'Clean' offers help for families struggling with disease of addiction

David Sheff's “Clean” turns a journalist's eye to addiction and recovery treatments and offers help to families whose loved ones are struggling with the disease of addiction.
by Kelly Dyer Fry Published: August 11, 2013
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I have a lot in common with author David Sheff.

He's a journalist. I'm a journalist.

He's a parent. I'm a parent.

His son struggled with heroin. My son struggled with heroin.

Sheff and I were both drawn into the bleak and dangerous world of addiction in the worst way possible. We watched it drag our children into the dark of night. We almost lost them. And now we are advocates for change. Determined parents have a way of getting loud.

I shared my story, “A Thousand Hail Marys to Florida,” in The Oklahoman on Mother's Day 2011. Sheff has turned his advocacy into a full-time national crusade. He first wrote “Beautiful Boy,” a New York Times best-seller, which helped raise the level of awareness about the disease of addiction.

And now, his new book, “Clean,” is a must-read for all American families struggling with this disease. And from my own personal experience, that includes most every family in one way or another. If it is not someone in your immediate family, it might be a distant relative, friend or co-worker.

I hear it at least once a week. Someone approaches me quietly, saying, “I read your story. It's my story, too.”

“Clean” will hold your hand if you just found out your child is in over his head.

Sheff is not standing on the sidelines listening to society rebuff alcoholics and addicts. The subtitle of his book, “Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy,” is followed by red type on the inside jacket. It reads, “Addiction is a preventable, treatable disease, not a moral failing. As with other illnesses, the approaches most likely to work are based on science — not on faith, tradition, contrition or wishful thinking.”

An investigative journalist by trade, Sheff explores addiction and recovery with a critical eye. He does not dismiss traditional 12-step programs, but makes the point, “The existing treatment system, including 12-step programs and rehabs, has helped some, but it has failed to help many more.”

In the pages of “Clean” you will find evidence woven with raw emotion.

In a chapter titled “Addicts Aren't Weak, Selfish, or Amoral — They're Ill,” he ponders a question that has weighed heavily on my mind. “Maybe some people dismiss the idea that addiction is a disease until it hits their family,” he writes. “When it does, they embrace the concept because it exonerates their loved ones or themselves. It's easier to believe that a person's behavior is a symptom of an illness rather than a series of reprehensible choices.”

He continues, “This isn't an issue subject to ‘belief.' We don't believe cancer is a disease. We know it is.”

Addiction is a disease

Sheff outlines the facts of why addiction is a disease:

“A disease is ‘an interruption, cessation, or disorder of a body, system, or organ structure or function,' according to Stedman's Medical Dictionary. It's ‘a morbid entity ordinarily characterized by two or more of the following criteria: recognized etiologic agent(s), identifiable group of signs and symptoms, or consistent anatomic alterations.' Addiction fits every one of these criteria.”

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by Kelly Dyer Fry
Editor and VP of News
Kelly Dyer Fry serves as Editor of The Oklahoman and Vice President of News for OPUBCO Communications Group. She oversees content across multiple platforms including The Oklahoman and NewsOK. Prior to her current role, she served as Director of...
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Addiction is a preventable, treatable disease, not a moral failing. As with other illnesses, the approaches most likely to work are based on science — not on faith, tradition, contrition or wishful thinking.”

David Sheff,
From his book “Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's

Greatest Tragedy”

($25, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

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