TV Preview

HBO's 'Addiction': Stories With a Kick

By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Pittsburgh mother has police take her 23-year-old daughter into custody in hopes of getting her off drugs and into rehab. A teenager displays his sixth-grade school photo and says he was "kind of high in this picture." A 23-year-old man and his 20-year-old girlfriend check themselves into rehab after a combined nine years of drug abuse.

Those are just three of the stories in HBO's gripping documentary "Addiction," tonight's kickoff to a 14-part series dedicated to chronic substance abuse, which a recent national survey says affects nearly one in 10 Americans.

But "Addiction" is not just a collection of somber vignettes.

Tonight's nine segments, each directed by a different documentary filmmaker, range from inspiring to frustrating to heartbreaking, but they share a common message: Addiction is a brain disease that can be treated, especially given continuing advances in medical and behavioral treatments.

And that, ultimately, provides hope.

"Addiction" starts with a jolt. Director Jon Alpert, who most recently directed HBO's "Baghdad ER," takes us to a Dallas hospital emergency room where all hell is breaking loose -- which is a typical Saturday night there. Trauma case after trauma case flies through the doors. The attending physician explains: "I'm not flooded tonight with people who need their appendix taken out or their gallbladder. It's all drinking and injuries."

Alpert's graphic segment -- which contains "Addiction's" only truly shocking footage -- dramatically illustrates the effects of substance abuse.

From then on, the documentary follows people in the grips of addictions, skillfully weaving in the brief insights of numerous health experts. And most compellingly, the addicts' stories take center stage.

We meet Aubrey, the young Pittsburgh woman whose mother, Donna, wants her to seek treatment. After the arrest, Aubrey -- who can't reassure her mother that she won't keep abusing alcohol and drugs -- says, "I need to not be bored."

In the hands of skilled directors Susan Froemke and Albert Maysles, their conversation never seems forced or acted out.

The documentary devotes a good amount of time to recent addiction-detection technology, such as brain imaging.

"We can peek inside the brain and see what may be broken. And if we can see what's broken, we have an idea about how to go about fixing it," clinical neuroscientist Anna Rose Childress says.

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