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It's cruel reality TV, and the price of failure is terrifying

In the real world, there is no such thing as a typical addict. Never forget there’s a story behind each person falling prey to the demon rum or drugs or any other of the known vices. Once the benders blur together and substance abuse takes over someone’s life, the addiction becomes a social problem – lives are ruined and families are broken. Some lost souls never make it back to the other side.

But some make the effort, thereby providing the almost too-real human drama of Intervention (Monday, A&E at 9 p.m.). Back for a fifth season, the sobering documentary series follows the lives of people caught in the deepest throes of their addiction, and the attempts of those around them to put them on the road to recovery.

The addicts profiled on Intervention enter into the reality-TV experience under the semi-misconception they’re taking part in a documentary on addiction. In most cases they’re unaware their family and friends have planned an intervention, which is to be followed by either a trip to a treatment centre or immediate tough-love ejection from the family circle. For most of the addicts, it’s their last chance.

The painful reality of addiction comes clear with Intervention’s precise biographies of the addicts. Starting in 2005, the show’s first four seasons have taken viewers into some very troubled lives – the ex-Olympic athlete who turned to methamphetamine, the alcoholic banker with a Fight Club fetish, the bulimic housewife who keeps a secret throw-up bag in the closet, and the former NBA superstar reduced to crackhead status. Watching real people unravel often makes for uncomfortable viewing.

“The realness of the show speaks for itself,” says Intervention creator and executive producer Sam Mettler. “There are so many misconceptions about addiction, which hits all economic ranges and levels of society. Some people still think of the average drug addict as a street person. That’s not the case.”

The need for a show like Intervention appears to be out there: Recent statistics suggest upwards of 23 million Americans suffer from some kind of debilitating addiction, with less than 10 per cent seeking out professional help. Based on those numbers, it’s likely that more than two million Canadians are hooked on something.

The highest-rated reality program on A&E, Intervention is starkly filmed and devoid of narration or music track. Each episode covers the case studies of one or two addicts. While most chapters in the series are devoted to the stories of those on the edge of ruination from drugs and alcohol, Intervention has featured episodes on people addicted to gambling, sex, shopping, plastic surgery and other temptations.

The show’s standard setup includes pre-intervention interviews with the addict’s family members; in many instances, they are the same people who called the Intervention hotline to submit to the process.

“Addiction is a family disease,” says Mettler, who directed more than half of the episodes in the series. “People generally don’t talk about their addiction, but the show gives them a forum. Our major tenet is that we’ll never break the trust of someone who’s ill.”

The first new Intervention episode presents the rise and fall of a man named Chad. A former Olympic-calibre cyclist who once raced alongside the legendary Lance Armstrong, Chad is now 34, living on the street and smoking crack several times a day. His back story is told in old photographs and video clips from his races. The camera follows a day in his life – chatty and exuding surfer-dude charm, he’s a top-notch panhandler – and watches him get high as a kite moments before meeting his parents for lunch.

As sometimes happens, Chad’s addiction seems to escalate during the Intervention filming process. His ensuing intervention registers as one of the most intense in the series.

And in keeping with the show’s impassive format, Chad makes his own way. The decision to get help or go back on the street is entirely his own; like every addict, Chad has to choose to accept what the interventionist refers to as the “blessing of treatment.”

There is no judgment passed on Intervention, but every picture tells a story. “Our role is to remain documentarians and not display a tsk-tsk attitude,” Mettler says. “The people on the show feel shameful enough.”
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source: The Globe and Mail

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