Examining Addiction on A&E's 'Intervention'

Thursday, January 31, 2008

'My name is Dylan, D.Y.L.A.N.'

What started out as a simple name spelling to the videographer has become an almost ominous part of the compelling reality show Intervention. Now in it’s forth season, the A&E hit has captivated audiences, and revealed what happens when people suffer from some of the most severe forms of addiction. From meth use to bulimia, the show demonstrates a desperate cry from family and friends who are trying to save their loved ones, and in the process depicts the individuals struggle to overcome their own personal demons.

Developed by executive producers Dan Partland and Sam Mettler, the show sets out to follow participants who are suffering from addiction and allows them to tell their own stories in their own words. Without a lot of editorializing or preaching about the harms of addiction, the show simply asks for those suffering from various diseases to be filmed for a documentary about their problems.

Intervention relies on actual footage of drug use, body abuse, or other destructive behavior to tell the story, and the participants are unaware that their family and loved ones are also part of the process. While the cameras are filming the behavior, the supporters are gathering for a surprise intervention where they hope to help those who are addicted to want to seek help for themselves.

Without all of the FOX television hoopla, sponsorship and endorsement deals clouding the screen, the show tries to keep the documentary feel in it’s most pure form, and the participants seem willing to want to share their powerful stories of triumph and tragedy with the audience.

Although the show has received critical acclaim, it has also brought out some cynics who say that it is nothing more than a chance to exploit those who are featured for their illnesses.

Mathew Gilbert, a columnist from the Boston Globe explained, “A&E's Intervention is the latest faux reality philanthropy, and it ranks as one of the rankest. On the surface, it's a benevolent effort to reveal the power and beauty of interventions, which find loved ones confronting an addict about his problem and instantly removing him to rehab. But underneath the charitable veneer, the show is about watching broken addicts destroy themselves.

"No amount of inspirational reality TV can justify that kind of trick."

Other critics say that the addicts are coerced to participate in the show and are most likely not in the proper mind frame to consent to filming. Still, almost all participants say that the show has had a positive and profound effect on their lives in the end.

The shows interventionists are considered some of the leading addiction experts in the field. With over 25 years of experience, Jeff VanVonderen may not have the most eloquent approach to dealing with those who are seeking help, but his direct and uncompromising style seems to produce results. He has authored several best selling books about dealing with addiction and has become a mainstay on the show.

After 20 years of recovery for her own substance abuse, Candy Finnigan has been trained how to deal with relapse prevention and family counseling. Finnigan not only provides support for those who need help, but she is also able to share her own story as a means of inspiration and hope.

On her website, she explains, "I was inspired to go into this work because I saw that as a recovering woman, I might be able to connect with suffering people in a way that others couldn't. It's not just my work, it's my life."

Interventionist Ken Seeley has also dealt with substance abuse first hand and has been clean and sober since 1989. He helped found Intervention911, which offers online and toll free phone assistance to those battling diseases and wanting to end the cycle.

"By effectively empowering addicts and their families with the necessary tools, Intervention 911 is able to not only help each individual involved get the help they need, but also provide them with a blueprint for lifelong sobriety, success and health", Seeley explains.

The interventionist works along side the family and friends of those who are suffering from addiction and helps them to get the assistance that they often need in order to stop the destructive behavior. The interventionist, however, can only counsel and offer the opportunity; It is up to the friends and family to commit to changing their lives and stop enabling the participants in their addiction cycle.

A recent episode demonstrated a severe case where the family’s disapproval and lack of support was considered an underlying cause of the addiction. The episode focused on one of the nation's most promising athletes - Tressa Thompson, who had been disqualified from the 2000 Olympic team after testing positive for cocaine use. Although Tressa had a promising future in athletics, she began to spiral into the dark world of drugs (particularly meth amphetamine) after her suspension from the sport.

The show not only focused on Tressa’s disturbing intravenous drug use, it also highlighted the struggle for acceptance as an openly gay person in a small town. Although she was in a three-year relationship with another woman, her closest family members refused to accept her as a homosexual and made several references on the show that Tressa’s "lifestyle" was against the Bible and would send her to hell.

Tressa behavior showed that she needed the love and support of her friends and family in order to battle her problems. Interventionist Candy Finnigan explained to the family that the process was not about Tressa as a homosexual, it was about her drug abuse, and they would have to look past their disapproval of her lifestyle and focus on saving her life.

Like most of the participants, Tressa agreed to rehabilitation treatment and their follow up videos can be seen on the A&E website offering hope to others that treatment is possible and can be the catalyst to saving lives.

The show eschews the glamour of a Celebrity Rehab and offers audiences the chance to watch what happens when self-destructive behavior takes over a person’s life.

Must see TV? Yes! All the more essential if that someone in need of an intervention is you or a loved one.

source: http://www.gaywired.com