Compassionate but sometimes tedious look at the grim realities of addiction and recovery.
“Eleven million Americans take opiates for nonmedical, recreational reasons,” writes Stein (Medicine/Brown Univ. School of Medicine; The Lonely Patient: How We Experience Illness, 2007, etc.). In 2008, Vicodin, a chemical cousin to opiates, was the single most prescribed drug in the United States. It’s no wonder that addicts abound, and drug-recovery programs like the one run by the author always have plenty of patients. “Lucy,” a waif-like 29-year-old child of privilege who had been addicted to Vicodin for years, wasn’t all that different from the hundreds of others who came into the author’s office over the years seeking solace, treatment or just more drugs. In many ways her story exemplified the journey through addiction toward recovery—with backslides into addiction—and it here inspires Stein to a meditation on what it means to be in the grip of a desire so powerful that it can make you abandon all others. “Let me describe the ways I’ve ruined my life,” Lucy said at one point during treatment, a remark that any number of the author’s patients could have made. Recounting his interactions with Lucy, Stein takes the opportunity to correct misconceptions about addicts and addiction: You can’t become addicted overnight, he writes, and addicts aren’t moral weaklings with no self-control; it’s as real a disease as depression. His book also illustrates that the emotional bond between patient and doctor is not one-sided. Recounting Lucy’s tumble back into drug use, his dismay and resignation are poignant and palpable; a passage toward the end showing her at uneasy peace with herself rings with endearing contentment. Stein’s prose is strongest at its most medical, however; detours into description or philosophy are often perfunctory and dull.
A heartfelt attempt to explain an often misunderstood disease.