Russell Brand makes TV programme tackling addiction : our man is not convinced

For anyone who caught Russel Brands ‘Addiction/Recovery’ TV programme on BBC3 last night will in no doubt like the ‘comedian’ himself have their own idea’s and opinions on the pro’s and con’s of rehabilitation in the UK. But watching Brand tackle this prickly issue in his usual ‘jokey wokey’ way I just couldn’t help at times letting out a series of cringes, all on his behalf.

Though the programme was of the debating kind it seemed his mind was clearly made up from the start regarding recovery, his belief in the power of abstinence and the idea of effective after care for ex users with more focus on their reintroduction into society is all well (though he didn’t mention where the funding would come from). But like us all Brands opinions are made up from his own personal experiences and those opinions at times came across as quite blinkered, and if anything a bit naive by white washing over issues he either didn’t get or attempt to tackle. Housing, education and broken families are just some of the root causes which were skimmed over at best as most major drug use is normally a by-product, a reaction to the bigger issues. With Russell Brand not having experienced such issues himself he simply didn’t cover them efficiently or at all.

What I thought would be more an opened debate on drug rehabilitation actually started out as a 20min ‘my drug hell’. Nothing wrong with getting some back ground on Brands past drug habit but smoking a tenners worth of gear in, to me anyway, what seemed a rather nice flat was a fail if it was intended to show us how bad he had it. Straight away any one who’d of had it ‘bad’ with heroin would of dismissed him there and then for trying it on. We all know he had a drug problem but it wasn’t the Trainspotting scenario he tried making out it was or the same as some of the people he interviewed and talked too.

Though obviously Amy Winehouse was a good friend of his interviewing the late stars farther Mitch probably wasn’t the best move. Did we really need him to chip in on this debate as he’s wasn’t exactly effective in his own daughters drug problem and is not the type of chap you’d go to for advice on such an issue. Plus Russell Brands repeated comment that he felt he ‘should of done some thing’ was rich not to mention annoying.

Brand seemed to change his projection of his own views depending who he was talking to at that time, in prison he did a lot of nodding and agreeing while talking to inmates who you felt he was never going to challenge like he did with the girl he met who was nervy about starting a drug programme. Again Russ seemed to have the idea he was in the same predicament as the young lady he was talking too yet anyone could see they might of both had drug problems but they came from totally different places. What was quite funny was when he sat down and talked to a doctor who was pro methadone and who openly prescribe it. Though the issue around Methadone is a wide one Russell Brand dismissed her and some of her idea’s because she was never a ‘drug addict’, just a doctor (which is characteristic when ex/users talk to workers, doctors etc). Yet funnily enough Brand receives the same type of treatment himself when he mentions he used to have a £100 a day habit to which one heroin addict shot back “is that all”. For a second you can see it in his face that he might not be on that same level after all and his advice on egg-sucking isn’t being taking too seriously, though this doesn’t stop his preaching.

Though Brand’s attitude to methadone was quite apparent and even if you agree with him on its use- to call some body who’s on a methadone prescription a ‘junkie’ yet again showed his lack of understanding. Brand claims to of chosen abstinence but again what worked for him isn’t going to work for some one who has no ‘team’ around them to lock them in their swanky hotel while they go through the withdrawals. Labelling methadone users as ‘junkies’, coming from an ex user is not the way forward, maybe that’s my own point of view because methadone worked for me, but I still think he was pretty negative in using it.

Did you see it, what did you think?,…Was he on the money or was he out of his depth making such a programme

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  1. I too watched this programme. I think there was some interesting points raised by Brand in the abstinence v’s maintenance debate. Although abstinence would be the ideal scenario unfortunately this is not so straight forward. My understanding is that Methadone is prescribed as a harm minimisation tatic, to reduce the costs to a persons health and to try to stabilise what can be a very chaotic lifestyle. Of course there is probably financial and political benefits too.

