One of the most interesting people I had the opportunity to hear at the recent Addictions Symposium is Dr. Judith Landau. She spoke on the theme of Global Views of Addiction and detailed some fascinating and compelling research on addiction in other parts of the world.
We are, of course, very Western focused and very Euro-centric in our ideas about addiction, so hearing Landau was eye opening, and a reminder how universal addiction really is.
Landau is a family and community psychiatrist. She is the former Director of the Division of Family Programs at the University of Rochester Medical Center; and she is currently President of Linking Human Systems, LLC, Inc., in Boulder, Colorado. She serves as Senior Advisor to New York University’s Catastrophe Center and The International Trauma Studies Program.
Landau works with refugees and trauma survivors in many countries, during and after natural and man-made disasters, and she consults with governments on refugee resettlement, the development of survivor programs.
Here is one of the many things Dr. Landau shared with the conference that made me sit back and think hard:
“The overwhelming, multi-generation consequence of major trauma in a society (for example: after war, major disease outbreak, tsunami, earthquake, flood, or terrorist experience) is addiction. A major increase in addiction appears within one to 36 months with addiction rates increasing several hundred fold.”
When I heard that statement it made perfect sense but before that it had not occurred to me that a society or country devastated by a flood, bombing, earthquake etc. would be quickly and additionally devastated by addiction. But Landau’s on-the-ground research shows this is the case in all parts of the world.
The other thing she said that was surprising but again made sense was, “The addictions can be a survival mechanism—a tool for survival and ultimately healing.”
Again—killing the pain of trauma does save lives—at first—and can be healing if; ultimately it leads to treatment and recovery.
Think about this: in a country devastated by war or terror which is already impoverished, the high rates of addiction advance the overall damage but –with outside help and local supports—can be a route to recovery.
One of her compelling examples was about the high rate of addiction among Bosnian women—who experienced war terror and high rates of rape and who are now, years later, dying of alcoholism at extremely high rates. But who are also—with Landau’s help—creating recovery groups and meetings and supports for addiction, and saving women’s lives.
That should be an inspiration to us who have benefit of treatment services, therapeutic communities and regular AA meetings. Landau talked about creating detox without meds, teaching local people how to do acupuncture detox, and how to start AA and NA meetings.