A real look at teen addiction in the U.S.: Pop culture TV SHOW “Recovery Road” (REVIEW)

A new teen drama series called “Recovery Road” is attempting to dramatize the trend of addiction treatment. Will teens, families, school staff and addiction professionals love it? We review here.

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Residential housing for addicted teens: A new theme?

The “Recovery Road” TV Series that airs Mondays on Freeform (the new name for ABC Family) at 9pm EST attempts to both de-stigmatize and dramatize teen addiction. The story is based on Blake Nelson’s novel also named Recovery Road and covers the topics of addiction, rehab and recovery. Starring Jessica Sula as Maddie, this teenage drama will take you on a recovery journey along with the young girl that may be addicted to drugs and alcohol.

What’s this TV Series good at? Why and who should check it out? We review here and invite your questions and feedback in the comments section at the end of the page.

What makes “Recovery Road” helpful?

1. Relative realism

The first reason we like this show is that it helps present the [hidden] reasons which compel drug use among teens: trauma and emotional distance from family. The dramatization of WHY people get addicted to drugs really helps non-addicts understand addiction. It provides some “aha!” moments for the audience.

For example, in the beginning, you don’t really think that lead heroine, Maddie, is a problematic teenager. It doesn’t seem like she has an addiction problem at all. In fact, the script is so smartly written that it presents the story through the main characters’ point of view (or any addict’s point of view). We believed that this girl has made on mistake and gotten in trouble over it.

But, as the story keeps moving forward, you start to realize things along with Maddie’s character, and you also start to accept the reality of addiction at the same time she does.

2. Showing AND telling

OK. The show uses LOTS of A.A. lingo and “recovery talk”. While cliches of recovery bounce off characters and around the show (and for someone in recovery, dialogue can seem a little glib)…they are used to inform the audience about the process of recovery. Then, the TV series SHOWS us what recovery really means:

  • Opening up about your inner problems
  • Talking things through
  • Thinking of others
  • Twelve Step calls
  • Not being alone…

“Recovery Road” serves up a fairly decent version of what addiction recovery can be like in all its idiosyncracies. Relapse. Denial. Living with crazy people. However, by showing the audience what is possible, it also offers a roadmap to living a new life. Good stuff!

3. Teenage drama elements are relatable

Recovery Road is beautifully produced, the casting is great, the story is very real and educational. For example, you witness Maddie going through the five stages of Grief (Teenage Edition) in losing her drugs-of-choice:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Then, she starts to accept her life in treatment. Later, it is in the bathroom scene that Maddie realizes her problem addiction may be more serious than what she has perviously believed. However, this is only the first step on her road to recovery.

Drama ensues.

Boys! Girls! Sex!

The complicated turns of romantic relationships in addiction recovery are addressed. Relating to teens through common themes of their own lives can really empower them to see themselves in the storyline. It is our hope that this series reaches hundreds of real life people who can relate and need to speak up to get help.

4. A sense of hope

In watching, we began to FEEL something else. Something that’s totally new. As an audience, we are privy to private thoughts of the character:

“I feel the tiniest sensation of hope. Maybe my life isn’t over. Maybe my life has just begun.” – Blake Nelson, Recovery Road.

Tackling social stigma and teen addiction recovery

At the moment, we love the direction this series is going by playing with the subject of addiction stigmatization.

Even if Recovery Road doesn’t get deeper into the psycho-emotional problems Maddie has with intimacy (as reflected in her estranged relationship with her mother) you can see the shame Maddie feels for getting into rehab, how she hides it from her school friends, and the way she keeps it from everyone in school. So, it is obvious that she fears judgement, social isolation, loss of social status.

Even outside of the storyline, we believe that Recovery Road will help open many conversation topics that are still more or less considered to be taboo. By showing Maddie’s experience on TV screens, this teen drama series can:

  • Bring the subject of teen addiction closer to teens. Maybe some will realize they have a problem which they deny and seek help.
  • Encourage parents to ask for professional help for their substance abusing child as soon as they become aware of their destructive behavior.
  • Explain to viewers what can generally be expected from detox and addiction treatment programs, so parents and teens know what they are getting into.
  • Make the subject of addiction and addiction recovery more acceptable to teens, families, school teachers, and peers. Hopefully, it can help lower the stigma that surrounds addiction.

Why do recommend it?

Good television has worked to bring other touchy subjects closer to people and normalize society’s view on similar topics that have been formally taboo: gender identity, sexual orientation, obesity to name a few.

We feel that the kind, likeable, deep and highly relatable characters in Recovery Road can contribute to de-stigmatization. Maddie can be a hero in the eyes of a teenage girl or boy, and her mother can be a support for parents of addicted adolescents. The caring and devoted counselors and teachers can be serve as motivation to professionals who work with addicts and teens.

Most importantly, conversations will be started!

Addiction is something that should be talked about more openly, considering the statistics for National Substance Use and Abuse (especially for teenagers).

Got questions about Recovery Road or teen addiction recovery?

We highly recommend you check out Recovery Road Mondays on Freeform (ABC Family) at 9pm EST. And we want to know what you think!

Here, we invite you to post your questions and comments in the section below. So, let us know what you think of the TV Series! We try to provide a personal and prompt answer to all legitimate inquiries or refer you to someone who can help.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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