Russell Brand – From Addiction to Recovery: The comedian presents an honest and sympathetic look at drug and alcohol addiction in another triumph for BBC3

by Matt D

If there’s something BBC3 always do well it’s their documentaries, which often focus on fairly controversial topics as well occasionally featuring a celebrity subject. This week’s documentary has both of those elements as Russell Brand looks at drug addiction and alcoholism, primarily using his own personal experiences as well as explaining what he thinks can be done to get more people off drugs. I think Brand is a fairly polarising figure, and while I appreciate that a great majority think he’s absolutely hilarious, I’ve never warmed to him either as a comic, presenter or actor but at the same time, due to his drug addict past, I feel he’s the ideal choice to front this programme. In addition, his close friendship with Amy Winehouse adds a certain amount of emotional resonance as Brand also voices his regrets about not doing more to help her before she died.

As it seemed the programme makers wanted a big start, Brand starts by recalling that the time he first met Amy, he was instantly moved by her talent but at the same time, could see that she had a problem as she threw a champagne glass over her head after finishing the contents. As Brand chats with Amy’s father Mitch, he is informed that the singer stopped taking drugs in December of 2008, but continued to drink heavily, curbing this habit six weeks before she died. However, she fell off the wagon and sadly passed away.

These facts confirmed Brand’s position on addiction, that even though you may well be off drugs, you still have an addictive personality which needs to be treated. He later found medical proof of this from Professor David Nutt who had carried out the most sophisticated study on drug addiction in which he discovered that those with an addictive personality have higher levels of dopamine in their brains, which causes them to be impatient and have heightened levels of stress which in turns see them turn to a certain substance for comfort.

Brand himself meets friends who knew him when he was an addict, including his former producer Martino Sclari, with whom he worked on the thankfully short-lived Combat TV, who claims that they both thought drugs had bought them want they wanted, however eventually, they also took this away. In what was perhaps the most shocking part of the documentary, Martino shows Russell footage of him taking heroin; a piece of footage which looks ancient but was only filmed in 2002.

Eventually, Brand got a new agent in John Noel, who essentially forced him into rehab and checked him into Focus 12 a centre run by Chip Summers who himself was a former addict. Chip’s methods centre around abstinence, so Brand was forced to go 12 weeks without drugs or alcohol; a process which he found tough but eventually, he came around and since leaving the centre, hasn’t relapsed once. Brand’s philosophy on addiction is that you need to be totally free of these substances, not just replace one thing with another, which is what he feels the majority of the country practices via the prescription of methadone.

Brand meets a doctor who tells him that a lot of her patients successfully come off heroin by using the methadone, however the comedian violently disagrees with her, citing examples of many people he knew who used the substance alongside their daily drug intake. In what I felt was the most orchestrated moment of the film, Brand randomly meets a woman outside the clinic who has just got her methadone and is currently enjoying a can of beer while telling him about all the other drugs that she abuses. Brand also meets other addicts who still use, including Karen, a woman who always says she wants to go to rehab but she wouldn’t be able to take her dog Escobar with her. Brand rightly points out that Karen does have a drug problem and that she’s just using the dog as an excuse, eventually convincing her to check in to Focus 12.

The final part of the documentary looks at whether drug addicts should be locked up as convicts, or treated for their addiction. Obviously he believes it should be the latter. He visits Mount Prison where they run an organisation known as RAPT, which helps prisoners get off drugs and 50% of those who enlist in the programme end up staying off drugs. He also journeys to Brighton, once the drugs death capital of the country, and meets Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett who informs him that instead of arresting known drug addicts, he tries to get them into rehab. The film ends with footage of Brand going to parliament to argue that addiction should be treated as an illness rather than a criminal activity while he also tries to argue for abstinence over methadone. Meanwhile, Karen successfully checks into Focus 12, but checks herself out three weeks later which proves that not everybody will end up surviving rehab.

