Coming Clean About “The Cleaner”

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Back for a second season is A&E’s hit series “The Cleaner,” with Benjamin Bratt starring as an “extreme interventionist,” a character based on the life of the show’s co-executive producer Warren Boyd. What’s encouraging about “The Cleaner” is the exposure the series gives to drug misuse and the nature of addictive behavior. With more than 23 million Americans misusing drugs, there’s a vital public safety purpose served by bringing to light the dangers to health and safety when drug misuse leads to addictive behavior.

The great strength of “The Cleaner” is the show’s ability to dramatize the downward spiral of addiction, showing how drug misusers “get stuck,” and the difficulty they have of getting “unstuck.” In life, as on TV, an “intervention” is often the means of “unsticking” someone deep in drug misuse. Interventions may indeed be as dramatic as kidnapping or substituting sugar for the user’s drug of choice. But, while bringing together a team of “significant others” to “confront” the user makes for good viewing, it actually occurs rarely. There is an extraordinarily broad range of intervention strategies and they are employed every day in any number of different venues—family dining rooms and kitchens, therapist’s offices, business offices, factory floors, lecture halls and hospital emergency rooms.

The process of getting the drug misuser “unstuck” can begin in any one of these settings—but it only begins there. An intervention just starts the process, because getting unstuck requires serious engagement of the individual in a program of treatment responsive to his or her unique needs—a process pursued in an appropriate setting and involving others. These others may be trained professionals. They may be men and women with similar histories of drug involvement. A community of faith may be a critical part of this recovery process, as well as friends and family. Medications may be involved, cognitive behavioral therapies, prayer, hope, encouragement and opportunities to learn about oneself and master the skills needed to offset the long-lasting craving that comes with addictive behavior.

In short, while “intervention” may be as dramatic as those of “The Cleaner” or—as is more often the case—slow and guided, what counts is what follows!

We at Phoenix House have learned that what follows is a process of learning how best to achieve lifestyle change and continuing recovery. It is a process that varies from person to person. Each day, Phoenix House cares for more than 7,000 people in various settings and stages of recovery. We pledge that each receives the help he or she needs and each is treated with professionalism and respect. We recognize differences in need and our service delivery continuum is designed to respond to these differences. And, while “The Cleaner” deserves our applause, viewers also deserve to know that, no matter how getting unstuck begins, the greater need is for the rest of the process, which is what most of our field is there to provide.

David A. Deitch, Ph.D
Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House

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  • My sister will not come clean about her addiction. She can’t see her problem. Since the pills are prescribed she feels taking them is no big deal.

  • Legall Bug

    There are many people like your sister who fell RX drugs are OK. We really need explain that you can be addicted to any kind of drug, even headache medicine. If you are stuck taking medicine to “feel normal” y ou are most likely addicted.

    drug violation in phoenix

  • My sister is constantly taking pain killers which are perscribed by her everchanging doctors. They are giving her all kinds of medical issues from kidney problems on up. She never wants to go anywhere in public and refuses to admit she is addicted. She takes them just to feel normal.