The most important book on addiction in over a decade

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First aired on Information Radio (17/03/14)

He made Time Magazine's list of the world's 100 more influential people and his book Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy has been called "the most important book about addiction in a decade." In a discussion with Winnipeg's afternoon host Marcy Markusa, author David Sheff discussed what he learned about addiction through his son's struggles.


Sheff's son started using drugs at an early age. Sheff explained that his son was especially susceptible to drug use because he was bipolar and had a difficult transition when his parents divorced. But those weren't entirely the reasons. There was a sense of randomness to it. "What I learned the hard way is that this could be any one of our children, every child is susceptible to addiction," he said.

His son's addiction tore his family apart and he said it was extremely difficult watching his son choose to harm himself that way. But over the years he came to realize that his son wasn't intentionally making these choices.

"There are changes in the brain that occur when the brain is addicted and it's not about choice. It's obvious in more than one way that no one would choose to be addicted," he said. "When people use drugs their brain changes to the point where it's no longer about choice it's about survival." The actions Sheff's son took to survive were hard on the family, he stole from them and lied to them.

Sheff calls addiction a disease. Just like disease, there can be different levels of addiction, and some need more intervention than others. "Addiction is not simply a biological phenomenon, although it does have that component," he said. "It also has physiological and environmental components."

So why can't kids just say no? According to Sheff, the just say no method that is taught to kids doesn't work. "We've been saying 'just say no' for decades and drug use is higher than it's ever been." Sheff's message is the only way to stop usage is to "understand why they're using."

Once there's more of an understanding, Sheff said the treatment system can evolve too. He called for a system that has an understanding of the complexities of humans and addiction and that recognizes a variety of treatments. "We need to have a system out there that recognizes what people need and has qualified professionals to treat them," he said.