Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy

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Addiction is a preventable, treatable disease, not a moral failing. As with other illnesses, the approaches most likely to work are based on science ? not on faith, tradition, contrition, or wishful thinking.

These facts are the foundation of Clean, a myth-shattering look at drug abuse by the author of Beautiful Boy. Based on the latest research in psychology, neuroscience, and medicine, Clean is a leap beyond the traditional approaches to prevention and treatment of addiction ...

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Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy

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Addiction is a preventable, treatable disease, not a moral failing. As with other illnesses, the approaches most likely to work are based on science — not on faith, tradition, contrition, or wishful thinking.

These facts are the foundation of Clean, a myth-shattering look at drug abuse by the author of Beautiful Boy. Based on the latest research in psychology, neuroscience, and medicine, Clean is a leap beyond the traditional approaches to prevention and treatment of addiction and the mental illnesses that usually accompany it. The existing treatment system, including Twelve Step programs and rehabs, has helped some, but it has failed to help many more, and David Sheff explains why. He spent time with scores of scientists, doctors, counselors, and addicts and their families to learn how addiction works and what can effectively treat it. Clean offers clear, cogent counsel for parents and others who want to prevent drug problems and for addicts and their loved ones no matter what stage of the illness they’re in. But it is also a book for all of us — a powerful rethinking of the greatest public health challenge of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Mick Sussman
…Sheff is a skilled journalist on an urgent mission. He prevailed over the anger and hopelessness he felt at his son's affliction by calling upon great reserves of love and discipline to investigate what might help—first as a father and then, in this book, as a reporter and an advocate. His forbearance and clearheadedness could serve as an example for America as it confronts its drug problem. He has performed a vital service by compiling sensible advice on a subject for which sensible advice is in short supply.
Publishers Weekly
Reviewed by Hunter R. Slaton. Sheff’s bestselling Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction flipped the script on the traditional first-person addiction memoir, painting an agonizing portrait of what one family went through when its “beautiful boy,” Nic Sheff, descended into years of methamphetamine addiction, deceit, and relapse. By the final page, he had been clean for a full year. But while the story may have ended for Sheff’s family, the tragedy continues for the 20 million Americans who are currently addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Thus, Sheff the elder is back; in his latest, he takes a macro look at the micro problem detailed in Beautiful Boy, to examine the state of addiction and addiction treatment—sadly lacking, he finds—in the U.S. today.As Sheff sees it, the chief impediments to preventing and treating addiction are the same ones that existed when Alcoholics Anonymous was founded 78 years ago: the stigma associated with addiction, and the belief that drug abuse is a choice, rather than a disease. Sheff once held this belief, but his thinking evolved over years of grappling with his son’s addiction. Clean is at its best when the author grounds his conclusions in real-life trials and tribulations, whether his or others’.Unfortunately, the book is at times too thinly peopled, descending into rote lists of best practices and expert opinions, as exemplified by the chapter “Beginning Treatment”: “All support staff working with patients should be well trained and closely supervised”; “Programs should evaluate whether it would be beneficial for family members to be involved in treatment”; and so on. These passages are a perfect illustration of why a writer should always “show” rather than “tell.”But when Sheff lets recovering addicts and their families make his case for him, the story is gripping and vibrant—Luke Gsell tells about finding himself in rehab on the night before his 15th birthday, gobbling down stolen Dramamine: “‘Everything snapped,’ Luke said. ‘I thought, This is my one shot and I’m getting high. I was tripping on seasickness pills in rehab... I recognized that I was an addict. I said, ‘I’m done with this.’” The book is not this vivid or cathartic throughout, but Sheff makes his case methodically and convincingly, finishing with a stark look at the failure of the War on Drugs—and a comparison to the far more effective wars on cancer and AIDS, fought with the weaponry of “education and prevention, changing public policy, and improving treatment,” rather than “interdiction, arrest, prosecution, and eradication.” “The war must be ended,” Sheff concludes—and a new, more benevolent approach, outlined in a set of cleverly rewritten “12 Steps,” begun. Hunter R. Slaton is an editor at the, an online magazine about addiction and recovery. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
From the Publisher
"Clean will change not only how you look at drug abuse, but also what you think should be done about it. This book is essential reading about one of our most important social problems." — Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness
"In Beautiful Boy, David Sheff gave voice to the silent — the millions of addicts and their families. Now in Clean, he offers them a path toward healing. Our nation is sinking into an epidemic. This book offers realistic hope for recovery from addiction for those who suffer the disease." — Drew Pinsky, M.D., host of Dr. Drew
"How do we prevent kids from using drugs, and how do we effectively treat addiction? Clean cuts through the technical jargon and marketing nonsense to summarize our best knowledge on these topics. The case studies illuminate the challenging process of treatment and the remarkable changes that occur with recovery. Clean is a major contribution to our understanding of this disease and how to fight it." — Richard A. Rawson, Ph.D., professor and associate director, Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, Geffen School of Medicine, University of California at Los Angeles
"Clean is an important exposé of a failed system; by replacing it, we will save countless lives, help people get clean and stay clean, and help the U.S. end its catastrophic war on drugs." — Sir Richard Branson, founder and chairman, Virgin Group, and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy
"David Sheff is one of our strongest and most compassionate voices on the profound costs of addiction to the family and to society. Clean should be read by anyone affected by the number-one public health issue in America, which means it should be ready by everybody." — Christopher Kennedy Lawford, author of Recover to Live and Symptoms of Withdrawal
"David Sheff has written the most important book about addiction in a decade. Clean is a blueprint for thinking clearly — and empathetically — about America's costliest and most misunderstood public health crisis." — Benoit Denizet-Lewis, author of America Anonymous

