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Wednesday 23rd May 2018

HBO series looks at addiction

9th April 2007

A groundbreaking new documentary series about alcohol and drug addiction in the United States may go some way to counteracting the effect of Hollywood on popular perception around the issue, writes Chloe Veltman in the British Medical Journal.


The United States is home to around 23 million addicts, but less than 10% of them receive any help. Drug overdose is the second biggest cause of accidental death after car crashes, official figures show.

"Never," writes Feltman, citing a string of celebrity addictions and the death of Playboy model Anna Nicole-Smith, "has there been a greater need for a straightforward, high profile documentary series on the theme of drug addiction."

Backed by leading alcoholism and addiction groups, the series portrays a Saturday night in a Dallas emergency room, the real-life stories of teen addicts, and examines the brain chemistry behind the problem.

But, she adds, the series has its drawbacks. "Repetition has long been viewed as a key component of the learning process. But the series' core message - that addictions are chronic diseases of the brain that can be managed through a combination of medical and behavioural treatments - is repeated so often, that it is rendered practically meaningless."

Little attempt, Feltman says, is made to address opposing beliefs about the causes of  - and treatments for - addiction, and the series' tone rarely reaches beyond the 'merely moralistic'.

"Coupled with its ham-fisted public service announcement tone, this single minded view of the subject makes Addiction, at times, border on propaganda."


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