Over the years I have met numerous professionals in the addictions field, who’ve made many presentations about their areas of study and their experiences working within the realm of their expertise. Between my own addiction and the ensuing treatment I sought, and my current experience as a clean and sober person who now works as a counsellor, I can say that there are not many presentations that I have seen that embody the medical and biological facts about addiction as informatively and interestingly as Dr. Vera Tarman’s “Biology Of Addiction”.
In my experiences as a using addict, something that always boggled my mind was thinking something was wrong with me when it came to alcohol and drugs, though I couldn’t figure out why I was so compelled to keep using them, despite the fact they were wreaking physical, mental, emotional and spiritual havoc in my life. I thought that I was a unique and damaged individual who suffered from complex medical and emotional problems that only substances could relieve, and that nobody else could have ever felt the way I did. After attending treatment a couple of times, I felt that I was given many answers to many of my questions, and I was most definitely shown a new way of living which allowed me to gain sobriety, and ultimately recovery.
Despite the changes in my life that treatment and recovery began to bring about, there was often a lingering question in my mind about the chemical and biological make up of an addict or alcoholic. I found the internet to be helpful in my quest for information, though there was so much out there it also seemed quite contradictory at times, and I would often become frustrated as to what the medical facts about addiction actually were.
In 2006, with a few years of sobriety under my belt, I visited the office of my family doctor, as I was experiencing some physical health concerns that were what I believed to be a reaction to a challenging and painful emotional time I was going through. I knew that somewhere in my medical file I had reported the information that I was a recovering alcoholic and addict, and I requested, with the help of a counsellor who treated me some years ago, that I not be given any drugs with potential for abuse of dependence to avert being triggered back into active addiction. One of my physical issues happened to be a minor skin rash on my right leg, and after my doctor heard the story of everything I was going through he informed me that he would be prescribing an antibiotic cream for my leg, and then engaged me in a conversation that to this day still blows my mind.
He asked me if I would like something for my anxiety, as he supported my belief that my physical reaction was likely a manifestation of a mental disturbance. I asked him what he was thinking of, and without missing a beat he looked my dead in the eye and said “clonazepam”. I won’t lie to you, the little addict that lives in my mind was urging me to take him up on it, but the larger, recovering addict who has also taken up residence between my ears decided against it and told the doctor that I wouldn’t be able to take any benzodiazepines. He seemed confused and asked if I was predisposed to negative reactions to the drug, at which point I informed him of my recovering addict status. He said “if you use it as directed you shouldn’t have a problem”, which spun my mind even more, because I felt he was encouraging me to take something I knew I probably couldn’t handle. This experience further confused me as to what the medical view and facts about addiction were, and I left his office with a script for cream, in addition to a very foggy mind.
When I met Dr. Tarman and learned of her relationship with Renascent, my interest was piqued as I knew Renascent was a 12-step, abstinence based treatment program. I imagined that if there was any doctor that was going to clear up some of my addiction questions, it could be her. In speaking with her in passing a few times, I was sold that she was totally bought in to complete abstinence as being the solution for alcoholics and addicts who were attempting to recover. When the opportunity arose for me to attend her `Biology Of Addiction – Why We Get Wired And How We Unplug`, I jumped at it. What I experienced that Saturday during her presentation was phenomenal.
She covered complex information about biology, psychology, pharmacology and sociology as it related to addiction, and what amazed me most was the way she made it easy to follow by breaking it down into layman`s terms. I found her ability and willingness to answer questions from the audience unprecedented. She actually let people put their hands up as she was presenting and interrupt her if they developed a burning desire to ask her about something she had just covered. I have met many doctors along my path, and I can honestly say she is the first I have seen that allowed that level of engagement with her, as well as the first that genuinely seemed interested in ensuring people totally understood what she was talking about. People were so interested and had so many questions for her that she almost didn`t have time to cover everything she wanted to, though found a way to make it work that didn’t leave anything unanswered in my mind!
The day flew by and was packed with amazing facts and Power Point slides which helped her to illustrate her case in a comprehendible way. My personal favourite slide was the elephant and man picture she used to illustrate the power of the limbic (emotional) system of the brain has over the logical mind. If you`ve seen the presentation, you know the one I am talking about! She touched on all major drugs of abuse, covered some information about food addiction and even sex addiction. She shared information that day that I quote in my professional life as a counsellor today, which was so easy for me to understand and remember that I can relay it without fearing that I may misquote her.