Animated Series Explores Science Of Addiction, Popular Misconceptions

By Paul Gaita 07/31/18

The series' goal is to dispel misinformation and to offer straightforward, science-based answers about addiction.

a still from The Hijacker episode of Addiction
a still from The Hijacker episode of Addiction

A Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization has created an animated series that attempts to explain the science behind substance dependency, as well as debunk misconceptions about the impact of drugs on the body and mind.

The Addiction Policy Forum, which partners with dependency advocates from government, mental health and pharmaceutical companies (as well as Vicky Cornell, spouse of the late Chris Cornell) to address dependency awareness and related policy, released the first episode of Addiction on July 16, and hopes to issue more on a weekly basis and host screenings across the country.

According to Addiction Policy Forum President Jessica Hulsey Nickel, the series' core intention is "education, and making sure the real science gets into every home."

The first episode, "The Hijacker," debuted on July 17, 2018 and features the artwork of animator Patrick Smith, which details the impact of substance use and dependency on the brain, showing in literal terms how it drains away the importance of everyday issues, including one's home, relationships and even the need to eat.

A second episode, "Whirlpools of Risk," was issued on July 24 and examines the reasons why some individuals with dependency to other substances, including alcohol and tobacco, may be susceptible to substance use disorder.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Nickel said that the animated series is a means of connecting with not only those struggling with dependency issues, but also their families and anyone who might seek straightforward answers to scientific questions. Nickel notes that the search for such answers may lead some to misleading and even dangerously incorrect information.

"There's so much misinformation about this disease," she said. "[It's] everything from this being a choice and not a disease, the misunderstanding about how treatment works, misunderstandings about medications, about lengths of treatment and recovery support, how you develop this disease in the first place. We are surrounded and drowning in misinformation."

The series also details the stages of dependency, another issue of which many viewers may not be aware.

"Most people don't know that addiction has levels of severity, like stages of cancer," noted Nickel, who lost two parents to substance use disorder. "You don't wait for an amputation before you treat someone with diabetes. We should not be waiting for that rock bottom, the worst thing that could happen, for someone to get the treatment for addiction."

However, efforts like these have occasionally been overshadowed by Addiction Policy Forum's connections to the pharmaceutical industry. Nickel is a former lobbyist for Vivitrol manufacturer Alkermes, and its advisory board includes that company's chairman and CEO, Richard Pops, as well as Stephen J. Ubl, president and CEO of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

The organization's close connection to the industry it hopes to regulate has been cause for concern among some recovery advocates, but Nickel has addressed these issues by stating, "No one has cured a disease by making an enemy of the white lab coats. Sometimes our resistance to working with new partners is an old way of thinking."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.