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Cracking Addiction

10/03/12 2:21pm

TV's Mother-and-Son Intervention Team


Brandon and Debbie confront two challenging
clients during the show.

Cracking Addiction, tonight's TLC special, spotlights the work of Debbie and Brandon Knauss—a mother-and-son intervention team. They first hit screens in 2003, when Brandon was the subject of the first ever TV intervention, on the Dr. Phil Show. Addicted to drugs including Vicodin and heroin, Brandon struggled, relapsed and at one point spent six months in jail. Debbie was desperate to help her son, and frustrated by professional advice including one therapist's assurance that Brandon could detox "safely" on his own—even though he was then taking between 20 and 40 Vicodin a day—and one psychiatrist's dismissive remark that "He's just a normal kid who wants to party and have a good time." After watching an episode of the Dr. Phil Show, and approving of Dr. Phil McGraw's "no-nonsense approach," she wrote in and received the help she'd hoped for. Brandon, now 30, has nearly seven years drug-free.

Debbie set up the family business, VIP (Vital Intervention Professionals), in 2008. She's a licensed chemical dependency counselor and psychiatric nurse, and also trained as an intervention professional. But she dislikes what she sees as some interventionists' tendency to remove uncooperative addicts' support, or even get them kicked out of their homes, she says. She contrasts this with her flexible, "whatever-it-takes" attitude. She started taking Brandon along to interventions because she "felt that there would be a better chance of saving that person's life if Brandon could communicate with them as a young person who has been there." And soon, "I could see Brandon's God-given talent." She believes that their partnership, of one male and one female, one qualified professional and one recovering addict, is ideally balanced. "We do our best work together because of our strong family bond. I'll know what Brandon is thinking about a situation—we don't even have to talk about it."

Brandon tells The Fix that "I have a lot of experience that they don't teach in school about what these kids are doing." Most of the clients he and his mother work with are in their teens and early 20s—the age at which he experienced his problems—which helps him to relate. He says that the drugs they most often receive calls about are heroin, opiate painkillers and meth: "We usually get called for all the most difficult cases!" He "couldn't imagine a better partner" than his mother, but admits that working with her has its difficulties: "It can be really hard to hear her talk about her personal memories, reliving all the pain I put my family through." However, "seeing the happiness on her face after we've helped someone is the most rewarding thing." 

Debbie says that being filmed while working "doesn't affect us at all. We forget that the cameras are there." And the clients? "Actually, they welcome it, because they've seen Brandon on TV—his intervention, his relapses—and they've seen how it worked." Brandon describes going on TV again as "an out-of-body, surreal experience" and a dream: "I feel so blessed to be able to help people in the way that I do."

"I want Cracking Addiction to reveal to families that this is a family disease, that this is a real disease and that you can recover," says Debbie. She feels that drug education in the US often isn't good enough: "When kids are just taught that 'drugs are bad,' then when they experience them for the first time, they're like 'whoa!' when they get that dopamine rush." Much of the information given to young people, she says, is "on a similar level to what they're told about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny." And she has words of caution for her colleagues in the addiction field: "In this industry, we're very quick to jump in and to judge when people go about recovery in different ways. Recovery is as unique as the individual in question."

TLC's Cracking Addiction airs Wednesday, October 3 at 9 pm Eastern. Preview clip:

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By Will Godfrey


10/03/12 1:10pm

Drunks Garland Gandhi With Birthday Whiskey


Gandhi's likeness is traditionally garlanded
with flowers on his birthday. Photo via

Abusive vandalism or just incompetent gift-giving? A statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Shimla, India was garlanded last night with whisky bottles in a boozy departure from the more traditional flowers, leaving locals "shocked." The incident occurred on Gandhi's birthday, October 2, which is commemorated in India as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and world-wide as the International Day of Non-Violence. Although the "miscreants" accountable are as yet unidentified, cops believe "some drunk men" are most likely to blame, and the "shameful" incident has "outraged the religious feelings of citizens." It's the first time that bottles of alcohol have been left on the statue, which is usually guarded by night watchmen. "I was informed that a cop was deployed by the statue on night duty, but he was missing," says the deputy commissioner. "It might have taken miscreants 10-15 minutes to tie the bottles with statue." The incident has been called "abuse," but the bottles may have been the drunks' idea of a birthday gift, and a way to thank Gandhi for leading India to independence. If so, the gesture was ill-informed; in his lifetime, the spiritual leader made a vow under Hindu precepts of abstinence to avoid alcohol, as well as meat and promiscuity.

