In the American mind, drug addiction happens only to people “born under a bad sign.” That’s just not true. Worse, it implies that success in life protects individuals from addiction. Throughout my 50-year career working on drug abuse prevention and treatment, I’ve often seen drug addiction befall every kind of person.

That’s one reason I have been urging people to see “Beautiful Boy,” a new film about the relationship between a good father and his good son as the teenager dives into addiction. The film is based on a pair of best-selling books: “Beautiful Boy,” which tells the story from the father’s perspective, and “Tweak,” which tells it from the son’s.

Ninety percent of adult substance use disorders begin in adolescence because of the unique vulnerability of the adolescent brain to addiction. This movie is a cautionary story for teens and families. Another reason I am recommending the movie (and the books) is their riveting and relentless portrayal of how addiction hijacks the brain.

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Nic is a boy with a magical life marred only by his parents’ divorce. David is a model father, proud of his son and deeply engaged with him. Nic was on a path to a successful and happy life when he began smoking marijuana. At some point he shares a joint with his father, who wants to be his buddy. David validates Nic’s initial drug use as harmless fun, comparing it favorably to his own youthful marijuana use. But Nic’s drug use takes a nasty turn to intravenous methamphetamine use. No longer beautiful or happy, Nic derails as a senior in high school.

 

The film shows the limits of treatment and family love in confronting the awesome and tenacious power of addiction. The movie does not let the viewer stray from that horrifying descent into this modern hell. It brutally and relentlessly portrays the chemical slavery that is addiction and the sustained helplessness of both father and son as they struggle to escape addiction’s iron grip year after devastating year.

I applaud the authors and the filmmakers for their uncompromising portrayal of the hijacking of Nic’s brain. My book, “Chemical Slavery: Understanding Addiction and Stopping the Drug Epidemic,” makes clear that the person in active addiction is not the same person that existed before the addiction. His or her brain has been reprogramed to prioritize continued drug use over relationships and other meaningful aspects of life. Dishonesty is part of addiction. When talking to an individual with an addiction who is using, you are talking to the drug, not to the person who existed before the addiction.

There are compelling lessons in “Beautiful Boy” for families — really for anyone who confronts addiction in themselves and in others. The first is the power of addiction to cause a downward spiral regardless of prior successes. Another is the danger of not confronting early drug use and insisting that a youth not use any marijuana, alcohol, or other drugs for reasons of health. That drug-free choice, which I call One Choice, prevents addiction. When Nic leaves treatment, David does not effectively monitor him for relapse or actively manage his recovery plan. He fails to see that addiction is a lifelong threat to his son and not a temporary problem to be put behind them by even the best treatment.

The ending, which I won’t spoil for you, is hopeful — though there is a disconnect between it and the relentless degradation of Nic and his family.

This powerful portrayal of an individual’s dehumanizing decline into a cruel and degrading misery that’s shared by the entire family conveys that addiction is cunning, baffling, powerful — and tenacious. It is seldom easily overcome, even with repeated access to treatment.

There are no hopeless cases. Anyone can recover from an addiction, though lasting recovery routinely requires years of effort by individuals with addictions and their families. A take-home message for families with children who are not now addicted is the importance of youths growing up drug-free and of families establishing the standard of One Choice for health early and repeating it often. Families helping youths with substance-use problems need to strongly insist on sobriety and sustained participation in recovery support with monitoring to identify relapses and to intervene quickly. Another take-home message, which was only implied in this movie, is the miracle of recovery and the role of recovery support, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, in achieving and sustaining enduring recovery.

Robert L. DuPont, M.D., is the president of the Institute for Behavior and Health and was the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He is the author of “Chemical Slavery: Understanding Addiction and Stopping the Drug Epidemic” (Institute for Behavior and Health, 2018).

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  • @Mavis

    Hi, Mavis ~

    Thanks for your intelligent and heart-felt response.

    I agree with all you say. But I don’t think it applies to my question.

    Once a teenager had voluntarily given himself an incurable addiction, I agree that the medical response is horrifyingly wrong.

