UVA Doctor in HBO Special

By: Whitney Holmes Email
By: Whitney Holmes Email

March 14, 2007

"I'd wake up some mornings and think, 'Man, today is gonna suck,' so I'd put a little vodka in my coffee. Or I would have some pills left over from the weekend, so I would pop a few of those."

That is the confession of one addict in HBO's documentary, "Addiction" that will air Thursday night at 9 p.m. The documentary features UVA's Dr. Bankole Johnson for his work to treat addiction.

The program aims to dispel the social perception that addiction is caused by moral weakness, by shedding light on scientific advances, such as Dr. Johnson's, that show that addiction is in fact a brain disease.

"Previous documentaries have always documented how difficult it is to get off addictive drugs," said Dr. Johnson. "One of the problems with those programs is that it produces a message of despair. One that, if you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, there is no hope for you."

The documentary highlights Dr. Johnson development of a drug that targets the part of the brain that controls craving, making it easier to get off alcohol or drugs.

The reason why his drug, topiramate, works is because of the new understanding that addiction is a disease that can be treated like any other.

"Alcohol and drug addiction are brain diseases. Once the person becomes addicted, the brain is altered," explained Dr. Johnson.

The HBO program follows two addicts and their journey to recovery by taking the topiramate.

One addict is young.

"I've been trying to get off opiates for over four years," shared the teenage-looking boy donning a Michigan State t-shirt.

The other is older.

"Days would go by, and I know what I would be doing. I'd be sitting here drinking in the middle of the day," confessed a man, looking to be about in his sixties.

In the end, both are on their way to kicking the habit and beating the disease with some help.

"I think that medication made it easier for me," said the older man.

If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, call the UVA Center for Addiction Research and Education at 888-882-2345.

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