If access is the key to any successful documentary then Addicted Australia has it in spades.
A difficult topic is sensitively handled by the SBS documentary series, made by Blackfella Films.
Over 4 episodes cameras follow 10 Australians battling addictions in drugs, alcohol and gambling. Each is filmed over a 6 month period as they attend a treatment program conducted by Turning Point, part of Melbourne’s Eastern Health.
This is no easy subject to tackle, but through the eyes of the 10 it is personalised to give us a wider understanding.
The numbers are alarming: 1 in 5 Australians will experience addiction at some point in their lives.
Amongst the group is Sarah, a 40 year old student who became addicted to crystal meth after repeated failures in IVF led to depression. But she maintains the drug helped her to cope and despite shelling out over $200,000, credits it with keeping her alive. With encouragement from her devoted mother, she is determined to turn her life around.
“I don’t want to wake up one day and have nothing left, no soul, no respect…” she explains.
Also profiled is alcoholic Matthew, a 33 year old chef, who has been drinking since he was 16 and admits to a bottle of whisky a day in secret. Heidi, 31, is also an alcoholic, who concedes to drinking in the morning, at work, and at home at night.
“I’m trying to stop something that could get really bad… it’s almost starting to take over my life,” she reveals.
Professor Dan Lubman, oversees the program which begins in Week 1 with case assessments.
“We’re not sure what’s going to happen, people present with really complicated lives. But we’re really excited because we know the treatment can work,” he says.
But for some, it can be up to 2 decades before they seek help.
Gambling is a peak addiction for Australians, per capita losing more than $1200 every year.
Lucas, a 38 year old IT analyst has lost over $300,000 of his own money to gambling over 9 years (not including winnings).
“Everyday is my Melbourne Cup…” he admits. “That one day of the year is 365 days a year for me.”
But one who faces a huge battle is 48 year old heroin addict Ruben, who has damaged himself so much he can no longer wear short sleeve shirts. Facing a strict detox period first, supported by family members, he has other chronic health diseases. This feels like his last shot.
Cameras also attend a group therapy session, where we meet others dealing with their own addictions. It’s hard not to admire their strength in coming out from behind anonymity -perhaps such a commitment helps keep them on the straight and narrow.
There’s no denying this isn’t exactly front of mind as television entertainment, but it has an important educative role. I would have liked it to touch on other addictions: sex, smoking, sugar, shopping, plastic surgery, gaming… but smoking aside perhaps the numbers far outweigh these in drugs, alcohol and gambling?
The recovery process will resemble that of a chronic health disease, and there will be relapses.
The final result is candid and confronting, but having bared their souls -and in one case even their illegal substances- we can only hope the path is worth it.
As Ruben says after his detox, “It gives me hope that one day I can be a normal human being again.”
Addicted Australia airs 8:30pm Tuesdays on SBS.