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Heal Thyself A Doctor at the Peak of His Medical Career, Destroyed by Alcohol--and the Personal Miracle That Brought Him Back

Olivier Ameisen, M.D.

Sarah Crichton Books

0374532206

9780374532208

Trade Paperback

368 Pages

$23.00

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Alcoholism claims three hundred lies per day in the United States. Until six years ago, it looked like it would claim the life of Dr. Olivier Ameisen, a gifted cardiologist with an undeniable addiction. Forced to give up his practice, he tried every available treatment, from long-term stays in rehabilitation clinics to naltrexone. Nothing worked.

Searching for a cure, he happened upon baclofen, a muscle relaxant that had been used safely for years as a treatment for muscle spasticity. Ameisen prescribed himself the drug and experimented with dosages until he finally reached a level high enough to free him of any craving for alcohol. That was more than six years ago.

Heal Thyself is both a memoir of Ameisen’s struggle and a call to action. In the past years, a growing number of researchers and doctors have been inspired by Ameisen and begun prescribing baclofen and lobbying for wide-scale studies into how the drug works. Last spring, the leading medical journal Alcohol and Alcoholism endorsed the book. Hailing Dr. Ameisen as “a remarkable medical researcher,” it summed up its assessment strongly and directly: “This book is to be recommended. It provides ample literature [for physicians and] . . . is a useful educational resource for those who work in the addiction field.”

This updated version includes a new preface by the author, twenty discussion quesions for new readers and health professionals, and extensive case studies regarding successful baclofen treatments.

REVIEWS

Praise for Heal Thyself

“[Ameisen] made what could be the medical breakthrough of the century.”—The Observer

"[Ameisen has] discovered the treatment for addiction."—Jean Dausset, M.D., winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Medicine

"[A] moving story . . . Compelling."—Steve Heilig, San Francisco Chronicle

"As a cardiologist, Olivier Ameisen was familiar with hospitals, but not being detained in a psychiatric ward. Being committed to a New York hospital after yet another drinking binge was one of the many low points in his seven-year struggle with alcoholism. The End of My Addiction is the fascinating tale of how he found his own cure through a bout of pharmacological trial and error. Standard drug treatments for alcoholism and endless AA meetings hadn't helped Ameisen. He lost his job and his girlfriend, and in his forties had to move back home with his mother in France. Then he heard of a medicine called baclofen, long-used safely as a muscle relaxant, which animal research and a few anecdotal reports from cocaine users suggested reduced drug cravings. While in France, he began self-prescribing and found that at the standard dose his cravings for alcohol lessened. Desperate for a complete cure, he upped his dose beyond the medical recommendation and found his cravings eliminated. He has been sober for five years. One person's experience isn't, of course, proof of a cure. For that you would need large randomised trials, though the results of one small 12-week trial were promising (The Lancet, vol 370, p 1915). But this engaging account does give interesting insights into the toll this disease can take and shows how, at least in this case, it was possible to fight back. It also explores the science behind baclofen's possible mechanism of action, and why it may be useful against other addictions."—Clare Wilson, New Scientist

"Dr. Olivier Ameisen was a brilliant cardiologist and running his own successful practice when he developed a profound addiction to alcohol. He broke bones with no memory of falling; he nearly lost his kidneys; he almost died from massive seizures during acute withdrawal. Fearing for his life, he immersed himself in AA, rehab and therapy but nothing worked. So he did the only thing he could; he took his treatment into his own hands. Searching for a cure for his deadly disease, he happened upon baclofen, a muscle relaxant that had shown promising results in studies with laboratory animals addicted to a wide variety of substances. Dr. Ameisen prescribed himself the drug and experimented with increasingly higher doses until he finally reached a level high enough to leave him free of any craving for alcohol. That was more than five years ago. Baclofen, as prescribed under a doctor's care, could possibly help many addicts. But as long as the medical and research establishments continue to ignore a cure for one of the most deadly diseases in the world, we won't be able to understand baclofen's full potential. This book is a moving plea for research that can rescue millions from the scourge of addiction."—Medical News Today

"This is a wonderful book . . . Ameisen may be responsible for making a signal discovery much like, but better than, that of George Cotzias, [the first to show that L-dopa could alleviate Parkinson’s disease,] in that so many more patients may be involved."—Jerome B. Posner, M.D., George C. Cotzias Chair of Neuro-oncology, Department of Neurology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

