How many of us, during clinical encounters with patients, focus on their families, their social communities, their sources of human contact and support?
Do we ask questions like: Who do you care about in your life? Who cares about you? When was the last time you spent time with people who are good for you—instead of those who hurt you and foster your drug taking?
These questions may lead to others, such as: Who can you call or spend time with in the next couple of days? What gives you pause in calling or making the kind of human contact needed to enable recovery? What do you imagine these people would think and feel if you did make contact? How might that encounter go—where it was not about asking for help, or money, but instead simply, and most importantly, about re-igniting their friendship, their attachment to you, and their wish for your life to go well? Their interest is one way to achieve the dignity, purpose, meaning, and life of contribution so critical to the hard work of recovery.
And so on, as the conversation may continue.
The science of medicine, with the exceptional value it attributes to symptoms, diagnoses, and evidence-based therapies, has had the unintended effect of eclipsing what we know and can do about the benefits of human interaction and attachment.
Please understand, I have been in practice for a long time. I am not naïve about the complexities of human relationships and the fears and challenges they present. Perhaps that is one reason we eschew the questions I offer above. They open essential doors, but that means we clinicians, not just our patients, have to pass through those doors as well.
Mother Theresa, not someone often quoted in medical journals, said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” I think the Beatles said the same thing. And when we see people and families who are keeping their emotional heads above the often roiling waters of everyday life, who are not compulsively imbibing on drug-laced concoctions, or pathologically gambling or playing video games and the like, we will see that they lead their lives in the light of relationships, in human parks, not alone.
Dr Sederer’s most recent book, The Addiction Solution: Treating Our Dependence on Opioids and Other Drugs (Scribner, 2018), is now available in paperback. Follow him on Twitter: @askdrlloyd.
The author reports no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
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2. Sederer LI. The medical irony of the deadly opioid epidemic. Psychiatric Times. May 15, 2019. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/substance-use-disorder/medical-irony-deadly-opioid-epidemic. Accessed May 30, 2019.