Addiction Is A Chronic Disease, It’s OK To Ask For Help

Video by Bill Sorem; Text by Michael McIntee and Bill Sorem

William Moyers delivered a practiced, familiar message to the Minneapolis League of Women Voters Civic Buzz forum on March 7: addiction is a chronic disease. It’s chronic, he said, like diabetes, hypertension, asthma, HIV or depression. There is no cure for addiction, only treatment.

“I’m a prime example of the power of addiction and the promise and possibility of recovery,” he said. “I needed multiple treatments, and yet I made it because I had access to quality care. And so I think the real message is that there is hope, it’s OK to ask for help, addiction doesn’t discriminate and neither should recovery.”

Moyers began his talk with the story of his family finding him, once more, in a crack house in Atlanta on October 12, 1994. Before this relapse, he had been abstinent for three years. Days earlier, he had kissed his four-year-old and two-year-old sons goodbye and gone out to buy more of the drugs that had held him in thrall for years.

Moyers talked about the higher power he identifies as hope. His family had sent two off-duty deputy sheriffs to bring him to an intervention. While addiction doesn’t discriminate, he said, recovery does. The other addicts in the crack house were just as deserving of hope and treatment and recovery as he was, but his family had the resources to continue digging him out of the abyss of addiction. His father, Bill Moyers, found him again that morning and helped him back to recovery.

Moyers described a childhood of privilege, with a loving, solid family, economic security, faith, and security. But, he said, his brain was wired for addiction, like the brains of one person in ten. That is one of the things that separates addicts and alcoholics from the rest of society. The other thing that makes an addict, he said, is a hole in the soul, a yearning or feeling that he was not good enough because he was not perfect.

“There is such a thing as a miracle”

In treatment in 1989 in Hazelden, then to a halfway house in St. Paul. “I wasn’t quite ready to embrace what that meant, in terms of total abstinence,” he said. In 1991, he went back again and then left against staff advice. “And now I’m the vice president of public affairs and community relations – there is such a thing as a miracle.”

He stayed dry for three years until the relapse in 1994. After that, he learned that there was more to recovery than just abstinence. “I’ve been walking that walk, one day at a time, ever since.”

“I’ve been trying to shift the debate from just the problem – which I was – to the solution. … I’m a prime example of the power of addiction, and the possibility of recovery.”

William Moyers has worked for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation for the past 21 years. One big battle during that time has been getting insurance to cover treatment for addiction.

In the question and answer period, he responded to a question about legalization of marijuana. While acknowledging that the war on drugs has failed in this country, and that it’s possible to use marijuana responsibly, he said he and Hazelden still oppose legalization of marijuana. For him, personally, he said marijuana was his gateway drug.

Nonetheless, the majority of patients at Hazelden Betty Ford has an alcohol problem in addition to any other drugs. Alcohol is a ubiquitous drug, he said, but “we believe that a drug is a drug is a drug.”

He closed with a story about his three children, now 24, 22 and 20. He and his wife are both alcoholics, who met in treatment. That means his children are 15 to 20 times more likely to be susceptible to addiction than children of non-addicted parents. He warned them about the possible consequences of experimenting with alcohol or drugs, offered them an incentive not to experiment until they were 21, but also told them it was OK to ask for help. The only thing that saved them, he said, was that they knew it was OK to ask for help, and asked when they needed it.

Related story from the Washington Post:“The Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Actwould strip away what advocates say is essential coverage for drug addiction treatment as the number of people dying from opiate overdoses is skyrocketing nationwide.“Beginning in 2020, the plan would eliminate an Affordable Care Act requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental-health and addiction services in states that expanded it, allowing them to decide whether to include those benefits in Medicaid plans.”

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