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The addicts among us

`The Addiction Project' is an exhaustive study of drug and alcohol abuse.

March 15, 2007|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

HBO'S "The Addiction Project" -- as in drugs and alcohol but not sex or gambling -- is a multi-platform documentary that, beginning tonight, will come at you from several angles. There is a feature film documentary (on HBO proper) with 13 slightly overlapping mini-documentaries in orbit around it (on HBO On Demand); podcasts and Web streams; four related independent films on the subject (on HBO2); and a book and a DVD available for purchase, if you want something to refer to later.

You may well: According to statistics supplied by the network, one in 10 Americans older than 12 "is classified with substance abuse or dependence"; one in four Americans has a "primary family member struggling with addiction"; more than 18 million of us "suffer from alcohol use disorders"; and 23.2 million needed treatment "for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse problem in 2005." So the odds are that you or someone you know is one of the people that this thing is about.

On one level, it's a giant-sized public-service announcement, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Drug Addiction but Didn't Know Whom to Ask, dominated by cool, collected, thoroughly informed talking heads with side trips to an ER, a drug court, treatment facilities and selected messy lives.

(These segments have been directed by an almost absurdly big-name team of documentary filmmakers, including D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles and Eugene Jarecki, though only Barbara Kopple's moving look at addiction support within a New York local of the steamfitters union really shows a personal touch.)

Its main purpose is to get out the latest news regarding treatment, new drugs and new research -- although much of that research just validates what's been known on a practical sense for a long time -- and to put addiction in its proper perspective: to inform or remind the viewer that it isn't ultimately a matter of moral weakness but of brain chemistry.

The closer you are to living with an addict or an addiction, the more essential you'll find this viewing, obviously, but the less personally involved will still find much of scientific and human interest.

Coincidentally, A&E's "Intervention" begins its third season Friday night. We meet Ryan, a 23-year-old addicted to Oxycontin, which he injects as many as 15 times a day. (And you get to watch.) I mean no disrespect in pointing out that it is fundamentally a makeover show, in which people unable to help themselves turn to professionals -- "Nanny 911" for grown-ups.

But it is made with taste and restraint, and, as with "Addiction," an appropriate mix of compassion and dispassion.



Where: HBO

When: 9 to 10:30 tonight

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14)


Related programming

Among the supplemental programming HBO has lined up for its "Addiction" series are four independent documentaries on the subject:

"TV Junkie," Friday at 10 p.m., HBO2

"Cracked Not Broken," Saturday at 10 p.m., HBO2

"A Revolving Door," Sunday at 10 p.m., HBO2

"Montana Meth," Sunday at 10:45 p.m., HBO2

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