    I think that Brand struggled with drug addiction and a drug addiction is a drug addiction regardless of amount a person takes. For me what is important is the function of taking drugs rather than how many. I do think though that Brand tried to classify himself as a “junkie” like the other “junkies” but it became apparent in the programme that just because he also used drugs it did not automatically give him affiliation. He came from a ‘ I know how it is standpoint’ and then it became clear that actually drug addiction is multi-layered and an individual experience. It was quite cringeworthy when he was trying to connect with that young women and not hitting the mark. He seemed to be missing the point that not everybody is like him. Not everyone can afford to go to some fancy yoga school every day.

    The lack of support that some have is a gaping hole. Seems to be different throughout the country and where you live depends on the support you get. Brands pleas to parliament to class drug use as a disease rather than a criminal act is thought provoking and probably unpopular with the public.

  2. An interesting article, not least because I haven’t heard anyone do anything other than praise the documentary so far today, so it’s always refreshing for someone to take the other view.
    I thought the documentary was okay, it raised some interesteng points in what was always going to be a difficult subject to compress into an hour.
    Just had a couple of questions/points.
    You mention withdrawal without methodone. I thought the argument was not against using it in the short term to treat immediate withdrawal but keeping recovering addicts on it long term, often on increasing doses when they continue to use heroin in conjunction with it. I have no personal experience of heroin addiction but through my time in services for alcohol addiction I’ve met plenty of people who do and they have led me to believe there is often no time limit on methodone prescription. When I detoxed from alcohol I was given librium to allow me to safely withdraw from it but didn’t continue with it post-detox. Surely the argument is that long term methadone use replaces one drug with another?
    I understand what you mean about the underlying causes of addiction, my alcoholism was in part due to an undiagnosed mental health condition coupled with a traumatic childhood. However addiction then becomes a separate problem in its own right, that needs to be treated independently before any earlier/pre-existing problems can be addressed. I’ve often found in recovery that too much emphasis can often be placed on past traumas while the addiction is still the primary problem. It’s like trying to walk before you can run, if that makes sense?
    The other thing is that it’s not always helpful to keep referring to someone’s level of addiction. I’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter how many bottles someone drank a day, it’s the problem it caused in their life/to their health that matters. If you say “is that all’ then it often makes some people reluctant to seek help because it leads them to believe their level of dependence is not serious enough.

  3. Thanks for the revue but unfortunately i didn’t get to see the programme as i’m in another country at the moment.

    Although, i didn’t see the programme, i am hearing quite a few things that you are saying that are jarring with me, not against you but against Russell Brand, who if the truth be known, i do happen to like for various reasons.

    Firstly, i think he’s really quite harmless and seems to have a really big heart, even if it is overruled by his ego at times.

    Secondly, he’s a grafter and has put in the hours to attain the recognition that he now enjoys.

    Clearly his schtick is ‘ex-junkie done good’ but hey..why not?…recovery from whatever extremity of using behaviour he comes from, is a tricky business, he takes his recovery deadly serious and that comes across loud and clear for those who know what they’re looking for, and can only be a good thing for those contemplating getting clean for the first vtime to be exposed to.

    He’s intelligent and well read and we need people like that on TV because there aren’t very many of them, especially of his generation.

    The criticisms you make of him sounded quite fair and they jarred due to me noticing similar traits in him recently when i’ve seen him in different settings.

    I think he did a fairly good job with the Keith Vaz committee meeting and held his anger at bay admirably when clearly dealing with a roomful of pre-judging conservatives, with firmly fixed ideas and closed minds.

    I ran into him at an NA meeting in Fallowfield, Manchester a couple of years ago and he was really lovely and had some humility about him…you know…made some brews etc.

    I’m in recovery and also work with addicts and was introduced to recovery via a 12-step treatment process out of which i got eight years abstinence based recovery but have been slipping and sliding in and out for the past three years and i am by no means a drum banging 12-step zealot, i believe there are people who have to use or who really can’t stop and i care as much about them and their ‘recovery’ as i do the next man’s.