“This book is . . . the story of the dazzling discovery of a cure that could soon be within reach of all. If you or someone close to you suffers from alcoholism or drug dependence, you must read this book.”—David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., author of The Instinct to Heal and Anticancer

"Dr. Olivier Ameisen is a remarkable medical researcher who shares his journey from profound alcohol addiction to sobriety in this fascinating book . . . This book is to be recommended. It provides ample literature [for physicians] to strongly consider baclofen for patients who fail to respond to treatments in our conventional current repertoire. It is also a useful educational resource for those who work in the addiction field and for people who seek to gain a greater understanding of alcohol dependence."—Claire McIntosh, author of Alcohol and Alcoholism

"If you or someone close to you suffers from alcoholism or drug dependence, you must read this book."—Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, author of Anticancer

"I couldn't put it down. It's already changed a great deal about the way that I think about addiction, as well as the way I think about finding a cure . . . Coming from a well-respected doctor, the spiral downward into addiction is even more striking. [Ameisen] conveys a life of desperation in a simple, direct manner that is incredibly captivating . . . Incredibly well-written and very affecting, not least for its message of hope."—Scienceblogs.com

"The End of My Addiction—part memoir, part medical mystery—has at its heart a bold claim: There is a happy-making pill that can cure alcoholism. More than 100,000 people die from alcoholism in the United States every year, making Olivier Ameisen's claims for the drug baclofen a world-changing discovery . . . He is as deft with the medical basis for baclofen's efficacy as he is unsparing in his personal account of alcohol's terrors . . . As struggling addicts come to recognize Ameisen's many failures, they may also find themselves advocating right beside him: Baclofen's out-of-patent status will surely require public rather than private funding and its convincingly argued promise is too large to neglect. In recounting his trials, Ameisen notes that 'there is scarcely another major illness whose treatment has been static over the last seventy or more years.' If the claims made by The End of My Addiction are true, Ameisen's story will not only be an engrossing journey from sickness to health, but one of medicine's heroic episodes."—Joel Turnipseed, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"In this remarkably candid memoir of crippling alcoholism, cardiologist Ameisen’s passion for curing addiction is palpable, at times gritty, and, in the end, hopeful."—Booklist

"A French-American cardiologist then affiliated with New York Hospital-Cornell University Medical College descended into years of hellish alcohol addiction that essentially ended his medical practice in 1997. His move back to Paris and self-treatment with the unproven drug baclofen is the subject of this clinical, thoroughgoing memoir. Early on, Ameisen, the child of Holocaust survivors and an accomplished pianist, recognized that deep-seated anxiety was driving him to drink, yet doctors treated the drinking rather than the anxiety. He tried years of AA, rehab and medication, but in time he was binging again-blacking out and ending up in psych wards or the emergency room with broken bones. When he read about the muscle relaxant baclofen in a New York Times article, suggesting that it could repress the craving in addicts as well as control muscular spasm, he seized on the drug as his life line. He researched baclofen, prescribed it to himself (thanks to France's medical identity cards) and essentially used himself as a study over several months, increasing the dosage as necessary. The results were remarkable, and his dogged self-case study published by the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism in 2005 gathered slow but intensive interest. As a trained physician who is evidently well connected, Ameisen is not a typical patient, yet his work is brave, insightful and sure to be significant."Publishers Weekly

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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1. Moment of Truth

I CAME TO MY SENSES and took stock of where I was: in a cab, with blood streaming down my face and spattering my trench coat. I looked out the window and in the glow of the streetlights saw the cab was on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, waiting for the light to change at 76th Street. The church on the corner reminded me it was Sunday, and I looked at my watch. It was almost midnight. The few people on the street were buttoned up against the late winter chill, but it was warm in the cab.

My apartment was not too far away, on East 63rd Street between York and First

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Olivier Ameisen, M.D.

  • Olivier Ameisen, M.D., inaugurated the position of official physician to the prime minister of France. He came to the United States in 1983 to join the prestigious cardiology team at New York Hospital and Cornell University Medical Center, where he became an associate professor of clinical medicine and an associate attending physician. He is currently Visiting Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center.
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