Getting Clean on Addiction Policy in the U.S.A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times Review of Books reviewed David Sheff’s new book Clean:  Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy. After noting some highlights in the book, editor Mick Sussman aptly concluded that Sheff has “performed a vital service by compiling sensible advice on a subject for which sensible advice is in short supply.”

I agree. Sheff diagnoses the nation’s response to addiction as being as sick as addiction itself. His message cuts across not only the policies of criminalization but the criminalization of an addict’s character.

While slamming prevention and treatment effectiveness, Sheff approaches the subject by methodically laying out the research. His own conclusions, reached through the experience of being an addict’s father, are in line with the reviewer’s and no doubt many readers. As Sussman puts it, the work is “a manifesto aimed at clinical professionals and policy makers,” as well as a good guide for both addicts and their loved ones.

“Addiction isn’t a criminal problem, but a health problem,” according to Sheff. Many clinicians are trying to get this message across to the public, to politicians, and to family.  As with mental illness, the stigma attached to being an alcoholic or addict obliterates the ability for respectful, genuine communication.

Sheff is known for his book “Beautiful Boy,” which outlined his despair over his son’s struggles.  He set out to go one step further in “Clean,” actually “sprint[ing] through the research for every aspect (neuroscience, social science, psychology, law) of every stage (preventing early use, identifying abuse, detox, treating addiction, maintaining sobriety) of every drug problem.”

It would appear his work is not only an informed addition to the literature but a rightfully irritated plea for folks to “get it,” to see that drug addiction is a health problem, one that ultimately affects the brain as much as genetics, biology and the environment. For instance, only in recent years has it become more widely known that the drug-addicted brain undergoes actual structural changes that can be specified and studied and targeted with appropriate medicine.

Beyond its significant informational highlights, though, “Clean” is most importantly read as a call for change.


You can check out Sheff’s new book here.