Stigma and prejudice have also curtailed financial support for research into addiction. As a result, few effective treatment options have been developed, and thus addiction carries a relatively poor prognosis, which reinforces its stigma. (Many people think addicts can't get well.) Addicts who manage to find their way to a good program may find it impossible to pay for it; costs for the most highly recommended programs may run at $30,000 to $50,000 a month—or more. Therefore few addicts get the long-term, comprehensive care they need. And by the time addicts seek treatment, if they do, they're usually in crisis, which makes them difficult and expensive to treat. In addition, they're likely to be belligerent, angry, depressed, or even violent, so doctors, nurses, counselors, and social workers don't always want to treat them. Some caregivers admit they'd rather spend their energy, as a nurse put it, “on appreciative patients rather than antagonistic ones who'll likely be back in the ER in a week or month or two.”

At the same time, addict watching has become America's favorite spectator sport. Last year Us magazine featured a photograph of Britney Spears on its cover, emblazoned with this gleeful headline: SICK! CNN ran a piece about “our favorite bad girls,” a list that included Spears, Amy Winehouse, and other celebrities with addiction problems. We'd leave these women alone if they had cancer, but victims of addiction are fair game. We revel in their misery and judge them for the irresponsible, humiliating, and appalling behavior their disease causes.

I think the gloating reflects something beyond the assumption that addicts deserve their fate because they're immoral, spoiled, and weak. We laugh because it's someone else's pain, while our own simmers below the surface. But then it boils up. “I thought we were immune.” I've heard it so many times. “I'd always thought, Not my son.” “Not my daughter.” Not my husband. Or wife. Or partner. Or brother or sister or mother or father. Addiction, the equal opportunity affliction, has struck again. And few of its victims—only one in ten—will get help.
Excerpted from Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Meth Addiction by David Sheff, Copyright © 2007 by David Sheff. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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