We are in the midst of extraordinarily challenging, complicated and concerning times like we have never seen before in the substance use disorder profession. And I think we spend an extraordinary amount of time on the problems—pointing blame, feeling defeated and coming from a place of fear rather than abundance. I believe we are better served attempting to spend more time in the solution. We have to acknowledge the fact that some local communities do not support drug and alcohol recovery programs. People take young sciences with a grain of salt, for good reason. If you’ve ever heard of hysteria, you might understand why. Early medical professionals would give women a blanket diagnosis of hysteria for everything from high libido to hallucinations to emotional instability.
Women acting out emotionally? Hysteria.
Strange body distortions? Hysteria.
Crying in pain each month? Probably hysteria.
Before modern medicine, many honestly believed that this wide-ranging set of symptoms was due to a woman’s uterus traveling throughout their body. Needless to say, this was bogus. Slowly, research developed that discredited the idea of a hitchhiking womb, but hysteria remained a common female diagnosis—only the explanation behind it evolved. From unusual stress levels to the position of the moon, the number of different explanations for why “women act hysteric” was ever-expanding.
This held back women’s health for generations. It held back psychology and psychiatry for decades. A field designed to help women became a tremendous shackle holding them back, degrading them, and stripping them of basic dignities. The highly controversial studies of Charcot, where he had women diagnosed with hysteria perform in front of an audience of peers and public figures, were just one example. These women would gain attention, almost fame, for exposing their strange, limping gaits, or for staring off into the distance and holding emotional conversations with the air.
As unscientifically orchestrated and humiliating as this may have seemed, it actually was a strong stride in women’s healthcare from where it had been a decade earlier. Charcot’s home for hysteric women was one of the first facilities specialized in understanding the unique aspects of mental and physical illness among women. It offered one of the greatest pools of data we had on women's health at the time (one of the earliest to use photographic evidence, as well). In essence, this opened doors for female-specific clinics and branches of medicine and recovery. Today, we still live with the legacy of hysteria in the field of women’s healthcare, and other more sinister medical malpractices.
Local communities have lost faith (or never developed faith to begin with) in addiction treatment programs because of illegal and unethical behavior in the industry. The public perception of recovery centers often tends to be one of nuisance, or a magnet for drug crimes. Many of you might be familiar with the following allegations displayed in an Los Angeles Times article:
Misdiagnosed psychiatric patients, in order to keep them in the hospital longer than therapeutically necessary in order to keep collecting insurance payments.
Overbilling, or charges for services not rendered.
Kidnapped patients committed to mental institutions in order to milk their insurance.
The paying of “bounties” for patients referred to psychiatric hospitals.