My Doctor Was an Addict
I’d like to share with you all a story. It’s not pretty and it doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s the story of the medical director at the first residential treatment center I went to.
See, the medical director was an addict. He was, and is, a talented doctor, but he struggles with the same disease I do – the insidious disease of alcoholism and addiction.
Find his story, and some of my thoughts on substance abuse in the addiction medicine field, below.
From Distinguished to Disgraced
While I don’t know my former doctor’s entire career, I have been able to piece together some basic facts. He was wildly successful. He’d practiced medicine in the addiction field since the mid 80’s. In the early 90’s, he founded a prominent Florida treatment center.
So began his climb up the ladder of success. The treatment center took off right away, offering a diverse and holistic range of services to those struggling with addiction. My former doctor was, in large part, to thank for this success. He brought to the table an innovative and unique approach.
I ended up in rehab at this facility in 2007. By that time, my former doctor had been practicing addiction medicine for almost thirty years. To say he was an expert is a vast understatement.
However, his days at the treatment center were numbered. I stayed there for almost five months. After graduating, I continued to see him one-on-one for my psychiatric needs. His knowledge allowed him to suggest a range of helpful meds for my dual-diagnosis issues.
He was fired from the treatment center, and was asked to resign from the board of directors, about a year and a half after I graduated. This was mid 2008. By this time, I’d switched doctors. It seems that, somewhere along the line, he’d also switched. He’d switched from treating addiction to battling it personally.
I remember seeing him at a Blockbuster in late 2007. It was early evening and I was there with my halfway house roommates. He was disheveled and falling down drunk. When I walked over to talk to him, it took him several moments to recognize who I was.
I don’t know what he’s up to today. I believe he still maintains a private practice. In many ways, I’m sure he’s still successful. What I don’t know is if he’s sober. I don’t know the state of his soul. I don’t know whether, when he wakes in the morning, he can stand to look at himself in the mirror.
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Addiction in Addiction Medicine
My former doctor’s story is an interesting one. I’m not so sure it’s a unique one, though. I’ve heard of, seen, and experienced firsthand how often doctors fall into active addiction.
Think about it – peoples’ lives are literally in a doctor’s hands. That has to be incredibly stressful. Couple that with the fact that doctors have access to a whole range of prescription medicine, including opioids, benzo’s, amphetamines, and even barbiturates.
It seems almost natural that doctors may self medicate. It also seems natural that, for some, they may fall into addiction. After all, addiction is cunning, baffling, and powerful. It doesn’t discriminate based on education, professional success, financial success, medical knowledge, or intellect. It just destroys.
It’s hard to find accurate information on the prevalence of addiction in the field of addiction medicine. I’m willing to bet the numbers are surprisingly high, though. If being a doctor is stressful, imagine how stressful it must be to specialize in helping those struggling with addiction. Imagine how stressful it must be to be almost powerless to help those who so desperately need your help.
Let me clarify that last sentence. I don’t think doctors are powerless to help addicts and alcoholics. Rather, I think that long-term recovery must come from within. It must come from a spiritual source. Doctors and medicine can only take addicts and alcoholics so far.
So, image the pressure and heartache that doctors working in the treatment industry must feel on a daily basis. It makes sense that some may turn to chemicals in an attempt to feel better.
Helping Addicted Doctors
The question then becomes how treatment centers and the recovery community can best help doctors struggling with addiction. How can we help those who are supposed to help us?
Well, there are a ton of programs in place to help doctors and nurses. These are things like diversion programs and treatment centers that cater specifically to healthcare professionals. There are also twelve-step meetings that are designed for doctors.
The next step in helping doctors, nurses, or other healthcare workers struggling with addiction is as simple as helping anyone else. We, as men and women in recovery, offer them our hand. We offer them our experience, strength, and hope. We treat them as we’d treat any other individual looking for a way out of active addiction.
Aside from that, I’m not sure what else there is to do. Continuing to break the stigma surrounding substance abuse and recovery is certainly another good step. Making sure the hand of recovery is always available to anyone who needs it is the key, though. With this sort of unselfish, constructive action, well, anyone can get better, doctor or otherwise.