Doctor’s & Nurses Don’t Understand Addiction

The longer I work in healthcare, the more I realize that we’ll never get a hold of the global opiate scourge until the people who work in medicine can get a grip on what’s happening. Addicts and alcoholics will continue to pour through the hospital doors, and most of them are there, not because they always want help, but because they’re tired of all the running around.

  • People often say they’re suicidal because they know they won’t be turned away. As soon as they know they’re admitted, the suicidal thoughts “poof” are gone. (Pt’s who are truly suicidal of course need the hospital. We can tell the difference, believe me. The staff knows who’s legit and who’s not.)

  • The help a person may want may be more along the lines of a place to dry out, hide from the police, or have a rest after the last bender.

  • Just like the pharmaceutical companies want to sell pills, the hospitals like customers. They really don’t care if the person is private pay or Medicaid. As long as they can justify the admission, they’ll take money.

It’s a harsh truth, but I think that explains why so many people go to the hospital knowing they won’t find the help they need, but many addicts and alcoholics are fine with that. Having a doctor diagnose anything other than addiction gives them a green light to keep using, and it keeps patients rolling through the doors.

I talk a lot about this in my book, Raising the Bottom: Making Mindful Choices in a Drinking Culture. One former ER doctor who chimed in for the book and who is a recovering alcoholic had this to say, “In twenty-six years of working in medicine I’ve never met anyone who knew anything about addiction.” Another doctor told me that he used to be chief of staff at a large hospital and ended up in his own ER with a fentanyl patch in his mouth. What does this say about our healthcare?

Enabling or Ignorance?

Yes, it’s a problem everywhere but nobody in healthcare wants to acknowledge or talk about this aspect of the problem.  I’m a RN, and a recovering alcoholic (28 years sober). The truth is, healthcare and our current system enables addicts. There is much we can do to combat the drug scourge, but nothing will change until healthcare workers, including doctors, admit that they don’t know what they’re doing. Most all of the people working in health care would benefit from more education about the disease of addiction.The only treatment I’ve ever seen go on in the hospitals is for doctors to throw pills at the problem. An awful lot of Abilify, Seroquel, Neurontin, Effexor, Prozac, and Lexapro are prescribed. Many people cycle through the system over and over, and from what I’ve seen over the last twenty-three years, few, if any get well.

The sort of education that would be helpful is for the doctors and ancillary staff to talk with addicts. They need to learn about the million lies that addicts/alcoholics will tell them. They need to understand that a chemical dependency counselor with a master’s degree and no life experience is not the best person to counsel an addict. The addict will immediately know that the person is nothing more than a talking head and the addict or alcoholic will do one of two things:

1.) They will lie.  2.) They will not open up and/or they will nod and agree just to get the hell out of the room.

Medical people don’t want to hear this, but most addicts and alcoholics could care less about the initials you have behind your name. What they want to know is can you relate to me? Do you have any idea the sort of monkey that lives on your back when you’re in addiction? If you don’t, step aside and let me talk to someone who does.

We need the right people in the right places to say the right thing. Nothing will change as long as we keep doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Didn’t Einstein define that as insanity?