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By May Wilkerson

Jersey Shore

10/03/12 12:02pm

"The Situation" "Relapses"


Finding sobriety tough Photo via

Life away from the cameras has apparently been difficult for Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino and sources report that since taping the final season of Jersey Shore, he has recently fallen off the wagon. A witness claims to have seen him at West Hollywood's London hotel last week, "downing so many cocktails, he could barely stand." A rep for the reality star denies the report and claims that he has not been drinking. Since leaving rehab last March, where he was treated for addictions to alcohol and prescription meds, The Sitch has not been seen drinking during any episodes of the current Jersey Shore season, or during his recent stint on the UK version of Celebrity Big Brother. However, he's admitted that he hasn't found the sober lifestyle easy—which might be magnified by his continuing habit of frequenting boozy nightspots, where he's had to deal with taunts about his attempt at sobriety.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Rehab Revolt

10/03/12 11:09am

Georgia Nimbys Want Rehab Out


Why can't we be friends? Photo via

You'd think most people would applaud drug addicts entering treatment, but residents of a Lawrenceville, GA neighborhood say they're all for it as long as it doesn't happen in their back yard. The residential rehab in question, known as Purple Inc., opened last February and treats young men with drug and alcohol addictions. Nearby homeowners are now taking action after finding out the center applied for a permit to continue operating as a residential facility, claiming it's a threat to their neighborhood and property values. "I felt blindsided in exactly what type of facility it was," says resident Ruthie Cansiz. "I think if any person falls out of this sort of rehab program and causes a problem for one child, one person, one house, that is enough." Linda Chambers, another resident, says that while she doesn't object to the facility itself, she thinks the location is ill-advised: "Across from a subdivision with a bunch of children and across from a high school, that didn't seem like an appropriate location."

The facility houses 25 men and has been operating in Gwinnett County for 10 years without incident, according to Brett Bagley, director of Purple Inc. He recently held an open house and invited the community to attend to learn more, but only one person showed up. "The people who are here are not dangerous people," says Bagley. "These are the guys who are here because they want to get better. They're being drug tested. They're here with clinicians actively participating in changing their lives." The county planning commission is expected to make a recommendation this week on whether the center can continue as a residential facility. It's hardly the first time neighborhoods have objected to rehabs; there have been rumblings against facilities from Malibu to the Hamptons this year, while residents of the New Jersey suburb of Alpine last month tried to tried to halt plans for a proposed residential rehab there.

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By McCarton Ackerman


10/03/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: October 3, 2012


Kenny Rogers says his dad's alcoholism
turned him off booze. Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise

literary intrigue

10/02/12 5:24pm

Revealed: Mark Twain's Boozy Muse


Mark Twain's inspiration for Tom Sawyer has
been hotly contested. Photo via

Mark Twain may have based Tom Sawyer, the daredevilish protagonist of his most famous novel, on an old drinking buddy, according to a new analysis from Smithsonian. The inspiration behind the character has long been disputed, but writer Robert Graysmith claims the original Sawyer was a "stocky, round-faced…customs inspector, volunteer fireman, special policeman and bona fide local hero" of the same name, who allegedly met Twain (real name Sam Clemens) in a San Francisco steam room in 1863. The two became close chums and would hang out at the Blue Wing [saloon], drinking, swapping stories from the past, and "spinning yarns." Twain, who was a journalist at the time, "could drink more and talk more than any feller I ever seen," Graysmith quotes the real Tom Sawyer as saying of his literary bar mate. "He'd set down and take a drink…and then when somebody'd buy him another drink, he'd keep up all day." According to Graysmith, in the midst of a "momentous bender," Twain once told his new friend: "Tom, I'm going to write a book about a boy and the kind I have in mind was just about the toughest boy in the world…he was just such a boy as you must have been." 

The great American novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was published in 1876, years after the author would have parted ways with his old boozing buddy. When asked later on about the inspiration behind his impish hero, Twain said "[Tom Sawyer] was not the real name…of any person I ever knew, so far as I can remember." Whether that account was truth, denial, or the result of drinking-induced memory loss would take a time machine to prove. But if Sawyer's recollection was true—and not a "yarn"—then he really was the novelist's muse. "[Twain] would listen to these pranks of mine with great interest and he'd occasionally take 'em down in his notebook," said Sawyer according to an 1898 newspaper. "One day he says to me: 'I am going to put you between the covers of a book some of these days, Tom.' 'Go ahead,' I said, 'but don't disgrace my name'."

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By May Wilkerson


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