"The first time I tried heroin, I was fifteen and I had a straight-up orgasm," says Tiffani, 21 years old, from a small California town where her father runs the post office. "I'm afraid to be clean. I don't know how."
This year, two million Americans will enter drug and alcohol treatment programs. Their chances of recovery — whatever their age, ethnicity, education or economic background — are about the same. Ninety percent of them will relapse within a year, which raises the question of whether recovery programs really work. While most physicians and drug counselors agree that drug addiction is a disease, most of the treatment programs are based on will power. REHAB, a compelling new documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki, offers a rare inside look at the recovery process, following five young addicts as they struggle to stay clean and reconnect with their families, then relapse and nearly lose everything, including their lives.
Josh, 20 years old, is facing serious jail time if he doesn't stay off cocaine. He has a lot on his mind — he wants to break up with his 15-year-old girlfriend who is pregnant with his child — and he doesn't do well under pressure. A shot of coke feels like a way out. "It's a killer rush," he says. "That feeling of being so close to death."
It's hard to say whether beautiful and insecure Anitra, age 20, is an addict. Her old boyfriend did crystal meth, so she did too. Her boyfriend in rehab is clean, so she is too. When she gets out of rehab, she hooks up with Micha, a young Russian who hangs with the skateboard crowd. Will she stay clean or do what Micha does?
Brannon, 23, a recovering heroin addict, is working through the shame of shooting up in a hospital bathroom as his father was dying of cancer in the next room. Talented and charming, he can't talk about his feelings. Through a half dozen rehabs, his mother is at his side, supporting him and nearly destroying her own life.
Ally, 22, is the most guarded of the five. The middle child in a family of three sisters, she "always felt different." She got interested in William Burroughs and heroin as an art student in San Francisco. After being raped and watching a friend overdose, she hitchhiked home to her parents, but was refused refuge. "The things you've done, I don't want to know," her father, a school principal, says. "That's how bad I think it is."
Ally, Brannon, Anitra, Josh and Tiffani all end up at Camp Recovery, a treatment center in the mountains of Santa Cruz, California. "I've run out of options," says Ally in a determined voice. "This is my fucking life. I'm gonna make it this time."
Produced for HBO DOCUMENTARY FILMS
2005 / Documentary / 86 Minutes