Understanding addiction

By Jan Jarvis

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Students


Mir Ali is quick to acknowledge that asking patients personal questions about their alcohol or drug use can be tough.

But after spending a week at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the third-year student in the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine said he feels much better prepared to address addiction issues with his future patients.

“What I learned there was that I have to have the courage to ask questions,” he said. “As a primary care physician, it will be important for me to do whatever I can to keep my patients from falling into the disease of addiction.”

Fifteen UNT Health Science Center students and one faculty member spent a week at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in California, where they attended group therapy sessions, 12-step meetings and lectures. They also spent time with addicts and learned firsthand about the challenges they face.

Nearly one in 10 Americans over the age of 12 is affected by substance abuse. Yet primary care physicians, who see their patients most often and are most likely to spot addiction issues, often hesitate to broach the subject. That’s in part because most American medical schools provide just a few hours of training on addiction.

Through the partnership with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, UNT Health Science Center is helping students understand addiction, how to talk about it and how to treat it.

As part of an immersion experience, Chrystyna Senkel, a UNTHSC instructor and the first physician assistant to attend the program, paired up with a veterinarian who had been an addict more than half of her life.

“I never thought of the potential for addiction in vets, but can entirely see it given that they are both doctor and pharmacist and have ready access to potent narcotics,” she said. “The nature of their work could really trigger an individual emotionally.”

Seeing firsthand how much people suffer with addiction had a profound effect on Sohail Kamrudin, a third-year TCOM student.

“I learned more from spending time with people suffering with addiction than I would ever learn from a PowerPoint presentation,” he said. “Seeing the gravity of this disease and the stigma around it was a formative experience for me.”

The program quickly separated stereotype from reality, Senkel said.

“Addiction looks like everyone and spares no one: corporate execs, longshore fishermen, prostitutes, housewives, physicians, dentists, etc,” she said.

Primary care providers are in a unique position to address addiction issues among patients, Ali said. But all too often, physicians are not educated about what to watch for. The program has left him feeling well-equipped to address addiction when he begins practicing.

“Addiction is a disease like any other,” he said. “It’s not the patient’s fault.”

Recent News

Stephanie Ibekwe
  • Our People
|Dec 5, 2022

A voice for women in medicine

When Dr. Stephanie Ibekwe’s mother, Sarah, came home from her nursing job, she would tell her daughter stories about her patients and the conversations she had with them. “Nursing is pretty stressful, but my mom had an amazing way of handling things,” she said. “My mom really loved to bui...
Noah Peeri Headshot
  • Our People
|Dec 5, 2022

SPH alum Dr. Noah Peeri achieves JAMA Oncology publication just months after graduation

Noah Peeri, Ph.D., MPH, a recent graduate of The University of North Texas Health Science Center’s School of Public Health, has achieved a major milestone by publishing an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology just months after completing his graduate degree.   H...
Techstars Demo Day.
  • On Campus
|Dec 1, 2022

Techstars Demo Day brings innovation to the historic stockyards

For the last 13 weeks, the founders of 10 of the world’s most innovative startups have been in Fort Worth perfecting their new physical health technology. They are part of the world’s first physical health accelerator, and now they are ready to show the fruits of their labor. Techstars Demo D...
Dr. Sid O'bryant Award
  • Our People
|Dec 1, 2022

HSC named the winner of the D Magazines 2022 Achievement in Medical Research Award

The extensive research done by Dr. Sid O’Bryant and his team at the Institute of Translational Research has earned the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth the 2022 Medical Research Award by D Magazine. Dr. O’Bryant, the executive director of the ITR and a professor at t...