When Kevin McCauley was sent to a military prison for a year, he decided to immerse himself in learning about the disease that had held a grip on him. Half the books he read during his incarceration were from the addiction field’s historian, William White. So McCauley couldn’t help being moved over White’s writing in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly this year that McCauley’s latest project “may prove to be one of the most effective educational tools ever developed on addiction and will serve as an invaluable aid in the treatment of individuals and families affected by addiction.”
“Bill is the clearest and most moral voice in this industry,” says a humbled McCauley, host of the 70-minute documentary “Pleasure Unwoven.”
The DVD, which was released last November and for which about 3,000 copies are in circulation, again received accolades last month when the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) honored it with its Michael Q. Ford Journalism Award for 2010. The film uses the stunning backdrop of Utah’s national and state parks to illustrate the brain mechanisms at work in addiction, seeking to gently but thoroughly debunk the notion that addiction is a choice and not a disease.
White stated in his review that the presentation “synthesizes very complex neuroscience in the clearest language to date,” complimenting the use of vivid illustration to engage the viewer. McCauley says he can’t fully explain how he arrived at the idea of using the park settings to illustrate regions of the brain. But he was looking for a context that would be less threatening and emotionally charged than the spiritual or political constructs under which the disease/no disease arguments often occur.
McCauley, whose career as a flight surgeon was cut short by his addiction, had been lecturing on the disease topic for years but had never made a film before. The project took place under the auspices of The Institute for Addiction Study, a Utah-based organization (for more information, visit
www.instituteforaddictionstudy.com). Potential audiences for the film and for McCauley’s lectures range from physicians to justice officials to specialty treatment providers to the general public.
McCauley indicates he is mindful that every media presentation on addiction is serving to tip the balance toward either a more professional, sensitively delivered depiction or toward the more exploitative approach that he sees in today’s cable television shows.
He says of the latter, “They’re showing the person at the worst point in his life. That person can’t consent to anything.” McCauley casts the situation as akin to a battle for the hearts and minds of the public, and he sees “Pleasure Unwoven” and similar efforts as an advance against stigma.