May 8th, 2009
12:50 PM ET

Revisiting addiction

By Caleb Hellerman
CNN Medical Senior Producer

It’s only been three weeks but it feels like a lifetime since we aired our documentary, Addiction/Life on the Edge. That’s how it goes in the news business, especially when a global swine flu outbreak grabs the headlines.

But I can’t ignore the fascinating calls and emails we got in response to “Addiction” – including doctors who watched with colleagues, and a man who said he watched in the rec room of a rehab program, with 90 percent of the other residents.

I found it especially heartbreaking to read notes from people whose children are struggling with drugs or alcohol. Linda Frisciaro wrote about her 25-year-son, who beat an addiction to crack (“I thought we conquered the world when he stopped, and there was no better feeling than that…”) but soon was battling an addiction to alcohol and prescription painkillers. (“He called me about a year ago, crying and weeping, saying ‘Mom, please help me.’ It took him about 45 minutes to get out those couple words….”)

My heart goes out to Frisciaro and anyone in her position; I can only hope their stories have happy endings and the addicts come to realize how fortunate they are to have someone who didn’t quit on them.

A number of people wrote to emphasize the link between addiction and disorders like depression and bipolar illness. We mentioned this briefly in the documentary, but it might have been worth making a stronger point.

I also got an earful from people who read my article about medications that might be used to treat addiction. A sample:

Joan: “I agree that the disease is complicated, and a pill won't solve every problem. There are many reasons and life situations for a person to drink, but if this can help, why not make it available?”

Fred: “I give this guy about a year of working in this bar and he'll be blackout drunk once again. Trust me. I know. Naltrexone is not the silver bullet.”

I’d like to re-emphasize: no one particular treatment will work for everyone. And the research on medication is clear: it works best when used in combination with therapy, not when you just take a pill and plop down in front of the TV.

One of the most interesting emails came from Dr. Howard Wetsman, a psychiatrist in New Orleans, who wrote, “I can’t agree with your theory about the medications profiled not fitting in with current treatment. In fact I know of many residential settings that use both naltrexone and topiramate in the context of stopping drug or alcohol use.” Some colleagues fear that use of medication ignores an addict’s underlying suffering, but it’s not a business consideration, says Wetsman. “Far from having a profit motive to be against medication, they would actually bring more people into their programs if they offered medication as part of the treatment. These are caring professionals that want to provide good treatment. While I disagree with their stance, I can’t find fault with their motives.”

You can read all the posted comments here and here.

We’d like to report more stories about addiction and possible treatments. What would you like to hear more about?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. vickie

    I'd like to hear more about how parents of adult addicts can best help the adult child and themselves.

    May 8, 2009 at 17:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Leslie

    I have a son with a heroin addiction problem for the last 5 years, on and off. He's 22 now and in the Fulton County jail. He was in a 28 day rehab program last Dec.-Jan. and we thought was clean but was arrested April 24 with heroin (less than 1 gram) possession. He was in the Tag program in school, was in the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, and was a student at Ga. State and holding down a job, part of the time while using. Since he's been in jail I've read about brain plasticity and the work of Dr. Bach-y-Rita and also the about the way that oxytocin can generate a massive and sudden brain change in the book "The Brain That Changes Itself" and I wonder if any one has tried using some of these tools to help addicts unlearn addiction. I am hoping to learn all I can to get my son some help that works before it's too late. I know there are tens of thousands with similar problems, like Nick Sheff, and this is such a catastrophic waste and such a medical emergency. Any help would be greatly appreciated-

    May 10, 2009 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. madison

    I would like to know more about the long term effects of alcohol in those who begin drinking alcohol heavily during their teenage years. I would also be very interested in knowing more about the correlation between alcholism and social anxiety.

    May 10, 2009 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Dan Callahan, LMSW

    Awareness is the beginning of Recovery. Public awareness is the beginning of societal change. We have shifted our thinking as a Nation towards "recovery" from strictly "treatment" through the 1900's. We have come a long way and Public Awareness via well thought out and produced shows like yours adds to the momentum. Please keep striving to reach as many of the affected, effected and our decision makers!

