Effective Addiction Treatment Moves from Homegrown to Mainstream

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An increased emphasis on the brain's role in addiction leads to a better understanding of how to treat alcohol dependence with medication and other new therapies. Roberta Jewell introduced a multi-faceted approach in her book, My Way Out, which now celebrates its Two Year Anniversary.

HBO's groundbreaking 14-part series "Addiction", which aired in March, provided a powerful expose about how alcohol and drug dependence affects the lives of millions of Americans. The project, done in conjunction with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, also demonstrated how advances in brain imaging have ushered in exciting new therapies in which physicians can now treat their patients much like they do those who suffer with diabetes, hypertension and other conditions.

"It's a drum we've been beating for over two years," says Roberta Jewell, who, with Dr. Linda Garcia, MD, wrote the book My Way Out, One Woman's Remarkable Journey in Overcoming Her Drinking Problem and How Her Innovative Program Can Help You or Someone You Love." Jewell now manages the website http://www.mywayout.org.

Jewell overcame her own 20-year alcohol addiction after developing a combined therapy which includes anti-craving medication, a regimen of dietary supplements, relaxation CDs, exercise and an online support group. Garcia, an internist and addiction specialist, became involved because she said Jewell's program finally offered an effective, multi-faceted approach to those who suffer with alcohol dependence.

"In the past, we as physicians have had limited tools to help these patients," she says. "They feel tremendous stigma and shame and are viewed as lacking self control. But that's not what's going on. Finally we can move beyond a pill that makes a patient sick if they drink. Or send them off reluctantly to meetings. We can provide a much higher level of care."

Jewell, who wrote her book under a pseudonym, says she never intended to go public with her private pain. But she was urged to do so after she provided the program to others who were also helped by it. The program was later endorsed by specialists within the medical community.

"The problem is incredibly prevalent," says Jewell. I was a problem drinker. There are four problem drinkers for every hard core alcoholic--that's a staggering statistic. Like many other people, I wasn't comfortable attending AA meetings, although I understand that 12-step programs are extremely helpful for some people. And I am keenly aware of how critical support is to recovery."

Jewell says her message board, in which members log on anonymously from all over the world, has had hundreds of thousands of visits since she launched it two years ago. A new service she began in March provides direct access to Jewell in which individuals can ask her questions as they get started.

"There's incredible demand for this," says Jewell. For people to get well in a place where they feel safe. For them to explore both abstinence and controlled drinking, which our program allows them to consider. And for people to look at their drinking problem as a medical problem--that something in their brain needs fixing. In many ways that's very liberating and an excellent way to begin their path to sobriety."

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Kellie Hyder
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