Landmark SBS documentary series shines the spotlight on Australia’s addiction crisis 

5 November 2020

Article credit: ANMJ

A groundbreaking new SBS documentary series which follows the lives of 10 Australians and their families as they confront their addiction throughout a six-month treatment program is aiming to shine the light on the reality of addiction and change community perceptions.

Addicted Australia, a four-part documentary series produced by Turning Point, Australia’s leading national addiction treatment, training and research centre, and Blackfella Films, provides unprecedented access to a group of Australians and their families as they battle addictions such as alcohol, gambling and heroin.

The series follows their journey over a six-month period within a unique and targeted treatment program, run by Turning Point, which includes wraparound tailored care for each individual, integrated with peer and family support.

Each participant is dealing with a different form of addiction and starting from different points on their journey. Drugs, alcohol and gambling are candidly discussed and viewers get given an intimate insight into the reality of the recovery journey, including the highs and lows.

According to data, one in 20 Australians has an addiction or substance use problem. One in six Australians consume alcohol at levels placing them at lifetime risk of an alcohol-related disease or injury. Australians are the world’s most prolific gamblers based on per capita spending and in 2016 lost more money per person (an average of $1220) than any other developed country.

Premiering on Tuesday 10 November, Addicted Australia shines the light on the growing number of Australians who are battling addiction, many in silence, and lays bare the challenges often faced by families and loved ones looking for answers.

In sharing authentic stories of addiction, the series aims to spark a national conversation about Australia’s addiction crisis and tackle the stigma and misinformation that often stops people getting the help they need.

In a statement on Turning Point’s website, Professor Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director Turning Point and Professor of Addiction Studies and Services at Monash University, says treatment for addiction is more chronically underfunded than any other area of healthcare, largely because it is not seen as a legitimate health condition.

The lack of funding is reinforced by media portrayals of addiction, prevailing community stigma, and entrenched beliefs that patients are to blame for their condition, and that treatment doesn’t work, he adds. Addiction also has an image problem, he argues, with people quick to blame and demonise, yet stories of success and recovery almost never heard of.

“Most people who have an addiction recover – but very few people are telling those stories, due to the stigma associated with the condition,” Professor Lubman writes.

“This means myths are perpetuated, built on a moral conceptualisation of the condition and the media unwilling to have an honest discussion about addiction.”

As well as the series, Turning Point, in collaboration with the sector, has launched an awareness and advocacy campaign, Rethink Addiction, which calls for a change to Australia’s attitude and response to addiction.

Professor Lubman says addiction is one of the most stigmatised of all health conditions and that the shame involved can result in a delay of up to 20 years before some people seek help.

He hopes Addicted Australia and Turning Point’s unique treatment program can act as a catalyst for systemic change.

“Changing the narrative and busting these myths and stereotypes is crucial to bring about systemic change, advocate for appropriate funding and help people recover,” he says.

“We hope that this documentary series will change community perceptions about the reality of addiction, elevate expectations about what treatment should look like, and alter the narrative such that recovery is not just a possibility but like other health conditions, is a realistic goal.”

Critically, Drug and Alcohol Nurses, along with other health professionals, are often at the forefront of providing care to Australians tackling addiction.

Earlier this year, the ANMJ spoke to Drug and Alcohol Nurses of Australasia president Darren Smyth about the speciality and its core objectives.

“We have a primary health focus. Our national ideological framework is harm reduction,” Darren said.

“It’s not about abstinence, it’s about meeting that person where they’re at, looking at their goals and providing them information, resources and education to reduce the harm associated with their substance use.”

Addicted Australia premieres Tuesday 10 November at 8.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.

For more information on the Rethink Addiction campaign visit Rethink Addiction.

To read the ANMJ’s story on Drug and Alcohol Nurses of Australasia president Darren Smyth click here.