Friday, May 10, 2013

Addict’s Father, Now Advocate

Addiction swallows lives whole, and not only with overdose, illness and concentric cycles of rehab and relapse. A less onerous but still tenacious kind of post-traumatic stress disorder may develop as well, with recovered addicts and their families compulsively reliving the past in private — or, like David Sheff and his son Nic, in public.

Now comes “Clean,” less memoir than guide for those just entering the terrain Mr. Sheff knows so well. If the book represents a certain redundancy of subject, its likely audience — those who must watch as friends and family spiral away — cannot hear too many sympathetic reiterations of the same truths.

In “Clean,” Mr. Sheff changes perspective, writing as advocate and journalist rather than distraught father. Still, his story line recreates that of “Beautiful Boy,” tracing the trajectory of addiction from cradle to rehab and beyond with the same question in mind: How does a promising cleareyed kid from a good family wind up in an inconceivable sea of trouble?

Still, readers who are just hoping for a clear-cut recommendation on the best available treatment may be disappointed.

Unfortunately for them, addiction is a new enough disease that most major scientific strides have been made on the molecular and cellular levels, with relatively little percolating to patient care. Mr. Sheff deplores most current addiction treatments: “a haphazard collection of cobbled-together, often useless and sometimes harmful recovery programs based not on medical science but on tradition, wild guesses, wishful thinking and pseudoscience, some of which borders on voodoo.”

In the end, the uncertainties still far outnumber the proven facts of this disease, one reason hype and voodoo, with their promises of certainty, still hold sway.

I am really looking forward to reading Clean. Beautiful Boy was a life saver for me at a time when I felt really alone. I had the pleasure of hearing David speak in Portland last month.

Here is the link to the full review in the NY Times:

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