Addicted to heroin, he had tried more than 20 traditional faith- and abstinence-based rehabilitation programs. In 2009, a brother died of an OxyContin overdose. Last summer, he attempted suicide by swallowing a fistful of Xanax. When he woke up to find he was still alive, he overdosed on heroin.
At a boot camp for troubled teenagers, he said, staffers beat him and withheld food. After he refused to climb a mountain in a team-building exercise, they strapped him to a gurney and dragged him up themselves.
The young man in the psychiatrist’s office paused, tears sliding down his cheeks.
“Sounds like a prison camp,” Dr. Willenbring said softly, leaning forward in his chair to pass a box of tissues.
He began explaining the neuroscience of alcohol and drug dependence, 60 percent of which, he said, is attributable to a person’s genetic makeup. Listening intently, the young patient seemed relieved at the idea that his previous failures in rehab might reflect more than a lack of will.
Dr. Willenbring, 66, has repeated this talk hundreds of times. But while scientifically unassailable, it is not what patients usually hear at addiction treatment centers.
Rehabilitation programs largely adhere to the 12-step principles of the 80-year-old Alcoholics Anonymous and its offshoot, Narcotics Anonymous. Addicts have a moral and spiritual defect, they are told; they must abstain from alcohol and drugs and surrender to a higher power to escape substance abuse.
Read the entire article at the New York Times.