David Sheff is the parent of an addict and the author of Beautiful Boy, a memoir about his son’s addiction to meth. (That son, Nic, wrote a couple of books about his addiction, too.) Sheff’s latest book, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, was just released and is reviewed in the New York Times today by Dr. Abigail Zuger.
Dr. Zuger’s review is somewhat mixed. She agrees with Sheff’s thesis:
Addiction must be considered a disease, as devoid of moral overtones as diabetes or coronary artery disease, just as amenable as they are to scientific analysis, and just as treatable with data-supported interventions, not hope, prayer or hocus-pocus.
… but she points out that the author “bludgeons” his readers with it. Still, she concedes, there’s a definite need to reinforce the addicts-as-chronically-ill-patients attitude, given that a number of people in this country apparently still regard addicts as merely weak-willed losers.
Wrapping the mind around this formulation requires an enormous act of will, and it is Mr. Sheff’s foremost achievement that his arguments are likely to influence even the angriest and most judgmental reader.
She’s not kidding, either. Yesterday, Sheff published an op-ed in the NYT titled “Calling 911 Shouldn’t Lead to Jail,” and what struck me most wasn’t its argument (that those who report overdoses of their friends/peers to 911 shouldn’t have to decide between saving a life and potentially going to jail themselves), but rather, the comment section of the page. Here’s an example:
If someone reported an accidental shooting, they would be subject to prosecution for gun possession. Why should the law be different for drug use?
Oh, wait. It gets better. Here’s another comment:
The best thing is NOT becoming an addict. Some members of our species, however, are unable to do so, especially in the atmosphere of forgivness [sic] and tendency to ‘explain’ the addiction.
And then, my personal fave:
a get-out-of-jail-free card for their enablers – now way… no how.
If their basic moral compass is so askew – better they reside in prison or far away from me and my family.
So, I guess that what I (and Dr. Zuger) are saying is that yes, while Sheff’s “manifesto” blasting the war on drugs and advocating for the serious and comprehensive treatment of addicts may be redundant and self-evident for those whose lives have already been upended by addiction or who work with addicts as a career, there are still many, many ignoramuses out there who would benefit from sitting down with a copy of this book. As Dr. Zuger concludes,
“Clean” is a reference work and a manifesto, an annotated map of the same frightening territory where dragons still lurk at the edges.
I have it out from the library right now, but haven’t read it yet. I’ll be sure to update this post when I do.