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by Beacon Staff • April 9, 2008

As the fourth season draws to a close, "Intervention" has delivered above and beyond the expectations for most reality television. Say what you want about HBO's "The Wire," but "Intervention" is the basic cable subscriber's opportunity to see complex social issues expounded on with insight and compassion.

Each episode of "Intervention" follows the lives of one or two addicts who have agreed to participate in a documentary about addiction. In claustrophobic confessionals, the subjects and their loved ones recount the addicts' journey from childhood to the present. Unbeknownst to the abuser, an intervention is being planned with the assistance of the program's resident and family counseling specialists. After the confrontation, the user is offered a stay in treatment, typically 90 days or more, and if they refuse help the family and friends usually cut off the relationships, if not the financial support.

Brad, Tressa and Brooke shared their stories in season four and provided a new perspective on some of the most trying issues in the U.S.

As American deaths in Iraq exceed 4,000, the story of Brad, a former soldier who quells his post-traumatic stress disorder with binge drinking, is particularly stirring. Unable to cope with violent flashbacks, nightmares and guilt over being safe at home while his friends continue to fight, Brad drinks to black out and often ends up behind the wheel. His closest friends have lost their lives in a war he finds senseless, so throwing away his own life makes just as much sense. Brad's lackadaisical father must now lead a dysfunctional family in confronting Brad and the emotional damage his behavior has wrought on them.

Halfway across the nation, Tressa's intervention exposed the emotional trauma of living a double life in a conservative farming community. At 32 years old, Tressa was ranked the world's best female shot-putter, but lost her chance at Olympic gold after a failed drug test. For years Tressa grappled with a crystal meth addiction. Beyond that, Tressa's religious family has never accepted her homosexuality. Interventionist Candy Finnigan is able to bring together a family that believes only religion and a strong husband can save their little girl, and help them realize that acceptance, love and professional help are the best chance of saving Tressa. Like many of the addicts on the show, neither Tressa nor her family would have the means to send her to lengthy, intensive treatment, which can cost as much as a year in college, without the help of the show.

"Intervention" does not shy away from exposing one of America's most insidious social ills: prescription drug addiction. According to the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.5 million people reported having a dependence on prescription pain relievers. People who would never consider doing illegal narcotics often have their lives torn apart due to their addictions to legal drugs. In her senior year of high school, Brooke-a popular cheerleader and gymnast-was diagnosed with Still's disease, a painful early form of rheumatoid arthritis. Treatment included a regimen of painkillers, but Brooke's dependence on these pills has led her to manipulate doctors, as well as her family, and risk overdosing time and time again.

Although undoubtedly anti-drug, the experiences of the addicts on "Intervention" support many of the criticisms of the War on Drugs.

As of September 2006, 53 percent of all federal inmates were incarcerated for drug offenses, according to the U.S Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. The possibility of imprisonment scares addicts on the program, but a fair number of them have already been arrested for a variety of crimes without much impact on their behavior. Alcohol, a legal drug, arguably does the worst damage to the addicts' lives. This is especially true for alcoholic mother subjects who were supportive and successful for many years but now find themselves totally incapable of providing for their children. Lawrence, a hopeless cancer survivor and alcoholic featured in the fourth season, was the only person to die after his intervention.

The integrity of the filming process is important to the success of "Intervention" both as a program and as a means to help. In their commitment to ethics the crew has refused to purchase alcohol for desperate subjects more than once. Producers have also stepped in during critical moments, calling EMS after an alcoholic swallowed a bottle of prescription painkillers, or preventing another intoxicated subject from getting behind the wheel. Still, the media has not always been complimentary towards these prime-time presentations of extreme addiction and, consequently, confrontation.

Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe put it as such: "Even if they later approve their participation in 'Intervention,' the process of deception that preceded the final permission is repellent. No amount of inspirational reality TV can justify that kind of trick."

What Gilbert fails to note is that all interventions, filmed or not, rely on the element of surprise. An addict living in a state of denial would never submit to being confronted with the consequences of their actions. Gilbert wrongly assumes that viewers tune into "Intervention" for the same surprise elements of shows like "Punk'd." On the contrary, the show's message boards on the AE site reveal that many viewers find comfort in watching people struggle with problems they have dealt with also. After considering the lives saved as a result of the treatment provided by the program and the quality of psychological and sociological education the show offers, whatever kind of "trick" the show's detractors imagine is justified.

"Intervention" ultimately provides an example of hope; the hope that individuals and whole families can drastically improve their lives with the proper help and understanding.

Meet The Players

The program's interventionists are the midwives of the process, helping dysfunctional and bewildered families come together to improve the addict's life. Candy Finnigan and Ken Seeley, both former addicts, bring a sensitivity and strength that makes them fan favorites. But interventionist and author Jeff Van Vonderen makes many "Intervention" devotees cringe. Here's why:

? He looks and talks like Dr. Phil.

? He uses white boards to map out the intervention process for the family, like he's John Madden.

? He uses the same canned phrases in each episode.

? His stubborn attitude threatens to ruin addict's chances of actually accepting help.