    Thank you,

    Dan Callahan, LMSW

    May 10, 2009 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Johanna Gulka

    Because of this show today is my first day on the medicine. I do not have any health insurance or access to professional healthcare providers. I will do it on my own with books and blogs. You are one of my contacts. Iwill let you know how I'm doing with no rehab center help.

    May 10, 2009 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Dave

    I believe the addiction issue needs to be addressed by how functional a person is in society. Millions of people drink everyday and smoke marijuana everday, take prescription medication, including opiates and amphetamines, everyday and are functional, useful, tax paying members of society and don't negatively impact their families, their jobs or their health. Utilizing medication to impact a biochemical brain issue makes sense. It's not a will power issue, it's not a moral issue. Telling a person who is actually addicted to any substance to simply stop using is like telling a schizophrenic to simply ignore the voices they hear or a diabetic to simply ignore their low blood sugar as they slip into a coma. Medication to help people overcome addiction is a big step forward for all of us.

    May 11, 2009 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Cindy

    I would like to hear more about relapse in people who have been clean and sober for 15-30 years clean. I have been sober for 29 years but at 17 years sober I had a surgery and got addicted to pain meds.I almost died as I was taking 25 vicodan a day. It took 2 years to get clean again. What saved me was I didn't drink also.

    May 13, 2009 at 05:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Cindy

    I would also like to hear about children who grew up with alcoholics. Did the violence and lack of security, never knowing what to expect, change or irreparably damage the brain and change the personality? Childhood is such an important time and the brain is growing immeasurably every day. What effects on the brain happen as a result of growing up in this insanity? As I grew up in an alcoholic family and became an alcoholic/addict I have had alot of therapy and been in A.A. for 29 years, which I know in my heart saved me. But my sisters didn't get clean, all 3 still use. So what happened to my brain as a child?? Does that predispose children to become depressed? Are their chemical changes in the brain that predispose children to be addicts?

    May 13, 2009 at 06:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Lynn

    I looked so forward to watching your Adddiction-Life on the Edge. My son has been an addict for about 15 years so a lot of the show was so familiar to me. i contacted Hazelden by e-mail to ask for some help or advice. i'm very disappointed that i have not received anything back from them. One of the biggest problems with addiction is the money that is required for treatment. Most of us that are dealing with addicts have no money left because of the addiction. I just wish there were more options for people that are looking for help.

    May 13, 2009 at 12:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Karen

    Every time we discuss addiction in a media forum – it helps reduce the stigma around alcohol and drug addiction. As someone who works for an addiction treatment center – I'd like to add that it's not enough for an addict to find support – the family needs support and recovery as well. You can learn more at http://www.caron.org.

    May 14, 2009 at 15:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mercedes

    Addiction Life on the Edge was an amazing documentary and very informative; I have two sons both of whom are Heroin addicts; one injects, the other one smokes; the one who injects (over 7 years addicted) has gone through detox more than 8 times (at home and supervised in detox centres) and has completed 4 separate in house rehab treatment centres for periods of 3 months each, in Toronto, Quebec, and Northern Ontario, in the past four years; he has never kept or maintained schooling or regular employment, and relapses after each; the one who "chases the dragon" as they call it, has not been in any treatment facility nor had any therapy; he has been working in a very good job for over 6 years, has his own home, etc.; they are the ages of 27, and 28; I have been in therapy since coming out of denial over my first son's addiction, for over 4 years to deal with the issue; I was not aware of my second son's usage (the smoker) as the patterns and lifestyle, as well as his physical appearance is so different; as i am now aware of his usage, we are speaking about detoxing/withdrawal; and my question is whether the detox procedure will be any different than the one when one injects, and whether it will be as intense and painful; it also "blows my mind" at the difference between the two because of the method of usage. I would like to have more information on the Naxeltrone treatment, however, this is not available to my knowledge, in Canada.

    May 15, 2009 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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