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I've spent some time recently listening to interviews with Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuro-psychiatrist. Based on his and others research, he teaches very specific strategies that have been shown to affect the human brain in positive ways.

Like many species, we are more biased toward paying attention to the negative rather than the positive. As Dr. Hanson puts it, our thoughts about negative experiences are like Velcro, our thoughts about positive experiences are like Teflon.


I am a fan of Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest in New Mexico. He’s a little controversial in some more conservative Catholic circles, and perhaps that’s why I like him.

Last week one of his daily Lenten readings discussed the idea that creation is a continuous “water-wheel” of the Trinity emptying itself, pouring into, receiving, and emptying again. He says, “It’s no good telling people to let go if they can’t be assured they will be re-filled…I can let go because I trust I will always be filled up again. That’s the pattern of reality.”

Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Patients are prescribed narcotic painkillers for legitimate reasons and then, become addicted to them. Most of the time, the doctors who are prescribing the medicines are good physicians who mean well. They are just trying to relieve pain in order to help their patients, but the very prescription that is given to relieve pain can often turn into a lifetime of misery. Historically, no data has been available on just how often this happens, but a recent study provides some frightening answers.

The study looked at over one million patients who were given a new prescription for opiate pain medications and then followed them to see how many were still taking opiates 12 months later. They excluded any patients who had received an opiate prescription in the prior 6 months - so the one million excluded any chronic pain patients who may have already been addicted. The study also excluded any patients with cancer.

I just returned from a weekend conference about breaking habits and addictive behavior. The speaker, Mukta Kaur Khalsa, Ph.D., has worked in rehab clinics for 40 years and trained with Indian Guru, Yogi Bhajan for about 30 years. Now she does training for people who work in the field of addiction. (

The presenter talked about how by the time a child hits developmental landmarks at ages 3, 7 and 11 years, habitual reactions to stress are established. Add to that an absent, abusive or negligent parent, and the child is naturally going to be at risk to use substances to avoid the emotional maelstrom created.

Recently a mother of one of my patients expressed her concern that although her daughter was willingly going through our Medically Assisted Opioid Withdrawal process and committed to not using narcotics, she was insistent about her intention to continue using pot when she returned home. Her daughter insists it is the only thing that helps with her anxiety.

I don’t make any moral judgments about using marijuana, but I think it’s probably useful for someone who has the disease of addiction to be curious about alternative approaches to dealing with anxiety. There are so many great tools and therapists available to help people learn to coexist with their anxiety, and I struggle to simply see them surrender to a pharmaceutical “solution.”