    And this is the thing that is jarring about Russell Brand; although he’s several years down the road using the 12-step approach, he still sounds a lot like a ‘brand’-newcomer (pardon the pun!) and comes across embarassingly like a little recovery robot who is, like you said, blinkered. It is precisely that attitude and way of approaching people from other recovery backgrounds that gives 12-steppers a bad name, although it is my experience that there aren’t many GP’s out there who have even a basic clue as to what they’re talking about when it comes to addiction – i’ll give him that one!

    Like i said, over the past three years i’ve been slipping and sliding in a circular motion between heroin, crack and alcohol and right at this minute, the 12-step philosophy is not a great of use to me because my head just isn’t where it used to be ten years ago, plain and simple; i just do the best i can and try to keep smiling.

    To sum up, i think Russell Brand needs to go and expose himself to some other philosophical approaches and models for the treatment of addiction, stop towing the 12-step party line and like you say, realise that his using wasn’t that bad compared to some.

    Put anyone on stage in a room full of straight people and get them to tell a few Heroin/crack war stories and they’re going to sound all wild and crazy and rock’n’roll

    Unfortunately, i gotta pull you on one thing; in your piece you stated that housing, education and broken famillies were some of the root causes of addiction and that Russell had experienced none of the above. If you ever read his booky wook (which i recommend – it’s fucking hilarious!) you’ll note that his parents divorced when he was young and this had a powerful and long-lasting effect on him throughout his life. This needed to be mentioned.

    All the best


  4. Personal experience of addiction at any level often only serves to make a person an expert on their own individual experience. I’ve often found it to be a hinderence when someone cannot recognize that not all of us experience addiction in the same way. I’ve never liked the use of the word ‘we’ in support groups.

    Just wanted to clarify my last point a bit.


  5. I watched the programme thinking it was perhaps an introduction to a whole series- alas not. A mere snapshot . I personally don’t know of anyone who has a kicked a heroin habit by choice using abstinence alone.
    I used methadone, subutex then naltrexone as well as regular visits to the GP, substance misuse workers and mental health departments to get rid of mine- precious little of that in the programme, which on the whole was not very informative.
    How was that woman ever going to kick an eighteen year habit with a bit of art therapy and total abstinence? It worked for Russell, and he obviously had some balls to go through with it but there’s no way I would have done treatment without some kind of safety net- that’s methadone at the moment whether we like it or not.

  6. I’m pretty much a fan of Russell Brand but the programme last night made me very angry. It was so one-sided and unbalanced. Banging the drum for abstinence/12 step and ignoring the fact that harm reduction and substitute treatments work for some people.

    What he seemed to ignore is that all programmes will fail if they don’t look at the whole picture. The drug users and offenders I’ve worked with have such shitty backgrounds and lives, they go through a revolving door of rehabs. You take away the drugs, you take away the pain relief. Their lives are still shit but you take away the one thing that makes them feel ‘normal’. Substitute the drugs and you have an opportunity to give them some hope (through training and education), life skills and the opportunity to work through the issues.

    Abstinence worked for him but his experience of drugs is so far removed from the majority IMO (when he stopped using, he had something else to go to, to focus on – an exciting career, an eduction and intelligence, a supportive parent, non-using friends – not everyone has this) that he is really in no position to judge what works and if the government are stupid enough to listen to him (which they are) and stop funding substitute prescribing, this could really harm people and affect lives negatively.

    Plus, not everyone who is stuck on drugs has an addictive personality. How dare he go around diagnosing people and telling them they can’t control what they do? Heroin (and alcohol) is a physically addictive drug; it’s not just about what the brain is doing.

    Also, for someone who advocates compassion, he really needs to learn some fucking listening skills. Just stop the relentless rhetoric for a second will ya and let someone else get a word in?

    Glad to have got all that off my chest!


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