    But my question is this:
    Since he knew perfectly well that addicting himself was certain to bring him to a wrecked life of crime, pain, disease, suffering, betrayal, and misery … and he knew it for CERTAIN …
    … and he knew for CERTAIN that he could never be cured …

    … then why did he volunteer to do this to himself?

    Obviously “psychiatrists” and other quacks and charlatans don’t know the answer to this.

    Maybe the next thing for science to do is to find out WHAT WERE THEY THINKING just moments before they voluntarily gave themselves an incurably filthy, wretched, ruined life?

    And (since it is incurable) just what do they expect anyone to do about it now?

    What outcome did they expect in the moments before they voluntarily injected themselves with incurably addictive opioids?

  • I have not seen the movie yet, but it is not hard to guess the theme. Addiction was always something that happened to “those people” so it was not only allowed to flourish, it was encouraged. It is one more of the consequences of the American “Drug War. What will be absent from this movie, is the isolation and alienation many Americans are experiencing. We well know this only became in issue, when white upper income suburban kids began dying.

    So far there have been no movies, about how this scourge was marketed and sold the the American people. There was a problem in 2001, yet the only response was to mislead the public. People blindly accepted the marketing of the very profitable pharmaceuticals. Even when the deaths were publicized, people, mostly in Advertorials for the so called “treatment industry,” which found their services were highly profitable, with no expectation of an outcome. Some people even died after treatment, due to the lies and denial of the drug war.
    This topic should have made people question the role of marketing and deception in healthcare. Sites like this one contributed to the death toll, by misinforming the public, and peddling healthcare as a market or a commodity. The resounding nonsense of “We just did not know.” Makes a convenient lie, and absolves the guilt of the people who perpetuated this.
    Currently the mass media has had a rather disturbing role in peddling lies, myths and discrimination towards the people who these drug were initially used medically. The pharma marketers saw an opportunity to create demand, and expand their sales. The obscene profits made regulation impossible, since they paid off the regulators, or found ways to undermine the laws, data gathering and a compliant press, that sensationalized only certain aspects, in order to mislead the public. In 2010, the business pages touted the treatment industry and pharma as good investments.

    The cavalcade of lies continues, wealthy white suburban kinds who are never told no. The ones who never experienced a minute of discomfort, who regularly stole things from their parents medicine chest. There are the other ones prescribed various medications like Adderall, to help them study, or anti anxiety drugs from an early age. Of course there was no data on any of it, because data and facts are bad for profits.

    It is very likely that certain things will be left out of this movie narrative, because they complicate the plot line. The Fact remains that the US is experiencing a raising death rate, and suicides are increasing. This occurs even among the entitled. These parents felt they knew it all, as they contributed to the system of lies and willful ignorance that perpetuated the deaths of these young people. When healthcare is a market, there is a disincentive to fix anything. The only response allowed are these Adversity Porn narratives. They repeat the false narrative about this scourge, while absolving the guilty of their responsibility.
    There still has been no public response to peddling alternative cures that don’t work, or faith based treatment, for those unable to afford a high end but ineffective Re Hab. Newspapers are still blaming sick people, or even “Addicted Infants.” They are either unable or unwilling to find the facts!

    The Opiate Epidemic has been profitable, peddling them was almost as profitable as the multitude of cures, treatments and alternatives. The only thign missing are the facts, but they are inconvenient.

    • @Mavis

      What you say is true about the drug companies marketing opioids to doctors.
      At last the pharmaceutical manufacturers got what they always wanted — a way to legally sell heroin.

      It was the doctors’ light-hearted overprescribing of these drugs (based on the false claims of the manufacturers) that powered the addiction crisis among ordinary people who never had any drug misuse before.

      However, it may be possible to forgive the doctors for believing the unlikely spin of the pharmaceutical companies with relief and gratitude that they at last had a way to relieve pain without addiction.
      The lives of many many patients are ruined by chronic, serious, intractable pain, so the promise of these improperly marketed drugs was irresistible.
      —————

      But medically-caused addiction has nothing to do with the teenager in this movie.
      He volunteered to addict himself illegally, even though he had RIGHT BEFOR HIS EYES living examples of what happens when you do.

