HBO’s The Addiction Project

In partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, HBO is producing a 14-part documentary set to begin March 15th, called The Addiction Project, which attempts to redefine drug and alcohol addiction by looking at the latest science.

Here is how Adam Isserlis of HBO described it to me:

“There is one 90-minute centerpiece film, and 13 additional films focusing on the neurological forces behind addiction, getting treatment, relapse, understanding particular therapies, and adolescent addiction.


A good portion of the film and the supplemental pieces focus on the fact that drug and alcohol abuse is a chronic brain disease.  The pieces take an in-depth look at the environmental, behavioral, and genetic factors that can make an individual vulnerable to substance abuse.  The science of relapse, and treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are also discussed.”

Associated with the documentary, they have an outreach program (and a related website).

Here is HBO’s pitch and fact sheet:

Beginning March 15, HBO debuts a 14-part documentary series on addiction that redefines drug and alcohol addiction.  THE ADDICTION PROJECT reveals new medical information about addiction; startling statistics; issues that face 1 in 4 Americans affected by a primary family member struggling with drug and alcohol related problems; and innovative new treatments that are changing the dialogue about an illness that is now considered to be a brain disease that is a treatable chronic condition as manageable as diabetes; hypertension or asthma.  Please see fact sheet below.


In partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, HBO has committed their resources to illuminating, demystifying and redefining addiction – a problem that is riddled with misconceptions.


In addition to the 14-part documentary, which begins with a 90 minute centerpiece film, THE ADDICTION PROJECT will include a companion book published by Rodale Press, pod casts, four independent addiction-themed films, web streams, a DVD, a comprehensive interactive web site of information and resources, and a national community grassroots outreach campaign in more than 30 cities throughout the country.


Directed by 20 accomplished documentary filmmakers, THE ADDICTION PROJECT presents gripping stories of addiction and recovery from emergency rooms to the work place.  The documentary also presents the nation’s leading experts and organizations in the forefront of the effort to understand and help 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 12 who are suffering from substance abuse or dependence.




  • Nearly 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 12 are classified with substance abuse or dependence.
  • Over 18 million adults suffer from alcohol use disorders.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse costs the American economy an estimated $366 billion per year in lost productivity, health care expenditures and crime.
  • Of the 22.2 million Americans who needed treatment for illicit drugs or alcohol, only 3.9 million received it.
  • Among those who felt they needed treatment but did not receive it, 44% attributed it to cost or insurance barriers.
  • 95 percent of all adults dependent on or abusing alcohol started drinking before age 21.
  • If you are not addicted by the age of 25, it is less likely that you will become addicted to alcohol or illicit drugs.
  • More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking.
  • One-fourth of all persons admitted to general hospitals are admitted for problems related to alcohol.
  • More than 100,000 deaths in the United States each year are attributable to excessive alcohol consumption.


  1. Andy

    I have previously published in the area of neuroanatomy – a very basic and somewhat discursive narrative on the topic of the limbic brain.

    I believe much of the talk regarding drug consumption – by brigading it under the rubric of addiction, (e. g. HBO)- is sufficiently off the mark as to miss a principle theme or organizing principle in this very important area of study.

    Currently, I am quite busy preparing a further contribution to text-book neuroanatomy, but will subsequently try to contribute to this area as well.

    Importanty, I do not purport to have any ‘special’ or ‘privileged’
    insight(s) – this is hardly the case: just some thoughts based on extensive reading, and extensive clinical experience.

    But at this point I suggest (again)that the term addiction is so confused as to be largely misleading (to the point of missing causation – etiology!). And I am sure that when more light is shed on this area, the particular confusions attendant on the use of this term will become clearer.

    (I am aware of the literature which supports or operationalizes the category? of drugs of addiction, but I believe this literature is – if conceived parochially – also somewhat misleading).

  2. Craving:the intense desire for an stimulus, Addiction: continuous or repetitive use of of an stimulus?; maybe are all ill-defined like you say Andy, but one thing is probably well confirmed, many structural changes happen in the brain besides the mere phenomenology (good felling or sensical sensation) and are at the basis of the causes of using drugs.

