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DR. MICHAEL MEYERS: Addicted Now to Helping Others

Thursday’s “The Journey Back: Professionals Recovering From Addiction” is the latest installment in KCET’s “Lifeguides” series. The one-hour informational special focuses on the disease of alcohol and drug addiction among the professional community--including doctors, lawyers, pilots and police--and their recovery process.

Dr. Michael Meyers hosts “Journey Back.” Dr. Meyers is medical director of the Brotman Medical Center’s Chemical Dependency Treatment Program in Culver City, and has worked exclusively in the field of chemical dependency since his own recovery from drug addiction nine years ago.

Meyers was indiscriminate about the drugs he used and even took samples that arrived at his office. “Some doctors open their mail,” he says. “I used to eat mine.”

Film buffs also will recognize Meyers as Ali MacGraw’s dumb jock brother in the 1969 film “Goodbye, Columbus.’ ” He wrote the book “Goodbye, Columbus, Hello Medicine” and was medical adviser for the film “Wired.”

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Dr. Meyers talked about his “Journey Back” with Susan King.

Are there millions of professionals who are addicted to drugs and alcohol?

The statistics are that 10% of the general population are alcoholics or addicts, but it is felt, and some of the statistics bear this out, there is a higher proportion in the medical professions. At least 10% and probably closer to 15 to 18% of physicians are addicts. It’s staggering to think that one out of six doctors has a problem.

As we like to say, this is an equal opportunity destroyer that will not respect your level of income, your level of education and age.

When did you start using drugs?

I really didn’t start to drink or use drugs at all until medical school.

Actually, “Goodbye, Columbus” came along right in that summer between graduating from college and beginning medical school.

I suddenly found myself as a first-year medical student who was scared to death whether I was going to make the grade as a doctor-in-training. I also had this fantasmagorical summer of being pampered and treated as this movie star.

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That following summer, the movie broke and it really got a lot of good play, good reviews and my character certainly stuck out. I started to get acting offers and I had to make a decision whether to go back to a second year of medical school.

At that time I was having a couple of beers each night and smoking a joint and yet having to function as a medical student. It was over that next 10-year period that my course was fairly typical--where you are able to function effectively even though you may not be at your best.

After “Goodbye, Columbus” and after I successfully completed my medical school training and internship, I did all the talk shows and commercials and played the entertainment side of things.

There was still this very insecure little boy in a man’s body who said, “Wait a minute, they are going to catch on. They are going to catch on that I am really not good enough to be a doctor and I am certainly not good enough to be an actor, and I am certainly not good enough to be somebody’s boyfriend, husband or father.”

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The chemicals made me feel I could pull it off.

What finally drove you to seek help?

I was dying and I had no other place to go. I crawled into a hospital on my belly, helpless, hopeless and too chicken to kill myself, but feeling there was no way to go on doing what I was doing.

I didn’t think I could survive without my medication and drugs. In a blackout trying to get off of all of the stuff, I almost killed myself in an auto accident.

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There was no denying to myself that I was dying, even though at that point I wouldn’t say I was an alcoholic or an addict. I would have told you I was a manic depressive, neurotic personality disorder person who didn’t deserve to live.

When did you start working with substance abusers?

It’s not recommended at all for people in recovery to go back to work or do other things too early, other than the 12-step recovery-type program. I was forced by circumstances. My benevolent partners did not believe that I should be trusted back in the practice. I was forced to declare personal bankruptcy.

So I came into work in the treatment field 8 1/2 years ago and I really have built a reputation as a real specialist and expert in the area of chemical dependency.

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As I got more years of sobriety and there was less of the stigma in the world to accept me back as a doctor, I was able to be much more open with my own recovery.

That is why I work with physicians and other professionals. I know what they are going through. You can’t figure your own addiction in your intellectual head. A high IQ can be a detriment to recovery. You can be too smart to recover, but you can’t be too dumb.

There is a high burnout rate for those of us who work in this field.

When I went into recovery in 1982 there were six doctors who were brought in it at the time who are dead from overdose or suicide.

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I get to go to meetings and give sobriety birthday cakes. I get the phone calls and letters a year or two or three later and watch people who literally thought their lives were over be in recovery.

“The Journey Back: Professionals Recovering From Addiction” airs Thursday at 10 p.m. on KCET.


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