      There was no marketing that was aimed at getting him to do this.
      Even if he saw ads aimed at doctors that claimed that these drugs were not addictive:
      > He was not in pain
      > He could see WITH HIS OWN EYES that his friends had collapsed into addicted human wreckage

      So what was he thinking just before he made himself an incurable chemical slave, with a filthy and miserable life of crime, betrayal, suffering, pain, criminality, and hopeless incurable addiction?

      What outcome did he anticipate?

    • Annie,
      I have not seen the movie, but I can guess at the narrative. It is highly unlikely that this young man began his descent into addiction, with Heroin. A lot of celebrities and party people were doing heroin, it was edgy. A lot of these kinds were started out earlier on pharmaceuticals. Many were prescribed medications for anxiety or academic achievement.

      The response to the so called opiate epidemic created new markets for the heroin dealers. Instead of applying facts or science to their response, they created a new epidemic and market for heroin. Now it is apparently everywhere and dirt cheap. The agencies that were supposed to protect public health, did not react in any kind of timely manner, instead the entire response was driven by industry insiders, all poised to profit, fro the deaths of Americans.

      We have not seen any of these pop psychologists or psychiatrists ask why these young people are so self destructive, there was no funding for that, or perhaps people just don’t want the answer. There was plenty of funding though for aps and get rich gimmicks. Credible institutions like Stanford chose to research where the funding led. A few billionaires saw a chance to profit, from alternative medicine, and the denial of human pain. This did nothing to address the problem of despair and hopelessness in the young people. Each draconian misleading piece of biased research was amplified by the media. Torturing pain patients in the name of science, it wasn’t really science, because science requires facts and quantifiable data.

      The continual blaming of doctors, even though most have stopped prescribing opiates, and left pain patients to consider suicide is one more part of the problem. Large quantities of opiates are still being diverted from the supply chain, as the public still targets their rage at doctors, and patients with legitimate medical needs for these drugs.
      The insurance industry found that opiates were cheaper than providing medical care. They did not want to give employees a few days off to recover from an injury. Many people could not afford to take time off, or they were misdiagnosed, which happens more often than not.

      If you start looking at the various industries that have been cashing in here, it starts looking like asking who did not cash in, is more appropriate. What we have here is just one of the negative consequences of the major disconnects in our society.
      I live in a state that has one of the highest rates of heroin addiction in the nation. Instead of using the opiate funding to provide evidence based treatment for heroin addicts, they threw an additional 500K into their prescription monitoring database. The database has been in operation since 2011. It has not had any impact on the heroin addicts. Here the heroin abuse is generational. The local media is still blaming pain patients, one DJ referred to them as “causing crime.” People are left to die, in agony, or endure multiple surgeries, without pain control. Our local health providers have cashed in too. Now they can label anyone who does not improve after surgery as having Opiate Use Disorder” even when the surgeon is at fault, or their condition was initially misdiagnosed, postponing treatment. One local physician touted a quack Chiropractor, as a cure for opioid addiction. Heroin addicts do not respond to these quack “healers” but they are still trying to cash in on the fear.
      The local religious non profit hospital, set up a “Pain Clinic” where they sell expensive steroid injections. The people that are injured by these injections, are told that they “just did not want to get better.” Facts and Science tell us these injections are dangerous and ineffective. Due to the opiate epidemic, paralysis is better than opiate addiction.

      We can drive down the street here and see people passed out from heroin or alcohol, yet the so called community remains in denial. The local news is still peddling faith based cures. A recent article sensationalized “Addicted Infants.” The AP admonished the use of these words years ago in order to avoid stigmatizing pregnant women on heroin that seek treatment. Sensationalism and discrimination drive advertising revenue, and comfort the complicit.

  • What is a teenager thinking just before injecting himself with an enslaving chemical?

    He has obviously obtained it from someone already addicted, already leading a life of degradation, fear, pain, and the daily threat of death, someone whose life is incurably ruined.

    So does the teenager say, “Hey! I have a good idea! I’ll inject myself with the same drug that these destroyed people did. After all, what could go wrong?”

    I could never understand what the addicted person was thinking on the day he first chose to make himself into an incurable, miserable, suffering addict.

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