“The film shows the limits of treatment and family love in confronting the awesome and tenacious power of addiction.”
Robert L. DuPont knows what addiction looks like — how it can strike anyone and tear families apart from the inside. As a doctor specializing in addiction and treatment and former National Institute on Drug Abuse and White House Drug Chief, DuPont has seen both the truth and the misconceptions around substance abuse, and says that Steve Carell’s new film Beautiful Boy portrays them both.
“Throughout my 50-year career working on drug abuse prevention and treatment, I’ve often seen drug addiction befall every kind of person,” DuPont writes in an essay for STAT News. That can include even stable, loving families like the one portrayed in the film, which is based on the best-selling books by David Sheff and his son Nic, who progressed from sharing a joint with his father to shooting meth as addiction took hold.
In addition to pushing back on the idea that addiction only affects people who have done something wrong, DuPont says that the film outlines the real risk of teenage drug abuse.
“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,” he writes. “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.”
Dupont, who is the author of Chemical Slavery: Understanding Addiction and Stopping the Drug Epidemic, says that people whose brains are on drugs are not the same people they were before they were using.
“His or her brain has been reprogrammed to prioritize continued drug use over relationships and other meaningful aspects of life,” DuPont writes. “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.”
He says that all viewers — those who have experienced addiction in the families and those who haven’t — can take lessons from Beautiful Boy.
“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,” he writes. The final is the idea that addiction is a lifelong disease, and recovery a lifelong commitment.
“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,” DuPont writes.