fb-pixel Skip to main content
the story behind the book

A doctor talks physicians and their addictions

david wilson for the boston globe

A little over 10 years ago, Dr. Peter Grinspoon walked into his office and was confronted by representatives of the state police and the DEA. His addiction to opiates — mostly Vicodin and Oxycontin — had finally gotten him into major trouble that would take several years to fully resolve.

Grinspoon’s journey from addiction to recovery forms the basis of “Free Refills,” a memoir he wrote partly to dispel the stigma around drug addiction in doctors.

“Anybody can get addicted,” he said. “And I also want to show that people can get better, it’s not a death sentence. You can’t give up on people.”


Indeed, for many physicians the combination of a high-stress career and easy access to drugs creates “a perfect storm,” leading to higher addiction rates than in the general population. “The whole culture — we’re supposed to be the strong ones; we shoulder everyone else’s burdens; we don’t really need to sleep — that culture totally sets you up for addiction,” he added. “That really makes it hard to ask for help. You feel so guilty and so full of shame. It’s a real barrier to care.’’

At the same time, Grinspoon points out, physicians have a high rate of recovery, in part because they have so much to lose. Now that he’s been sober for nine years, he added, “I feel like the process was very humbling. And I think that makes me a much better listener. A lot of the tools they give you for recovery — living in the moment, not worrying about things you can’t control — are sort of things that help you in other life circumstances, including taking care of patients.”

For his fellow physicians and for anyone else facing addiction, Grinspoon said, “The most important thing is to end the stigma. That makes it much easier for people to come out of the shadows and get help.”


Grinspoon will read 6 p.m. Thursday in the Commonwealth Salon, Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.