Balto. County hopes TV show will ease fears, anxiety about treating addiction

Story follows characters in process of getting help

October 07, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's current cable special is more reality TV than many programs that claim to be.

The documentary-style program follows a family's attempts to get help for an alcoholic father from the first visit to an addictions counselor through the first few weeks after intensive rehabilitation.

Although the actors have scripts, much of the cast has confronted drug or alcohol addiction themselves or with relatives and friends, bringing an emotional intensity to the production.

"I think part of the appeal is that so many people are struggling with this issue," said Michael M. Gimbel, head of the county's Bureau of Substance Abuse and author of the script. "They've heard of an intervention and of detox, but they don't know what that would really be like."

The one-hour show, A Road to Recovery, being aired on Comcast cable in the county through the end of this month, shows what to expect.

The show, which is part of the county's Straight Talk series on substance-abuse education, will also be broadcast in Baltimore and in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Harford and Howard counties.

"I think from a public-service standpoint, the content was appropriate for more than just Baltimore County," said Kirstie Durr, a Comcast spokeswoman. "This issue is important to everyone. ... We like to be able to share messages like this one."

Gimbel and Rita Preller, an addictions specialist, explain the process of helping an alcoholic or drug addict - how treatment can differ depending on the level of addiction, and how family and friends can be supportive during recovery.

"We sort of look back at what's happening to the family like it's Monday Night Football and we're the commentators," Gimbel said.

"The goal is to take it step by step," he said. "The first step is the hardest - going to a counselor about intervention and confronting the person about their addiction. We want to break the mystique: What can you expect when you see a counselor? What happens next?"

An intervention is re-enacted, showing the alcoholic man's parents, wife, daughter, boss and best friend confronting him. Sometimes sobbing, they tell him how his drinking has disrupted their lives.

The man's father talks about how he was once so proud of his son but that he will no longer bail him out of trouble. His wife is prepared to leave him for the sake of their daughter, who fears bringing friends home. The man's boss agrees to give him time off from work so he can complete a rehabilitation program. The alternative, the boss says, is being fired.

The man who plays the alcoholic, Bobby Babcock, was a manager in the construction business and has had to deal with addicted employees.

"I was tired of having to fire them," said Babcock, now a mortgage banker who lives in Phoenix. "I've done a number of interventions."

Babcock, 46, is not new to the screen. He played a hippie in Forrest Gump and a Secret Service agent in Contact. But in this production, Babcock has a lead role.

"I keep having people come up to me and say, `I didn't know you had a problem' and `I didn't know that's your wife,'" he said. "It's not."

His daughter in the show is his real daughter, Audrey. "We were glad to be part of this project," he said.

Broadcast times:

Baltimore County: Comcast Channel 25 at 10 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursdays.

Baltimore City: Channel 2 at 7 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.

Annapolis and Anne Arundel County: Channel 8 at 8 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, and 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Calvert County: Channel 6 at 7 p.m. Sundays.

Harford County: Channel 3 at 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Howard County: Channel 75 at 1 p.m., 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Fridays.

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