So many of my patients come to me with my business card in hand. The card is very worn and old, frayed at the corners and dirty. I ask them how long they have had it and they will often respond: “Ive had your card for 6 months, just never had the courage to call you and get in”. When I ask why they usually tell me that they have been to many other doctors and have been treated very poorly simply for having addictions. They are treated with suspicion and often kicked out of the practice as soon as the doctor becomes aware of their addiction.
As a medical community we have often “created” these addictions in patients by over prescribing pain killers and tranquilizers and then we treat them like lepers when they become addicted to the very medications they were prescribed. So many patients will tell me that their addictions really started as a simple problem like an ankle sprain and when they were prescribed long durations of pain killers realized that these medications also helped them with their anxiety and life stressors. They initially thought taking a few here and there just for very stressful times wouldnt hurt but then when they became tolerant and dependent they then realized that they had become addicted and couldnt stop. What follows is usually a feeling of shame and guilt that they got themselves into this predicament in the first place and then avoid seeking medical care because of the shame.
Why do we treat patients with addictions so poorly? Do we chastise, shame and berate patients who become obese from eating too many cheeseburgers because of their stress? Do we chastise, shame and berate patients that become diabetics simply because they stress eat their way into diabetes from too many oreos? Do we berate diabetics when they relapse with ice cream once in a while? Do we kick out a patient who comes to us and admits to eating 3 cheeseburgers / week while on cholesterol medications??
Are we really so ignorant and naive to believe that patients with diseases of the brain (only the most important organ in the body) are somehow not deserving of respectful care while patients with diseases of the pancreas and liver deserve better care?? Why is there absolutely no training in medical schools about the disease of the brain called addiction? I became fully board certified in a specialty by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) thru 10 years of SELF-training, patient experiences and self directed learning. ASAM is truly the only entity that understands addiction. Addiction medicine became fully recognized as its own specialty just this year, 2017 !!! How is it that we fully recognize all diseases of the body except the really serious ones that affect the “hard drive” of the body??? We’ve come a very long way in recognizing addiction as a true disease.