Doctors without an understanding of psychological pain help no one

On what information, I wonder, is Anthony Daniels GP basing his assertion that withdrawal from opiates is "rarely worse than a bout of flu" (9 April)? Since he tells us that addicts always exaggerate the symptoms to doctors - and if he has any personal experience of opiate addiction he is being very modest about it - it's hard to see exactly how he thinks he knows this. I suppose, being a doctor, he just knows an awful lot.

Before I put myself through heroin withdrawal I was assured that it was "just like flu". I can see the funny side now, but at the time, during physical pain and psychological terror of a kind I hope never to repeat, it was somewhat lost on me. But, yes, I would agree with Daniels that the physical side is not the greatest part of addiction. The psychological after-effects, of panic, depression and suicidal feelings, have been far harder to cope with, since they last so much longer. Nevertheless, I have been drug-free for six months.

Daniels seems an old-fashioned chap. He tells us that addiction is mainly a "moral, cultural or spiritual problem". In other words, junkies are bad people from bad backgrounds. We should be very grateful, then, that he assures us that even though it is our fault, he won't refuse to treat us. Though what this treatment might amount to is hard to see, since we exaggerate our need for medicines, and he dismisses therapy as nonsense.

Luckily, many people working in the field take a more modern approach. I myself have been having therapy at a wonderful drug project, with life-changing results. As to the "inherently unanswerable" question of why I took drugs, I can answer simply that, as with a substantial proportion of addicts, it came out of sexual abuse.

The causes of addiction are manifold. But I think it's fair to say it is always a response to psychological pain. I could say it's a shame Daniels doesn't understand this, but it isn't. It's a disgrace.

Kate Kooijman
London SW9

This article first appeared in the 03 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The NS Essay - This country is not so special