Recovery is possible for everyone and help is always here

The Q&A below is transcribed from a phone interview with Dr. Alan Gordon, medical chief for Alcohol and Drug Addictions at Butler Hospital, for Honest Conversations.

How does addiction work?

People get addicted to substances physically, psychologically and emotionally in many different ways. We have to understand that treating addiction is not one-size-fits-all. It’s a chronic relapsing illness. What I tell my patients is: so are many other medical conditions like diabetes, ulcers, and high blood pressure. The good news is we can successfully treat addictions just like we can treat diabetes, and people go on to live healthy, fulfilling lives.

Why is Butler’s Partial Hospital Program called “dual diagnosis?”

We are a dual diagnosis program, which really means we don’t just treat addiction. The reference to dual diagnosis really means that there are two or more diagnoses at any given time, a problem with substance abuse in addition to an emotional disorder like depression or anxiety. We’re in the business of treating the whole person and usually there is more than one diagnosis. These folks are truly suffering and our success rates are so much higher than the national averages. I attribute much of that to the fact that we’re treating the whole person. If you are so depressed or sleep deprived, or so anxious or physically uncomfortable that you cannot really partake in classroom style learning or 12-step classes, you don’t have a chance. You really have to help people feel centered and focused and not distracted by all of the disequilibrium of the brain.

What gives you hope?

The way we treat patients now, compared to when I started, is radically upgraded and improved. We treat the whole person, not just the addiction as a single matter, and we are now getting much better results. There’s every reason to believe in my lifetime, before I retire, that we will talk about some of the things we’re doing now, incredulously, and say, “My God, things have improved so much in the last five to 10 years!” We’re getting so much more sophisticated with new things like understanding genetics and biologic markers and, hopefully, moving toward being able to better predict what treatment will work best for each individual’s unique situation-moving towards personalized medicine. We are finally at the point where behavioral health and addiction is being recognized as a higher priority and, with that, hopefully there will be more research funds and more emphasis on it.

If you could educate the public about the people you treat, what would you say?

The people we’re treating are not coming to us from parties and fun times. They are people who are feeling miserable and broken. They just don’t know what to do, so they keep doing the same thing over and over again. These are just regular folks who are trying to feel good, and then suddenly find that they are trapped. One type of case of those struggling with prescription narcotics were originally prescribed the medication and became dependent. When the prescriptions are no longer available, they often have no choice but to get cheaper narcotics like heroin. The way I see it, they’re spending their life trying to feel normal. They’re just trying to feel normal because their body has changed in a way that they can’t feel normal without it.

What do you love about your work?

There is nothing better than helping people who are feeling desperate find the motivation to change; and helping them find their metaphoric walking or running legs again.

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Butler Hospital is Rhode Island’s psychiatric hospital focused on treatments, teaching and research for behavioral health. Learn about our inpatient, outpatient and partial hospital programs.

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Butler Hospital

Dr. Alan Gordon

Medical Chief for Alcohol and Drug Addictions at Butler Hospital


Known equally for his clinical expertise as his commitment and compassion for patients battling addiction, Dr. Alan Gordon has been guiding people through recovery for more than 25 years at Butler Hospital. An expert in the treatment of both alcohol and drug addiction, he shares his knowledge with patients navigating the challenging waters of detoxification. A tireless advocate for access to safe treatment for detoxification, Dr. Gordon has shaped the variety of programs at Butler Hospital, and has shared his expertise with clinical providers as well as policy makers.

Do you need help now? The Care New England Behavioral Health Services Call Center is available 24/7 at 1 (844) 401-0111 or view our services online.