This is a continuation on a series of blog posts about Addiction. You can read the other posts by clicking Addiction is a Disease and Myth: Addiction is a Choice.

Most Doctors Do Not Address Addiction

Half-way through non-sobriety, I scheduled a routine doctor’s appointment for my Addict which I attended. I wanted to get insight from a medical doctor about several health issues. One of the issues was my Addict’s glaring alcohol abuse. I wanted to have an intelligent, rational conversation about the most important health issue my Addict had. I was completely underwhelmed with the doctor’s response. Because she had to say something, she asked, “Why do you drink so much?” He responded, “Stress. Boredom.” And that was the end of the discussion. There was follow-up on other health issues involving medication, but none about alcohol. I found the realization that many doctors do not address addiction highly disturbing.

Most Doctors Do Not Address Addiction

I can only surmise that the doctor didn’t think addiction was a health issue, or had no training to address it. Probably both. This realization made more sense when I read David Sheff’s Clean. Mr. Sheff opines, “Physicians aren’t interested in treating something they consider self-induced. [You have to] look for doctors with a fellowship in addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry, board certification in addiction medicine by the American Board of Addiction Medicine. ASAM-certified doctors.”

When my internal medicine doctor couldn’t treat my sinus infections with any success, he referred me to an ENT specialist. Breathing through my nose was important, but not life-threatening. I know from first-hand experience that addiction is a deadly disease. Yet when a patient bluntly said he drank too much, the doctor didn’t address the issue in any meaningful way at all. Why do doctors ask patients to fill out forms advising how much alcohol they consume if they aren’t going to discuss it with the patient? I’m not suggesting the continuing addiction was the doctor’s fault, but she didn’t treat it like a medical issue at all. She didn’t ask any questions about amount or frequency to know if the drinking was heavy or excessive. She didn’t inquire about alcohol consumption in any future appointments. Maybe she thought my Addict would outgrow it like he was going through a bad phase. How can untrained family members be expected to know how to treat their Addict or get the Addict help when the medical community doesn’t have a handle on it or consensus about treatment? “Medical detox is based on the fact that getting sober isn’t about character but about chemistry,” David Sheff points out.

Addiction Continues To Be a Medical Issue Long Past Detox

We would never discontinue medical oversight for a diabetic after stabilizing their blood sugar. The disease persists after the acute “saving life” phase. There are a lot of fine facilities out there that treat addiction. Still, many addiction rehabs treat addicts like fuck-ups to be fixed, to be shamed out of their rebellious, selfish immaturity. Their programs focus on powerlessness and weakness instead of playing to the individual and collective strengths. David Sheff astutely summarizes how I have come to understand addiction as disease when he said, “I’ve never heard of any disease that responds to censure, blame, or denial of treatment.” He goes on to say, “Addiction is the only disease whose patients are refused treatment for showing their symptoms. This disease has unusually complex physiological, psychological, social, environmental, and behavioral components and there are as many permutations of the disease as there are addicts.”