Last night on Heavy, A&E’s weight-loss reality docu-drama, Bill, a former football star at the University of Alabama who played in the NFL for the San Diego Chargers, did something bad: He relapsed. Bill ended up on Heavy because at 6’3″, he weighed 443 pounds. How did he become so grossly overweight? His football career ended because of an injury; he started drinking too much and got mixed up with drugs; and his marriage fell apart. After all that, Bill checked himself into a residential drug and alcohol rehab facility, where he lived for several years. (And missed out on a lot of his son’s life because of it.) So Bill is a recovering addict, and I’m happy that he’s come so far. Of course, he’s still in danger of dying because he’s so fat, which is what brought him to Hilton Head Health, the spa-like fitness facility where Heavy participants go for six months to improve their lives both physically and emotionally.
Thing is, during his hardcore workout routines, Bill started experiencing serious knee pains, so much so that he couldn’t complete his required exercises. (Carrying around 443 pounds of flesh will do that to a person. And his football injuries likely didn’t help matters much.) So Hilton Head Health sent Bill to an off-site orthopedist, where the doctor gave him an anti-inflammatory topical gel for his knee. Oh, and a powerful narcotic painkiller. Bill failed to mentioned to the doc that, as a recovering drug addict, injesting any kind of narcotic is kind of considered a no-no. And Bill knew full well what was written on that little white slip.
So Bill returned to his private bungalow at Hilton Head Health and popped some pills (two in the morning, two in the evening). And guess what? His knee started to feel better! Soon, word got around the facility that Bill had gotten some meds, and one of the staffers (who was aware of Bill’s recovering addict status) confronted Bill about them. She asked Bill if he was taking painkillers. He said yes. She asked if they were a narcotic. He flat-out lied and said no. He claimed he didn’t even know what the pills were called, but that they were making him feel better. The trainer lady asked him if the pills made him feel different in any other way. Nope, Bill said.
She knew Bill was bullshitting her (and said as much to the camera), but what was the facility’s solution? Invite Bill’s overweight high-school-age son, Woody, to visit him at Hilton Head Health and help prevent Bill from having a relapse. Surely this would make Bill feel better and solve all his problems, right? Wrong.
I hate to break it to Bill and everyone at Hilton Head Health, but Bill had already relapsed — the second he swallowed that first narcotic painkiller. It doesn’t matter that he only took them for a while and threw the rest out after Woody’s helpful visit. It still counts. Bill’s an addict, and he always will be. He relapsed. That doesn’t make him evil; it just makes him human. But in terms of his recovery, he needed to go back to square one. Frustratingly, Bill never talked to a Hilton Head Health therapist about his narcotics-popping stint (not that we saw, anyway). And I think it was irresponsible of Hilton Head Health (or, more likely, the producers of Heavy) not to treat Bill’s “partial” relapse as a relapse. But today I talked to an expert who couldn’t disagree with me more:
Dr. Dale Archer is a medical doctor and board-certified general psychiatrist who is passionate about treating the patient as a whole. He treats many patients with addiction issues, but doesn’t consider himself an addiction specialist; he feels that the psychiatry field has become too fragmented and doesn’t address the whole patient in a beneficial way. When I asked Dr. Archer if he thought that Bill had actually relapsed on Heavy, here’s what he had to say:
I’ve treated drug addicts for years. And the reality is that sometimes pain is pain, and a person needs the meds. Many addiction specialists will disagree with me, but this is a modern reality. The problem occurs when the drugs affect the way you live your life. Bill will probably have a month or two when he’s really in the danger zone — at a high risk of relapse — because once you take a narcotic, you remember the high you used to get. And a recovering drug addict will experience a bigger high than a non-addict. As a medical professional, I want to take every precaution possible, but Bill’s situation happens all the time, particularly when people have major dental procedures and need pain meds. But there is a safe and cautious way to administer narcotics to a recovering addict. I would want someone else holding the bottle and dispensing the drugs one at a time, and I would want to see the patient frequently. But look, if a person has surgery or is in a terrible car accident, narcotics will be used — they just need to be used in a controlled setting. Which is why it’s so important to treat the patient as a whole, and not just treat the addiction.
Good point about being in a car accident or needing surgery: In those circumstances, I’d take the drugs no matter how many years of recovery I had under my belt. But, because Dr. Archer noted that there are plenty of addiction specialists out there who will disagree with his point of view, I thought of the people I know who are in hardcore programs like AA or NA, and would also likely (and vehemently) disagree with him. Bill may not have been specifically addicted to narcotic painkillers during his dark period, but could he have refused to take them at Hilton Head Health and just dealt with his knee pain? The guy was a professional football player who ended up losing an astounding 143 pounds in six months, so yes, I’m pretty sure he could handle anything.
What do you think? Is a relapse always a relapse? Or are there extenuating circumstances that make a relapse “not count”? Sound off in our comments section, below.
Dr. Dale Archer is a medical doctor, board-certified psychiatrist, and Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association who has helped thousands of patients for more than two decades. His focus is to give good common sense psychological advice. Specialties include chemical imbalances of the brain, relationships, and personal responsibility.
Dr. Archer was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a Tulane Scholar and Phi Beta Kappa, he received his B.A. in Philosophy with honors, and continued at Tulane where he received his M.D. from the School of Medicine. Dr. Archer attended The University of Texas for his internship in Internal Medicine and while there he found his calling and completed his Residency in Psychiatry.
In 1988, he founded The Institute for Neuropsychiatry in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a clinic which now staffs 6 psychiatrists and multiple psychologists, therapists and nurse practitioners who all treat a wide variety of mental health issues. Early in his career he worked as a prison psychiatrist and has served as an expert witness in hundreds of sanity and competency criminal court cases. He is the Medical Director for The Lake Charles Memorial Hospital Recovery Center and is the psychiatric consultant for the SW Louisiana Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) program which trains police officers in how to recognize and deal with mental illness. He also is the Corporate Medical Director for the Behavioral Health Group which owns and operates 20 Addiction treatment centers around the country. Recently he was appointed by the Governor to serve on the Louisiana Medical Advisory Board. In addition, he works as a one on one confidential life coach for high profile clients.
Dr. Archer is a media veteran with over two decades of experience.He started a weekly, mental illness news segment at the Lake Charles NBC affiliate in 1990. He has had three successful radio shows, including the very popular call-in show “Taking Charge with Dr. Dale Archer”. Nationally, he has appeared on “Dr. Oz”, “Fox And Friends” and various other FOX news shows, “CBS- The Early Show”, “Hannity”, “The Insider”, “CNN Newsroom”, HLN’s “Prime News”, “CNN.com Live”, “The Glenn Beck Show” and TruTV’s “In Session”. He is a weekly guest on both the Fox News show “The Strategy Room” and HLN’s “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell”. He will also analyze the criminal mind in a new 20 episode A&E true crime series called “Bloodwork” which premieres in the Spring of 2011.
Dr. Archer has authored several articles, as well as the book “Chemical Imbalance Depression.” In August of 2009 he launched his own TV talk show, “The Dr. Dale Archer Show”, which now airs in select south Louisiana and Texas markets on FOX and CW affiliates. He currently writes “Taking Charge”, an advice column now syndicated in various magazines and newspapers. He is currently working on a self-help book that will redefine our perceptions of what really constitutes a mental illness. Random House Publishing recently purchased his book and it is scheduled for release in late 2011.