    Trevor W. Robbins has edited with other authors an impressing volume published by Academic press entitled “Drugs and the Future: Brain, Science, Addiction and Society”. I haven´t the privilege to read it yet but it is a must.

    The problem with this debate is the strong ties with other dimensions of being human (politics, economics, social ideologies, ethics, subjective and narrative perceptions…) because it raises questions about our core human condition.

  3. Andy

    Anibal, You write

    “but one thing is probably well confirmed, many structural changes happen in the brain besides the mere phenomenology (good felling or sensical sensation) and are at the basis of the **causes** of using drugs.” (My empasis)

    Re: the observed structural changes (how could they be otherwise?) When!! do/did they occur?

    Do we (already) have an adequate chronology of changes to enable us to go after causes? I sincerely doubt it!

    Anibal, let me suggest that drug consumption could be a result of an antecedent infection!

    Does this strike at your (any(every)bodies) assumptions, re: drug consumption?

    It should! Or maybe it shouldn’t!

    Peoples assumptions in this area appear (to me) to be very shaky.

    Does Dr. Robbins have immunologic data on the pre morbid (*pre*-drug consumption) brain? Doubt it!

    Unless one is a dualist (shudder), logic would entail there has to be (such pre-drug consumption) variances, in the brain, would it not?

    I do not mean to privilege an infectious cause to drug consumption. over other causes: Although, I am sure that this is an area that merits several decades of research.

    Other Causes

    Take, for example, Reward Insufficiecy (undersirable alleles that make undesirable – not properly responsive -dopamine receptors) Syndrome. An area possible contributing to drug consumption that is already ‘well (and properly so) privileged’ as potentially conributory.

    Regarding the ties to politics, economics, social ideologies, ethics that you mention, perhaps these will need to be cut.

    However, as I realize this shearing is not possible, perhaps we need to keep these other areas on a tight leash – at least until a time when a better understanding is achieved.

  4. The prgressive decodification of the human genome is helping us, i think, to find deleterious genes and what preteins they coded susceptible to cuase atypical molecular pathways that ultimately lead to maladaptive behaviours.
    I surely think that Dr. Robbins and their colleagues and/or collaborators are working in a longitudinal time window having in mind how the healthy brain becomes an addicted brain and what markers are present to cause addiction even if they are inmunological markers.

    Regarding the adequate chronology i suppose this is your line of research or attempt of research and i believe this is a missing piece in the addiction research area.

    An infection as a cause of addiction is to me shaky,but don´t surprise me given the medical revolution that occurs when the medical wisdom discover in the XIX
    century that psychiatric disease were caused by bacterias (e.g. terteriary paresis neuroshyphilis, deemntia paralytica and even today alzheimer some might say)demising the dualist stand point held for centuries.

    In response to the last part you are completely right.

  5. Andy

    Anibal, you write

    (1) ‘healthy brain becomes an addicted brain’

    I suggest treading very lightly here.

    But consider this

    (2) Healthy brains becoming addicted brains via the mechanism of using addicting drugs?

    No, I would be wary of this also.

    Perhaps number (3)

    *Un*heathly brains “become” addicted –

    this sounds more plausible, but still not right – at least to my ear.

    (4) Unheathy brains **are** characterized by addictive behaviors.

    I believe that this last statement is a better heuristic – and it is more challenging, also more (much more) disquieting. FWIW IMHO

  6. I personally began studying this ground-breaking NIDA information about a year ago. I was so impressed with it and how it fits into the AA addiction model and other observed behaviors with addiction that its validity was easy to accept.

    As a result of this new science involving the changes to immature brains caused by addicting substances and irreversible nature of addiction, I felt compelled to publish on this very subject. My book is “Preventing Addiction: What Parents Must Know To Immunize Their Kids Against Drug Alcohol Addiction.”

    It’s information is geared toward lay parents and is an easy, interesting read. It complements the HBO series information as well as the companion book “Addiction: Why Can’t They Just Stop?”

    “Preventing Addiction,” mainly departs from the other book in that it applies this important science to PREVENTION rather than treatment. If you are interested in this subject, you will find both books interesting and complementary to each other.

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