After watching Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery, I had a lot more respect for our leading man than I did before watching it. His first-hand experience of the subject matter gave a unique insight into what actually goes through the mind of an addict, plus how he’s feeling throughout, including a scene in which he tells us that seeing heroin again still makes him a feel anxious. I thought it was brave for him to admit that he feels that he could still relapse at any time, and I also saw a vulnerability in him that I don’t believe I’ve seen in any of his interviews up to this point.

Though I rarely find his stand-up funny, I can also know see where his humour comes from as he often cracks jokes throughout the film when he feels uncomfortable, and perhaps he used comedy as a coping mechanism after he left rehab. The problem with having someone with such a personal involvement in the subject matter is that at times, they do struggle to be objective, and this was evidenced in Brand’s frank conversation with methadone supporter Dr Gerada as at times, I felt he was rather aggressive despite her making some good points. I understand that Brand is passionate about abstinence as a cure, and through the arguments he made, I personally was won round on the idea, however it seemed at times I felt this stopped him from presenting a totally objective view of the options available to addicts.

Though it’s very sad, I do applaud the programme-makers for telling us that Karen didn’t make it through Focus 12, which came across as a fabulous organisation, as not every programme like this can have a happy ending. Overall though I found that Brand’s very personal and probing look into drug addiction had a lot to offer, even if it did labour over the same points too often it presented its argument well throughout. Brand came across as a personable and vulnerable character who, while not totally objective all the way through, was passionate about his cause which I found admirable.

The biggest compliment I can give to the programme is that I feel all teachers should show this to their students when learning about drug addiction, as I believe it presents all the key points in a relatable and sympathetic way. Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery also can be added to the increasingly large collection of BBC3 documentaries that are well worth watching let’s hope there’s more like this in the near future.

What did you think of Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery? Did you think Brand did a good job? Leave Your Comments Below.

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9 Comments

  1. lisa holt on August 16, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    what a fantastic programme…Russell is 100% correct, methodone does not work… my husband was a heroin addict for 10 years, prescribed methadone as and when he wanted it… topped it up with crack and heroin for years… we met and i could not understand how or why his doctor would not lower the dose gradually… he told me it would take years for him to come off meth… 3 months later he was completely clean of everything… no thanks to the doctors… even coming off benefits was a struggle, he wanted to get a job but doc told him to come back in a year and he would say he could go to work…. stop pussy footing around addicts, sort out this soft attitude as it does not work. Russell is great and so right.

  2. Cherry Coombe on August 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    In the 70s I used to wear Orange. Nothing but Orange. My friend Veeresh did the same; he is/was an ex addict from Phoenix House THerapeutic Community for the Drug Addicted Personality New York. He had been drug free for 14 years when I met him and now he is nearly dead but that’s because he is very, very old.
    He had, in 1970, established a small community known as The Second Chance Foundation, working with addicts in a residential setting and later extended the breadth of his work to become quite well known for his weird and wonderful experiments in human potential in work conducted with the public on self defeating behaviour through the encounter group movement.
    In the late 70s friends and I worked on government funded projects in Holland which Veeresh led – having persuaded the government of that forward thinking country that abstinence programmes supported by extensive therapeutic support and positive life styles (the centres were all residential) could set addicts free from using.
    We know it works.
    We know the science.
    We know what Russell Brand says and what Prof Nutt says is so.

    Russell’s TV documentary and his fabulous, eloquent and inspired responses and explications is validating and, like Attenborough’s studies of the ice caps, should not be but will be ignored.

    Thank you Russell. Please stand for parliament.

    In the 1970’s I was an Orange person and throug

  3. Wrigglesworth on August 17, 2012 at 10:42 am

    I agree that the programme was open and honest. Brand took us on such a personal journey that he brought to my attention something I had never even considered – that methadone is simply adding to the number of drugs that addicts are using. His experience really informed me and I was actually so impressed with how he related to both MPs and ex-cons on a personal level. Also agree that teachers should be using this to give our young people information on how damaging drugs can be!

  4. pete on August 17, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Great program. I agree with Russell’s stance in the documentary; I am obviously biased as I am a recovering heroin addict myself.

