Waiting for Breaking Good: The Media and Addiction Recovery


Photo by Matt Chesin on Unsplash

The major media outlets have long been chastised for the content and style of their coverage of alcohol- and drug-related problems. Such criticisms include the glamorization of drug use, the demonization of drug users, and charges that the media is complicit in ineffective drug policies. Few have raised parallel concerns that popular media coverage of addiction recovery is rare, often poorly selected, and told through a lens that does little to welcome the estranged person back into the heart of community life. If media representatives do not "get it" ("it" being recovery), then what precisely is it that they don't get? What are the mistold and untold stories and their personal and public consequences to which media leaders ought to be held accountable

I have just posted a new paper that offers the following twelve points from the perspective of a long-tenured recovery advocate.

1. Distorted media coverage of active addiction fuels social stigma and contributes to the discrimination that many people in recovery face as they enter the recovery process.

2. Media coverage of addiction recovery is rare and tangential.

3. The media mistakenly conflate recovery with active addiction and addiction treatment with addiction recovery.

4. Media outlets portray addiction recovery as an exception to the rule.

5. Media coverage of drug-related celebrity mayhem and death contributes to professional and public pessimism about the prospects of successful, long-term addiction recovery.

6. When the story of recovery is told, it is most often told from the perspective of the recovery initiate rather than from the perspective of long-term recovery.

7. When personal recovery is conveyed by the media as a dramatic story of redemption, the media often inflate and elevate the recovering person to a pedestal position and then circle like piranhas in a feeding frenzy at the first sign of any failure to live up to that imposed image.

8. The media seek to make the personal recovery story as dramatic as possible by emphasizing the details of the addictions story while glossing over the processes and fruits of long-term personal and family recovery.

9. The media fixation on celebrity addiction and recovery is a diversion from a much larger and more important story.

10. The media tell the story of recovery only as a personal story rather than a larger story of the role of family and community (and social policy!) in addiction recovery.

11. The rare media portrayals of recovery often depict only a single pathway of addiction recovery.

12. Media representatives are only just beginning to recognize newly emerging recovery support institutions and the existence of an ecumenical culture of recovery that together are uniting people from diverse pathways and styles of long-term recovery.

As the eternal optimist, I await with great anticipation a new quality of media coverage of addiction recovery. The Breaking Bad stories have been told ad nauseam. It's time for a new generation of journalists, scriptwriters, and filmmakers to convey the Breaking Good stories.

For those wishing to read the complete paper, click here.