Pavillon doctor uses experience in treatment of recovering addicts

Published 1:45 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2008

That is why when her own addiction came to light in early 1994, her brother finally intervened, and she entered into a program geared toward treating the unique stigmas faced by impaired professionals. Her stay lasted 4 months, about the average for recovering professionals.

She was a practicing internist and had a budding career built on more than 20 years of education.

&dquo;Professionals are just harder nuts to crack,&dquo; she said. They have huge careers at stake, licenses and very public reputations.&dquo; It is harder to get to the core.

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&dquo;The perception is that a doctor is expected to know better, to be a role model of health and strength.&dquo; &bsp;

Today, she has been in recovery for nearly 15 years and now dedicates herself to helping professionals and others find recovery at Pavillon&squo;s 140-acre campus based in Mill Spring.

She is certified in addiction medicine by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. ASAM certification identifies a physician who has demonstrated the degree of knowledge in the diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism and other drug dependencies commensurate with expertise in the field as defined by ASAM.

Last April, Holman and Pavillon&squo;s executive director, Anne Vance, started an Extended Care program, targeting professionals just like Holman.

The new program is significant for two key reasons. It provides professionals and others in this region a welcome alternative from having to travel as far away as Atlanta, Ga., or Williamsburg, Va. Secondly, the length of stay is critical. That is because the best friend a patient in recovery can have is time.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the threshold of significant improvement is reached about three months in treatment. Ninety-day programs are the gold standard, Holman explained.

And since one of the largest groups entering 90-day programs are licensed professionals, such as doctors, dentists, lawyers, pilots, pharmacists and nurses, Pavillon&squo;s new program meets a growing need.

Often times, in order to retain or regain their license, professionals must satisfy stringent treatment guidelines and submit to rigorous post-treatment sobriety-monitoring procedures.

Additionally, programs geared for such professionals explore critically important issues including relapse, codependency and relationships.

The Extended Care program is like graduate school‐clients go through an intense relapse prevention program to prepare for &dquo;re-entry&dquo; into their professional and personal lives.

The program also has a very strong emphasis on family involvement because without that component, people often relapse when they return home. They fall right back into family dysfunction.&bsp; Having a regional program at Pavillon allows families from the Carolinas to participate in the recovery of their loved one.

Of the importance of the program, Holman observed, &dquo;It&squo;s meaningful that we have this resource available now because professionals really can have a harder time asking for help since they&squo;re taught to be so self-sufficient.&dquo;

If the treatment location is reasonably near by, it can feel less daunting rather than having to be so far away from your surroundings, she explained.

Pavillon&squo;s program is here to try to convince these very bright individuals that they are not bad, immoral, stupid, or weak.

&dquo;It&squo;s simply not about willpower,&dquo; she said. &dquo;Addiction is a very bad disease that needs aggressive treatment.&dquo;

Addiction is an inherited deficiency of certain messenger chemicals in the brain, primarily dopamine.&bsp; Parkinson&squo;s disease is also a deficiency of dopamine, but in a different area of the brain.

Alcohol and other drugs of abuse &dquo;replace&dquo; these missing messenger chemicals. And since 85-90 percent of Americans try alcohol or drugs at any one time, that person with a pre-disposed brain chemical deficiency is very likely to find a substance that &squo;replaces&squo; what they are missing.

This sets off a powerful &dquo;need&dquo; generated by the primitive brain. The primitive brain is essentially the non-thinking part of the brain, so smart people are not exempt from this disease.

&dquo;The majority of addicts and alcoholics are like you and me,&dquo; Holman said. &dquo;They are not on skid row.&dquo;&bsp; But without help, their life can spiral out of control.

Smart or educated individuals often have a harder time getting sober because they try to &dquo;out-think&dquo; their primitive brain and this simply cannot be done while in active addiction, Holman said.

During group and private family sessions, Pavillon&squo;s clinical and counseling staff discuss the origins of the disease.

&dquo;We emphasize that the patient did not start it and can&squo;t control it,&dquo; Holman says. &dquo;We help them understand that the disease is part of their make-up. You were born with blue eyes, and you will die with blue eyes. But with help you can learn new ways of behavior.&dquo;