    The only thing I think that wasn’t portrayed so well was the fact that abstience will not work for everyone straight away.

    Methadone is not a long term solution to the problem, but it definately serves a purpose short term.

    Also it seems that the term “Cold Turkey” is being thrown about in the media a lot at the moment. Russell is not talking about “cold turkey”. He is talking about entering residential rehab, having a carefully monitored 2 – 3 week detox regime and then embarking on a journey of abstient recovery.

    🙂

  5. Dawn Campbell on August 18, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Well done Russell on what was a passionate, informative and eloquently presented argument for more compassion towards addict.

    I’d just like to add though that addicts aren’t just addicted to drugs and booze, there are food addicts too and that’s one trigger that cannot be removed from a sufferers life – whatever the addiction, all addicts suffer.

    Keep up the good work 🙂 Dawn

  6. Liz on August 20, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    A family member was a heroin, crack and alcohol addict she came home and detoxed direct from heroin. For one week she ate very little, sweated a lot then she became a person again. She had been told she needed to go on the methadone trail, it was dangerous to detox without methadone, what rubbish, no one dies by not taking heroin you only die because you take it. Russel is quite right we, as a country, need to get our act together. Neither do we need the hangers on, the private detox companies who make millions out of the people who need help. I am really glad the 12 step programme worked for Russel, but it is a money making programme. We just need people to be there to wash sheets and cook for those addicts who want to go cold turkey, it works. Then we need to deal with the underlying problems Russel talked about by allowing the addicts to talk. They also need jobs to do, most addicts are profoundly competent people, I maybe biased! Thanks for reading

  7. Louise on August 21, 2012 at 9:08 am

    I approached Focus12 when my sister had a serious alcohol problem. They were fantastic to both us and her. Its not only the addict who suffers – try supporting an alcoholic when you don’t have the knowledge or experience of what to do. Its not a like treating a cold you know! We could not persuade her into rehab despite putting the money up ourselves. Eventually even the doctors and hospitals reused to help her when she got in trouble. On one occasion with her so seriously dehydrated she was near death I did persuade a sympathetic locum to admit her to hospital – we had to pretend it was not alcohol related as no sympathy for that in hospitals. Everything Focus12 told us would happen did and we were powerless to get her through. I’m not saying that if she had gone into Focus12 she would have survived – Focus12 were clear with us about the success rates – but I am certain it would have made a difference – to her and us.

  8. Louise on August 21, 2012 at 9:09 am

    I approached Focus12 when my sister had a serious alcohol problem. They were fantastic to both us and her. Its not only the addict who suffers – try supporting an alcoholic when you don’t have the knowledge or experience of what to do. Its not a like treating a cold you know!
    We could not persuade her into rehab despite putting the money up ourselves. Eventually even the doctors and hospitals reused to help her when she got in trouble. On one occasion with her so seriously dehydrated she was near death I did persuade a sympathetic locum to admit her to hospital – we had to pretend it was not alcohol related as no sympathy for that in hospitals. Everything Focus12 told us would happen did and we were powerless to get her through. I’m not saying that if she had gone into Focus12 she would have survived – Focus12 were clear with us about the success rates – but I am certain it would have made a difference – to her and us.

  9. Liz on August 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    I have just read Louise’s account and want to apologise if I sounded superior, I realise alcohol addiction can be very different to heroin. I just wanted to express my dislike for methadone as a form of treatment. Focus12 seems to do a very good job I am so sorry it didn’t work for Louise’s sister. I wish everyone who attempts detoxing by cold turkey the very best of luck and hope they have a good support system whoever it is. Some hospitals are getting better at being non-judgemental but still very few and far between, I think there are too many boxes to be ticked and too many restrictions on the form of help that can be given. Let’s hope that sense will prevail and that people who really understand these problems can make proper decisions on the treatment that should be available. My daughter and some of her friends who have stopped drug use have great faith in Intuitive Recovery seems to work well.

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