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Enabling Drug-Addicted Loved Ones Portrayed in Ben Is Back Film

By Rory McAlister

Enabling an addict. That was my prediction: The Ben Is Back film starring Julia Roberts will depict enabling at its best.

My thought when I saw the Ben Is Back trailer was that the character played by Julia Roberts was making dangerous choices, the same dangerous choices that so many loved ones make. We see it over and over again at our treatment center. Mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, friends and family members – everyone swooping in, rescuing. It’s a natural reaction.

It’s enabling.

And, it is dangerous for an addict.

We call it loving someone to death.

Ben Is Back, a gritty drama about opioid addiction and enabling family members

Ben Is Back is powerful and intense; it’s the story of a teenager who returns home from rehab to spend Christmas with his family. The movie, released for the holiday season, stars Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges as mother and son in a tense, gritty drama about opioid addiction. Ben Is Back is so real and raw that it immediately generated Oscar buzz.

Like everyone in the theater, I was on the edge of my seat during a recent premiere of the movie in New York City. The Freedom 365 team was privileged to sponsor the exclusive event, hosted by The MOMS, Denise Albert and Melissa Musen Gerstein and featuring a Q&A afterward by actress Rachel Bay Jones.

In fact, Denise echoed everyone’s thoughts when she announced, at the end of the movie, that we all needed to take a deep breath.

More than 40 members of the media and leaders in the online parenting community attended the exclusive premiere. Many approached me afterward and shared their own stories of drug and alcohol addiction, the stories of their brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and friends.

Their stories didn’t surprise me. In America, addiction is an epidemic. Opioid addiction is a national crisis. Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. We all know someone who is suffering.

I can intimately relate. My father is Brian McAlister, 28 years sober. I have relatives in the grip of addiction and others who have passed. I have loved, and continue to love, many addicts.

The need to redirect your energy from rescuing to self-care

Most people – even addicts and those who love them – don’t understand addiction. It’s a complex, chronic disease. Education is critical to successful treatment.

Yet in America, the treatment gap remains a crisis:

  • Very few people who need treatment receive treatment.
  • Very few people are educated on the realities of the disease.
  • Rehab, and expensive follow-up care, is accessible to only an elite few.

My father has walked the walk. He’s also become an expert in recovery. He runs a recovery center in Fairfield, New Jersey, and has written a best-selling book, Full Recovery: The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power.

Yet we both realized that a best-selling book and a treatment center are not enough. Treatment needs to be accessible and affordable for everyone.

I left a lucrative career to help my father launch Freedom 365, which marries the proven strategies of addiction rehab with the accessibility of modern technology. Freedom 365 offers affordable care to everyone who needs it.

My father has tremendous respect for addicts. He likes to say that the skills that make you an addict – tenacity, stubbornness, a love of excess – are the same skills that drive success. Addicts can redirect their energy toward a positive, productive life.

Those who love addicts also need to redirect their energy. Too often, friends and family members become consumed with the life of an addict. They are always hovering, rescuing, saving. Their lives are not their own.

Unfortunately, that rescue strategy simply doesn’t work.

For an addict, pain is a great motivator

Every mother’s and father’s natural instinct is to do what Julia Roberts’ character did.

Yet in the process of trying to rescue her son, Holly was not only putting his life in danger but also destroying the rest of the family.

She was jeopardizing the relationship with her husband and lying to her daughter. She blamed herself for Ben’s addiction; Ben was never responsible.

Holly was just as addicted to rescuing her son as he was to drugs.

Holly was naïve. I was once in the same boat. The mistake we all make, as friends and family members, is thinking we can fix this on our own. I can’t say it enough: Addiction is a complex disease. It’s out there doing push-ups. Education, for everyone involved, is a game-changer. The best response, for friends and family, is often not what comes naturally.

My advice to Holly would have been this: Drive Ben directly back to the clinic.

Watching the movie, I suspected that Ben was lying. I knew that his return home was simply too dangerous. Because he was an addict in early recovery, returning home so soon offered Ben too many triggers to his past life.

I also know – from personal experience – that the sooner an addict suffers the consequences, the closer he is to recovery. Holly’s behavior was dangerous, not only for herself, but also for her son.

For an addict, pain is a great motivator.

Learning how to interact with an addict is a critical first step in the recovery process. Friends and family members have the best of intentions but often do exactly the wrong things. This behavior can be dangerous.

Addiction is a complex disease. Education about addiction recovery treatment options is critical to getting the best outcomes. Freedom 365 is dedicated to the education of friends, family members and addicts. If you or someone you love is suffering, you need to put your self-care first and have a full understanding of treatment options available to your loved one.

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