober since September 4, 1993 and calls this the greatest accomplishment of her life. In her words, she feels that if she helps families to embody the strength that her mother had in dealing with her, the addicts will be forced to “run into themselves” and thus find sobriety soon thereafter.

A note here – I’ve talked about the difference between positive reinforcement and punishment before, so I won’t go into it at length here, but I think it’s important to keep in mind the fine line between helping someone by keeping consistent boundaries and hurting them by refusing to help. With this show just starting, I really hope that this line is kep in mind and that the producers, and Kristina, don’t use it for ratings rather than helping those in need.

Where would addiction treatment be without recovered addicts?

The question stands- does Kristina Wanzilak’s or any other addict’s past with addiction make them more qualified to help those now suffering through the same issues? Many people feel that this is the case, including qualified specialists like Dr. Drew Pinsky, who takes most of the staff for his VH1 series Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew from a group of former addicts. Regulars on Celebrity Rehab with Dr Drew include technician Shelly Sprague and counselor (and program director of the Pasadena recovery center) Bob Forrest, both highly trained and qualified addiction specialists whose own experiences as addicts serves as a tool for understanding and gaining the trust of difficult patients, as well as promoting these people as living examples of the possibilities that await even the most seemingly hopeless cases. Sober houses are also overwhelmingly run by recovering addicts who can teach the newly sober a structured lifestyle and tricks to keeping focused on recovery. Our own Adi Jaffe, director of All About Addiction, is a recovering addict himself (check out his story on the Press tab). As we see recovering addicts step up to help those that remain trapped in a life of getting high, we are increasingly made aware of their unique ability to make a difference in lives that many had considered lost. Addicted on TLC is keeping that trend going.

Nevertheless, I don’t believe that having personal experience is necessary for becoming an addiction counselor or specialist, though it likely helps keep the motivation level high in a relatively stressful occupation. One thing is certain, seeing these examples of recovered addicts who are helping others is certain to do a lot of good to the addiction stigma I hate so much!