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.