An Internist’s Life Calling to Addiction Work

Q&A with Dr. Anderson Spickard, Jr.

Dr. Anderson Spickard, Jr., emeritus professor of medicine and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and recognized expert in substance abuse, brings over 45 years of experience in internal medicine. His first book, Dying for a Drink: What You and Your Family Should Know About Alcoholism, is a classic resource on the connection between addiction and spirituality. His new book, The Craving Brain: Science, Spirituality and the Road to Recovery, shares stories of his extensive experience in treating patients with addictions while exploring the perspective of James B., a recovering addict.

What led you, as an internist, to focus much of your life’s work on addiction?

A good friend, colleague and patient took his own life during a bout of excessive drinking while trying to recover from his depression from addiction to alcohol. I realized that I had little knowledge of addiction treatment, and the medical school wasn’t addressing the issue. I wanted to change that deficiency. There is no doubt that I was called into this specialty as a vocation. Each day that passes confirms that God called me into this focus of my medical profession.

How can doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals best serve those who suffer from substance abuse?

First, they should become trained in the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) process so they are skilled in recognizing those in their practice who have addiction. Second, they should be trained in prescribing properly for pain. Third, it is key to limit all prescriptions for pain. Finally, they should be aware of patients seeking medication to sell.

Nationwide, we’re in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Many medical professionals and clergy are at the front lines of this crisis. How can these professionals use their respective training to prevent the spread of this crisis?

Pastors can preach about this issue and have senior addiction specialists speak on the issue in Sunday school and church services. They can read resources like The Craving Brain and lead discussion groups about the principles of addiction and drug prevention. Physicians and nurses can teach about the brain’s reward system, helping congregations or clinic personnel understand why the addicted person can’t stop using.

What’s one thing congregations can do to support addicts and their families?

Urge all family members to go to an Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting or go with them. The family members who attend and work through the 12 steps also can have amazing peace and understanding of their loved one’s illness. The Serenity Prayer prayed by all the addicts and their families is a spiritually healing prayer. These support groups are the best therapy for families.

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