Professor Dan Lubman
Professor Lubman has worked across mental health and drug treatment settings in the UK and Australia. His research is wide-ranging and includes investigating the harms associated with alcohol, drugs and gambling, the impact of alcohol and drug use on brain function, the relationship between substance use, gambling and mental disorder, as well as the development of targeted telephone, online and face-to-face intervention programs within school, primary care, mental health and drug treatment settings.
He has published over 500 major reports, peer-reviewed scientific papers and book chapters, and was Chair of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists' Faculty of Addiction Psychiatry for over a decade. He is regularly contacted for policy advice and community comment, and sits on numerous government expert committees.
What made you want to work in the addiction sector?
I have always wanted to work with disadvantaged populations. When I started working in medicine, I saw that addiction was the most stigmatised health condition, and was misunderstood by the community as well as so many of my colleagues. At that point, I knew that I wanted to help change how we help and support people and families affected by addiction. I was lucky to be able to start a career in clinical research, and have focussed on helping to build the evidence and capacity of our health system to respond in a more compassionate and evidence-informed way.
What are the misconceptions of addiction?
Unfortunately, there are many. That addiction is about poor willpower and choices, that treatment doesn’t work and no-one ever recovers. This is why we got involved in the documentary Addicted Australia, to tell the real story of addiction and to give hope. One in five Australians will develop an alcohol, drug or gambling problem in their lifetime, and we know that addiction doesn’t discriminate. Many families and communities are impacted and we need to make sure people know where to get help. Most importantly, addiction is treatable, with better outcomes than many other chronic health disorders.
What are the biggest challenges for someone with an addiction?
It has to be stigma. Addiction is the most stigmatised health condition globally, and the shame and judgment associated with the condition means that many people (and families) suffer in silence, not knowing that help is at hand and treatment works. Unfortunately, this means that we typically see enormous delays in people seeking help, often up to 20 years, which is a tragedy for both the person with addiction and their family. We need to do a lot better.
What has been your experience of the documentary?
It has been a really challenging and incredibly rewarding experience. Seeing the bravery of the 10 participants in honestly telling their story of addiction to Australia continues to astound me, and I am incredibly proud and privileged to have been able to walk on that journey with them, and to witness their incredible commitment to getting well. Being continually asked by the film-makers to discuss what was happening throughout the treatment program has also been a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on what we offer, what is working and how can we improve.
What do you hope people will see when they watch the documentary?
I hope that they will see that addiction is about all of us. Parents, children, siblings, colleagues, friends. It doesn’t discriminate nor should we. By increasing the community’s understanding of addiction, I hope that we will see greater compassion for those who are struggling, as we do for people with so many other health conditions. In doing so, I hope the community agrees that addiction treatment should be resourced as we would expect for any other health disorder.
How can we as a society ‘Rethink Addiction’?
Firstly, we need to be ready to have an honest conversation about what addiction really is, who it affects, and how we respond. In my time as a doctor, we have done this so well for other misunderstood conditions such as cancer, HIV and depression. To do this, we must hear from people with lived experience, understand that addiction is a health disorder that is treatable, and celebrate the multiple stories of hope and recovery that we see every day. It also means rethinking whether what we offer in the way of treatment is sufficient, and whether we can have the same aspirations for addiction treatment as we do for cancer, heart disease and mental health.