The underlying causes of an escalating crisis

Sep 23, 2018 | Trauma, Trauma: Consequences

Ted, 62, had been a regular patron of a high-end hotel bar in Vancouver, but lately complaints were piling in over his conduct. The former business mogul was a resident of the hotel and known to staff as a generous family man; he was empathetically described as “terrific when sober.” Ted loved his rye and couldn’t seem to keep his drinking under control, even though it was taking a private, and now public, toll on him. The father of four had become more belligerent in social settings and, on the day I had come to meet him at the restaurant below his condo, had already been given a warning by hotel staff about his behaviour with women guests and employees.

When discussing his struggle with alcohol, Ted told me a story that matched the dozens I’ve heard in my interviews with others about their addictions: seemingly together, then falling apart. The question buzzing through the hotel was not a new one: How could this happen to such a reputably great man?

Curiosity about addiction lives everywhere. On a separate occasion, I was discussing the root causes of the affliction with an inquiring sommelier at another establishment — namely, how the underlying causes of addiction have long been ignored by both drug war policies and much of the medical establishment.

“Sorry to interrupt,” a man reading his newspaper chimed in. “But everything you’re saying sounds like what my friend Dooley is always going on about. I think you should meet him.”

Dooley, otherwise known as Dr. Alexander Goumeniouk, by trade is a neuropharmacologist, and by profession a consulting psychiatrist at The Orchard Recovery’s addiction treatment centre on Bowen Island. He is also a clinical professor emeritus of anesthesiology, pharmacology, and therapeutics at the University of British Columbia, as well as former chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee at Aequus Pharmaceuticals.

The burgeoning consensus among nearly every professional who has taken a serious look at addiction is that it is not a moral failing or weakness of will

I reached out to Dr. Goumeniouk via email. When we met, it was shortly before he was set to deliver a speech to a room full of pharmaceutical company directors at Gotham restaurant, a hot spot for high-class steak lovers, so I arranged our meeting at a more modest lounge down the street. Knowing his industry’s reputation, I was skeptical about the nature of the dialogue to come — I was not there to talk about pharmacological solutions to addiction.

To my surprise he got right to the point, almost as though we had already discussed what we were both there to say.

“While the data says that 80 per cent of people who end up in rehab centres have some trauma, childhood or otherwise, my experience is 100 per cent…. Charlie Nemeroff, who’s the head of the University of Miami’s behavioural science and psychiatry [department], has done a lot of work on looking at the input of adverse early childhood events on outcome, and it’s clearly there,” he noted. “I have to say that I probably have taken away more psychiatric diagnoses than I’ve handed out.”

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