This is the seventh post in a series that started here.
I left Cuernavaca having learned a lot of Spanish and with a new vocation. Off and on since then, I have worked in international development. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about causes here at home. I just think that, as a mission driven person, I do better work if I’m passionate about a cause. And for many reasons, I am passionate about trying to end poverty and suffering in the developing world.
Before I left Cuernavaca, I booked six more weeks of Spanish immersion through Amerispan. This time I would go to Morelia, a beautiful colonial city that is no longer an Amerispan choice. I’m guessing this is due to Morelia’s unfortunate #1 ranking as the city most caught in the drug war that has erupted in Mexico since I was there.
And that’s my transition back to one of my favorite subjects, addiction.
The New York Times published an article a few weeks ago about an alternative treatment approach to addiction. I read it, cut it out, and was saving it to write a post about. My initial reaction to it was, “Why not? Why wouldn’t you try both traditional treatment and AA and this thing, if you could afford the time and money.” But now I’m having second thoughts.
In a nutshell, the article profiles a psychiatrist who has opened a new addiction clinic that approaches addiction as a chronic disease and treats it with drugs, in place of the Twelve Steps and AA.
At least three people have brought the article up to me in conversation, so it’s causing a stir.
When I revisited it for this post, I noticed it was in the Science section, which implies that the content is scientifically valid. Plus it’s the New York Times, right? It’s got to be true.
When I searched the NYT website for “addiction,” I found that all the other articles about addiction are either in the Opinion or the News sections. So you’ve got news about a big drug bust in upstate New York, for example, and then people ringing in with their opinions on what should be done about the drug crisis and the related problem of mass incarceration.
I scrolled to the bottom to read the comments. There must be hundreds, I thought, and I wondered how many commenters would hail this as a godsend or criticize it as irresponsible. But there was no comments, and no way to make comments. That’s strange, I think.
Among other things, Dr. Mark Willenbring states that 60 percent of addiction is attributable to a person’s genetic makeup. The NYT adds that this is “scientifically unassailable” but offers no evidence.
Dr. Willinbring, a psychiatrist, is no slacker. For five years he headed the federal agency that studies addiction. Coincidentally, he’s a Minnesotan and he opened a private clinic called Alltyr in 2012. It’s within walking distance from my house.
Alltyr treats addiction as a chronic medical condition. Its treatment plans include drugs used to treat depression, anxiety, ADHD, or chronic pain; family “training,” and cognitive behavioral therapy—which, as I’ve written, was a worked miracles for me. Alltyr also uses anti-relapse drugs, and I wondered what that meant.
I didn’t have to wait long to find out.
A friend and her husband have been struggling with his drinking. He was on a wait list for Hazelden Betty Ford, one of the world’s premier rehab centers, also within walking distance of my house. Then he read the New York Times article. Alltyr got him in the next day, and after pooh-poohing Hazelden, he cancelled his reservation there. (Despite Alltyr dismissing traditional treatment, I can’t find any evidence in the article that its method works.)
Alltyr put him on two anti-relapse drugs. I spoke with my friend the next day. “He must have still had alcohol in his system,” she said, “because he was so sick he couldn’t get out of bed—much less go to work—for two days. He said it was like all the worst anxiety he’s ever had in his life rolled into one giant ball and stuffed into his chest.”