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Speaking young people's language

November 1, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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It took Jack Sinclair six to nine months to earn the trust of many of the young people featured in his powerful video about youth addiction and recovery. Later, 30 hours of footage would be shot, all of which would be reduced to a tightly presented 44-minute video that is winning praise from treatment centers, parents, and mainly from adolescents.

To Sinclair, the success of “12” (http://www.12recovery.com) from an educational standpoint is not difficult to explain. “This is young people talking the truth to young people,” he says. “Young people don't like authority figures. This is not a policeman talking to them, or a principal, or their doctor, or a judge.”

Indeed, one account from one of the 20 individuals featured in the video leads directly to the next, sometimes with the new person finishing the previous subject's sentence. No “talking heads” appear in between to interpret what the individuals are saying and what it means.

The video's title has multiple connotations, Sinclair explains. The profiled individuals, most from his home state of Oklahoma, all found recovery at a young age; many of these individuals typically start their experimentation with substances around age 12. In addition, 12-Step recovery has been prominent in the lives of those profiled, says Sinclair, a financial adviser who has been in recovery for more than 27 years and once started a young person's recovery group in his community.

What I found striking about the video is it doesn't attempt to define in a narrow way one “type” of young user, or one type of young person in recovery for that matter. Some of the young people say they started using substances because they had seen adults in their lives using and it seemed they were having a great time. Others had much different motivations, including the woman who recalls asking an adult to buy her the strongest alcohol in the liquor store because she wanted to make sure drinking it would change the way she felt.

Similarly, the video doesn't portray recovery in a neat package that's all optimism. One young man recalls that after being sober for six months, he threw himself the wrong kind of celebration on the anniversary. Another person in recovery says he still struggles and admits to not wanting to be sober sometimes.

And although the video ends with several examples of the long-term successes most of these subjects have had, Sinclair acknowledges that not all of the outcomes have been positive. “Three or four have relapsed,” he says. “One is in jail. One is facing a heroin distribution charge.”

The treatment community is beginning to take notice of “12,” which has been in distribution for a year. Sinclair says that about 300 videos are in circulation; he has a distribution arrangement with Hazelden and with Films for the Humanities and Sciences, although a sought-after TV deal for the video didn't pan out.

Most importantly, young people in schools and other settings are relating to the video's powerful words, Sinclair says. He recently was sent comments from students at Desert Hills High School in Gilbert, Arizona, who had watched “12” as part of a health class. One student said, “It really changed my way of thinking about drugs and alcohol. It was very personal and I really liked that.”

Gary A. Enos, Editor Addiction Professional 2009 November-December;7(6):8