SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Addictions must be treated, not glamorised

WATCHING Beautiful Boy at the cinema, two things become apparent. That no amount of Hollywood lighting can glamorise the grinding monotony of relapse, the way the cycle repeats and repeats, boring and predictable and maddening. A bit like the film itself.

The second is the futility of why. Why, wonders the dad played by Steve Carrell, is his clever, talented, handsome young son an addict? He thinks he can google the answer, or understand the attraction by trying the drugs himself, or rescue his son by endlessly bailing him out. (On all counts, he can’t.) Why, ask the film critics, is this privileged white kid such a hopeless addict when he comes from a liberal loving family with a house by the ocean and tons of cash?

Here’s why. There is no why. There just is. It’s like asking why people have depression when their external life is so shiny and nice. You might as well ask someone why they have asthma or flat feet. They just have. And yet we persist in requiring an explanation, as though the pointless destruction of a life through repeated self inflicted harm is something that can be rationalised. Oh, he’s an addict because his parents got divorced. No, he’s an addict because — Lady Gaga knows — he was born that way.

(Think about it. If every kid whose childhood was a fraction less than Disney perfect became an alcohol or drug addict, the whole town would be crammed into 12-step meetings the size of football pitches; we would all be addicts.)

The big why is why we still don’t regard addiction as what it is — a mental illness that manifests in repeated physical self harm — but as some kind of feckless lifestyle choice. Granted, addicts of all persuasions are the most annoying people on earth when they are bang at it; the alcohol ones start fights they don’t remember, the drug ones nick your handbag and sell the telly. Addiction is stronger than the strongest human connection, the one between parent and child; recovery meetings are full of those whose children are no longer in their lives (although with enough recovery, this can be reversed. Mummy has been very ill, but she’s getting better now). Like everything else, the treatment of addiction has been gentrified. Had that rich kid, the ‘Beautiful Boy’ played by Timothee Chalamet, been a poor one, the film would have ended in 10 minutes, lasting as long as his first relapse. There would not have been rehab after private rehab. He’d have died in the first act.

Substance addiction — alcohol, drugs — can happen to anyone from anywhere. Sometimes there is an obvious reason — the addict was monstered as a child or whatever — and sometimes there is none. What is vital is immediate, no quibble treatment that is accessible to all the moment they need it.

That is, the moment they admit that they need it. Addiction, as we all know, is a condition of ferocious denial, both by the addict themselves and those around them. Everyone bends themselves out of shape to accommodate it. So when the addict finally cracks, help needs to be instant and constant. Not just for the ‘Beautiful Boys’, but for everyone, young and old, everywhere. Open and destigmatised and available.

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