How to Stay Sober: Rigo, Dr. Urschel, Lawlis

Not about Willpower

Dr. Phil introduces psychiatrist Dr. Harold Urschel, founder and CEO of the Urschel Recovery Science Institute. He's also the chief medical strategist and co-founder of Enter Health, an addiction disease management company. Dr. Urschel is the author of the book, Healing the Addicted Brain.

Dr. Phil explains that he considers Dr. Urschel to be the top expert in the field of addiction, and he consulted him regarding the disease of addiction when he wrote his book, Real Life.

Dr. Urschel agrees with Dr. Phil about Rigo being a high risk for relapse. "Although there is a tremendous amount of hope that you can beat this chronic illness that you have, you're not doing a tenth of what you need to be doing," he says. "You're doing what most people would do, but most people really don't know how to treat the illness effectively."

Rigo finds this hard to hear because he doesn't know what else he can do.

Dr. Phil points out that Rigo's strategies to stay sober have failed him before. "You're living on an air mattress at your sister's house. You've lost your job, you've lost your wife, you've lost your family doing what you've always done. There is good news here: There is a huge amount you can do that you haven't done that can give you a different result. You should be doing cartwheels down the runway, saying, ‘Are you kidding me? There is 90 percent more that I can do to preserve my marriage, and my family, and my health and my future?' I would think that would be exciting instead of hard to hear."

"No, it's hard to hear that what I'm doing now isn't enough," Rigo says. "I'm putting forth the effort and how hard it's been for me to get to this point has been a lot of hard work and for that not to be enough " I'm excited, don't get me wrong. I'm excited that there is hope, that there is something else I can do. I'm happy. It's good to hear."

[AD]"This is my point though: What you are doing is wearing you out," Dr. Phil says.

"It is," he agrees.

"And that's the whole point. This isn't about willpower. It will wear you out. You will fail doing what you're doing," Dr. Phil says. "Addiction is a chronic medical illness and one of the hardest diseases to manage. But by being educated, getting the right information, getting the right treatment, it can be successfully controlled."

Dr. Phil says to Dr. Urschel, "This is something where Rigo has, in fact, injured his brain."

"Yes. Addiction is a chronic medical illness, just like you said," Dr. Urschel says. "And so, the use of the pain pills has injured certain parts of your brain over time, so you have to address addiction from a medical standpoint and from a talking standpoint, and when you put the two together, your chances of success go up to about 90 percent."

Dr. Phil tells Rigo, "Here's what I want you to understand: These cravings that you have, this constant feeling that you're having to push yourself back from and say no, that's not just a psychological phenomenon. It's not just a habitual phenomenon. This is a craving that comes from a very primary level of the brain, which is why I say the reason you have failed in the past is you have ignored that you have a brain injury that's associated with taking all of these pain pills. Now, let's talk about some medications that he could and should be on."

Rigo was on a medicine called Suboxone, but he stopped.


Dr. Urschel says, "You were on the one treatment that would've made a huge difference in your life."

Rigo explains, "I was on Suboxone for well over a year, and I think what ended up happening is I became addicted to Suboxone. From a psychological standpoint, Suboxone was not good for me either."

[AD]"When you say you were addicted to Suboxone, what do you mean?" Dr. Urschel asks.

"I couldn't stop taking it without going through withdrawal and anxiety " "

"Why would you want to stop taking it? You know, if you're taking insulin for diabetes, why would you want to stop your insulin? That would not make any sense to me," Dr. Urschel says. "That's the point of this show. There is a lot of misinformation out, even in the physician community, about medications for this disease. And, you were not on Suboxone for withdrawal. It helped your withdrawal, but that was for about five days. The rest of the time you're on Suboxone is to treat the illness and allow your brain to heal."

"Another issue here is you have to deal with what is best described as comorbidity. These things don't happen in a vacuum. There are psychological issues that you have unfinished emotional business about," Dr. Phil tells Rigo, who nods. "In the course of your career, you were involved in a fatal shooting. You say that you've never really dealt with that in a comprehensive way. True?"

"Yes," he says.

"This can be very anxiety-producing, even if it's not at a conscious level," Dr. Phil says. "And then we add to it that you lost your job, and your career, and the shame and embarrassment, all of these things that go on that create feelings of anxiety and depression. Those things have to be dealt with while you're doing these other things. I want to help you with all of that."

[AD]Rigo struggles with his emotions, and Dr. Phil asks him what he's thinking. "I guess I'm just thinking, maybe, if I would've known this a year ago, a couple years ago, things would be a little different right now," he says sadly.

"Look to your immediate right," Dr. Phil tells him. "She's here. She's here. The question I asked her up front is, are you willing to become part of the solution?"

Dr. Urschel recommends that Robin and the rest of Rigo's family educate themselves about addiction as well, so they can work as a team and know what to do and what not to do for Rigo.

Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Frank Lawlis, chairman of the Dr. Phil Advisory Board. "Dr. Lawlis, what kind of things do you think are most relevant to him in terms of handling the anxiety, de-stressing his body and keeping himself calm without medication?"

"What we need to do is help you with a skill set in terms of giving you ways of dealing with anxiety, with pain, with any kinds of other things that you're having to focus on because as the brain becomes ill, it limits the internal, what we call the endorphin system, in terms of dealing with anxiety, and pain and depression," Dr. Lawlis says.

"And there are specific skills here. We're talking about neurotherapy and biofeedback therapies, and we're talking about different kinds of stress management skills," Dr. Phil says. He turns to Rigo's wife and says, "And we need to help you with that because you're starting to unravel here. You have to take care of yourself so you can take care of others."

[AD]Dr. Phil says there is a program for children at the Betty Ford Center that might be beneficial to their children.

Dr. Urschel explains, "It's a four-day program where [the children] really understand the impact addiction has on you all, and understand it's not their fault, and it works to help them not to become addicts as they grow up, which is a huge issue, and gives them resources to work through the depression or sadness that they may be experiencing as a consequence of the disease you have."