September is Recovery Awareness Month. Even though New Orleans seems to have a larger problem with substance abuse than most cities in the United States, this is a problem that’s worldwide.

Though we tend to take our worries with a grain of salt (and usually a margarita), we all know someone who has taken their relationship with a substance of choice too far.


I asked Dr. Howard Wetsman, Chief Medical Officer of Townsend, a few questions about what addiction is, how it’s misunderstood and how to take that first step.


I know that this isn’t about upcoming fundraisers or fun things to do, but learning more about the science of addiction and helping to identify if someone close to you needs treatment is a part of “Uptown Life.”


What is the goal of Townsend?

To treat addiction as the chronic biological brain illness that it is, and, eventually, to democratize addiction treatment so that no one who wants treatment goes without help.


How are you involved?

I oversee the work of the physicians and counselors in all of our five clinics in Louisiana, which are located in Metairie, New Orleans, Covington, Baton Rouge and Lafayette. I also help to develop improvements and new programs for addiction treatment. We’re constantly looking for ways to evolve and do more.


What do you believe is the hardest part of overcoming an addiction?

Believing that it is an illness. Most people do not consider addiction an illness, and so they are left with a sense of futility about their behavior. They do not understand why they do what they do – and why they can’t stop.

Society tells us we should be able to control certain behaviors, but just like some of us are tall and some short in height, some of us have inborn mechanisms of response in our reward system that make that impossible. For example, if you are 4 feet tall you will naturally have more difficulty trying to do a layup in basketball, as well as if you have addiction you will have more difficultly trying to stop “using” without naturally starting a compulsive process. With treatment and recovery, there are ways to live a happy joyous life with the disease of addiction.


What would you tell someone who wants to overcome an addiction but doesn’t know where to start?

Pick up the phone, or search addiction treatment on the Internet. Get to help. Call us if you want, but it doesn’t have to be us. We just want people to call someone.


What would you like my readers to know about addiction?

That it is a real illness, with a real biology and real treatment. Addiction treatment is not just talking. Don’t simply listen to what society says, make a point to question your beliefs and start to recognize that there is information out there about what addiction really is. One such resource is my book, QAA: Questions and Answers on Addiction, which I wrote to help people understand the disease of addiction and how it impacts today’s society.