 "Indisputably important."  —  Library Journal

"Gripping and vibrant."  — Publishers Weekly

 "Intelligent and thought-provoking views into the complexities of addiction and recovery."  — Kirkus Reviews

“Providing a wealth of information and practical advice, Clean is the best book on drug abuse and addiction to appear in years… Clean busts a mountain of myths… An extraordinarily valuable book.” – Glenn C. Altschuler, Cornell University, and Patrick M. Burns, Cornell University, reviewing for The Huffington Post


Library Journal
Sheff triumphed with Beautiful Boy, a No. 1 New York Times best seller and Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers award winner that probed his son Nic's drug addiction. Here he addresses not just the addicted but family, friends, educators, and policymakers to suggest a new way of confronting both drug addiction and prevention, drawing on up-to-date research and his own experiences. The premise? Science, not shame, crossed fingers, or prayer, will make the difference. With a ten-city tour; indisputably important.
Kirkus Reviews
An enterprising treatise on drug abuse and addiction intervention. During the time when Sheff chronicled his son's "hellish" heroin and methamphetamine addiction (Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, 2008), his desperate attempts to gain a compassionate understanding of the nature of drug dependency educated him thoroughly. This follow-up to that research defines the roots of addiction with clean, accessible language, examining the classic patterns of abuse from the first hit to full-blown dependence and from denial ("anosognosia") to treatment and recovery. Sheff offers new, sustainable solutions to a problem that has reached epidemic levels in this country (nearly 1 in 10 Americans has a drug problem). Among the many precepts the author lists is a belief that the drugs themselves are a "symptom" and not the sole cause of an addiction. He addresses the sciences of drug dependency, risk factors, the broken addiction-treatment system in place today and a family's crucial role in prevention. In terms of recovery, Sheff compares drug (methadone) versus drug-free (AA) routes toward achieving sobriety and eliminating relapses. Particularly fascinating is the author's profile of a Chilean doctor's observational research on the relentless behavioral patterns of fruit flies and mice exposed to alcohol mist, which demonstrates the seductive and ultimately irresistible nature of drugs like alcohol and cocaine. Sheff veers away from labeling addiction as a lost cause and rather offers new models, strategies and alternative therapies for abuse intervention and promising reform. Intelligent and thought-provoking views into the complexities of addiction and recovery.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547848655
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/2/2013
  • Pages: 374
  • Sales rank: 345,837
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

David Sheff

DAVID SHEFF is the author of several books, including the #1 New York Times -bestselling memoir Beautiful Boy . His writing has appeared in the New York Times , the New York Times Magazine , Rolling Stone , Playboy , Wired , and many other publications. His ongoing research and reporting on the science of addiction earned him a place on Time magazine's list of the World's Most Influential People. Sheff and his family live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    I bought this book for a friend who's son is battling addiction.

    I bought this book for a friend who's son is battling addiction. It has truly changed her life and I am so glad. She said this book changed how she looked at drug addiction. 

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2013

    Required reading for the addiction community

    Having been in the same boat as David Sheff, I can appreciate the work he put into this book. I researched many of the same things, but as a journalist, Sheff was able to do a thorough study of this issue and give some great recommendations. Very readable, helpful book that contains a lot of myth busters. I am very happy to see someone look at the science of addiction and realize that we have learned a lot since the 1930s when AA originated. What other life threatening disease would we treat with 1930's protocols? When people are really in crisis and looking for immediate answers, they may not have the time or the sanity to read this book. But the entire addiction community should read it and challenge some of their widely held but not science based beliefs. We can do a better job of treatment if people are willing to open their minds.

    My only criticism is with his prevention chapters. He needed to go further and discuss how checking off all the prevention strategies can not guarantee prevention of the disease. It read at times like he blamed divorce, or other circumstances for causing addiction. Much like the exercise-obsessed vegan with a family history of heart disease, prevention strategies may help, but not eliminate the risk of heart attack.

    Having read the comments written following a review of this book in our local paper, I was appalled. Way too many people still look at addiction as a moral failing. This issue affects many aspects of public policy yet our society is terribly uneducated and wrongly educated about it. I hope this book can help start some rational discussions.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2013

    Clearly written, easy to read, and very useful

    David Sheff has a clear-cut writing style. Due to his experiences with his son's addiction, this is not a purely objective book, yet he does the legwork and research to get the best information possible on this complex and difficult subject. At times his conclusions are a bit fantastical (i.e.: ridding the American prison system of the majority of criminals through alcohol and drug-treatment), however his heart and mind are in the right place and I'd rather be in his optimistic world than the cynical-violent cycle we've been in for the past 20-years.

    I enjoyed reading this book both for its easy-to-read accessibility and for the excellent research. It definitely spurred me to do more reading and research on my own, and to encourage others (especially in the mental health, medical, and government arenas) to read it as well.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2013

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