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Can Addicted Australia help shift the stigma of addiction?

By November 20, 2020 November 21st, 2020 No Comments

SBS documentary series Addicted Australia is ground-breaking viewing on many levels - starting new conversations that challenge the stigma and shame surrounding addiction.

Billed by critics as the most realistic depiction of addiction seen on Australian TV screens – the series has received praise for its casting of “ordinary Australians” in its raw depiction of treatment and recovery.

As Louise Rugendyke wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald “One in five Australians will have a problem with drugs, alcohol or gambling at some point. That’s someone in your family. Someone at work. Someone you play sport with. And that’s what makes Addicted Australia such compelling television: it’s the ordinariness of those involved – the chef, the IT guy, the student, the admin officer, the retired mum – and the extraordinary grip their addictions have on them.”

The series steps into the lives of 10 individuals and their families as they undertake treatment at the Melbourne-based Turning Point facility for addiction (heroin, alcohol, gambling and crystal meth).

The participants are diverse in age, ethnicity and background and at different stages of their treatment journey. What they do share is a common desire to break free from the enormous burden of their dependencies.

And while Addicted Australia doesn’t feature any young people under 18, it soon emerges that many of the participants’ addictive behaviours started in their teenage years.

“So much stigma and shame”

The four part series was created by Blackfella Films, the team behind recent SBS documentary series such as Filthy Rich and Homeless and First Contact.

In an interview with Sir David Martin Foundation, Jacob Hickey, Head of Factual at Blackfella said one of the key drivers behind making the series was to ignite informed conversations about addiction.

“We made the series because we felt there was a vacuum in intelligent and thought-provoking content in the media space about this subject matter.”

There’s so much stigma and shame surrounding addiction and you just have to break that down.”

A standout of the program has been the bravery and honesty of the participants and their families in sharing their struggles.

“We keep calling them ordinary – but I call them extraordinary for what they were willing to share,” said Hickey.

“They weren’t just signing up to a treatment program, they were signing up to a treatment program that we would be filming so there was a really high level of responsibility and a huge duty of care on us as filmmakers, which we took very seriously.”

Could be any of us

Hickey said the reaction to Addicted Australia has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s been great. People have responded in the way we hoped they would – and it has obviously been an education for some. Blackfella Films has tackled many social issues about Aboriginal communities, homelessness, mental health in the past and what we’ve found is that at ground level Australians generally have a huge amount of empathy, sympathy and goodwill for people that are struggling. And I think that’s because people identify with these stories so much.

“It was just so obvious very early on in our filming that addiction is about trauma and it’s about so called ‘ordinary Australians’ who have suffered that trauma and have turned to something to help deal with it. So that means addiction can affect anyone who’s been down that road – which in reality could be any of us.”

Hickey says he hopes those conversations encourage more people to seek help.

“We just hope people reach out and request help and are inspired to do so by the bravery, humility and the deep dignity of the people that have been involved.

“Hopefully people sit on their living room couches and watch it and say ‘well, that’s a bit like me actually, or that’s a bit like my brother… or she’s a bit like my mum, or gee I think my sister might have a problem and maybe we should talk about it…’”

Changing the narrative on addiction

Sir David Martin General Manager Helen Connealy says she hopes Addicted Australia will help change the narrative on addiction in this country.

“There is so much stigma and misconception in the community about addiction, which is a very real barrier to many young people seeking treatment.

Addiction Australia has been compelling viewing and I’m confident that the bravery and unfiltered honesty of the participants will leave a lasting impact on many viewers. But more than that, I hope it will encourage more people to reach out for help for either themselves or their loved ones.

“Addiction is a health issue and we know that treatment works.

“Through the youth drug and alcohol programs our Foundation supports, we hear amazing stories of resilience and recovery every day. Sadly, due to the pervading stigma surrounding addiction, many people are still reluctant to hear these stories and have these discussions.

“Early access to best practice youth treatment services greatly improves the recovery prospects for young people – giving them the support to get well and build pathways to a healthy future.”

Addicted Australia screens on Tuesdays at 8.30pm on SBS. Find out more at sbs.com.au/AddictedAustralia or catch up on episodes via SBS On Demand 

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