Editor’s Note: While interviewing Dr. Mohammad, M.D., founder and Medical Director of Malibu Horizon, I found his answers to be so eloquent that I decided to share his own words in a question and answer format.
RecoveryView: It’s so nice to speak with you. Please tell me what makes Malibu Horizon unique in the world of addictions treatment centers.
Dr. Mohammad: There are not many MDs in the field who own a drug treatment center (I don’t use the word rehab because that’s not treatment). And the ones who are involved don’t usually have a say in how to treat addiction as a chronic medical illness, which is what science says it is, and that’s how we should treat it. I realized that if I was going to make any impact in the field, it would start by treating patients differently than they are treated in other treatment centers by building a protocol rooted in science and evidence-based methods exclusively. So 10 years ago, I opened the center.
RV: How is your approach different from what you’ve seen in other treatment centers?
DM: One major difference at Malibu Horizon is that we use the biopsychosocial model. We believe in group therapy, individual therapy, and medication (studies show that adding medication as an adjunct to talk therapies produces better results); we follow science and incorporate therapy in that way.
Another fundamental difference is that we focus on what major medical organizations establish as cutting-edge treatment, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), and adapt our protocol accordingly.
RV: How does this perspective influence how you provide treatment?
DM: We have come a long way in learning how addiction works – how it affects the brain and the body. We know that alcohol and drugs can significantly affect your organs; we know there is often psychiatric co-morbidity, so we do a complete medical and psychiatric assessment. We also conduct psychosocial, personality, and professional evaluations. We believe that anyone struggling with a major addiction should not be denied professional treatment (from specialists, M.D.s, psychologists, and the like).
Given all the various factors that can be involved in someone with multiple issues (including HIV, which we also treat), we know it’s very important to treat them as a whole person and individualize their treatment to specifically and appropriately address each issue.
RV: What is your perspective on organizations, such as AA?
DM: We see AA groups as a valuable adjunct to the treatment we provide. But we differentiate Malibu Horizon from that self-help-type of organization as a professional program that offers individualized treatment. Every treatment protocol we employ is clinically and research-proven to be effective.
When we survey the research and clinical landscape, we try to be as comprehensive as possible, researching what organizations such as WHO and the American Society of Addiction Medicine have to say. We take all recommendations from respected and proven sources to determine the treatment we provide, while keeping in mind that everything doesn’t work for everyone. This philosophy and approach means that we actually build an individual and unique treatment plan for every patient based on their specific needs and circumstances; that is what authentic individualized treatment means. While countless facilities seem to use “individualized treatment” in their marketing, for Malibu Horizon, it is the cornerstone of our protocol. In short, we do not mandate any one particular path, whether it’s AA, Smart Recovery, or another effective alternative, ideal psychosocial tools will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
RV: Why did you open Malibu Horizon?
DM: I became Board-certified in addiction medicine in 2004. Prior to that I was involved in addiction treatment and specialized in psychiatry and I saw how patients were treated and stigmatized. They were not respected; there was a lot of blaming on behavior and the like. But I knew that by acknowledging addiction as an illness, we see behaviors as simply symptoms of the disease.
I wanted to open my own treatment center and model my approach in such a way that other people could follow it. I believe that the structure and form of treatment I offer will become the treatment of choice in a matter of years.
RV: How do you specifically address co-occurring disorders [mental health illnesses alongside substance abuse]?
DM: We look at some of the more public, celebrity-type patients who went to rehab and were later diagnosed with bipolar or some other co-occurring disorder. Once they became regulated with medication for the co-occurring disorder, the behaviors around addiction ceased. So it is very important for us to diagnose and treat any mental illness as well as addiction. Many people believe that to be on psychotropic medications is to not be sober. We don’t agree based on the overwhelming scientific evidence and our own patients’ consistent results. We are committed to finding the best solution for the individual and driven by results, not marketing.
They also tend to completely forget the social and interpersonal issues that present themselves after years of addiction, recovery, and relapse. We identify any medical, psychological, or interpersonal issues so that they can be appropriately treated. And we have better-than-average success rate in the industry, which is based on measurable and quantifiable long-term results. Again, we are committed to science and evidence-based methods and results.
RV: In what ways, then, do you treat the whole person during their time at Malibu Horizon?
DM: We provide holistic treatments that have been effective tools for treating the whole patient and providing alternative methods for relaxation and stress relief, which based on our own experience during the last decade, is paramount for treating the whole person. We provide yoga, chiropractic, music therapy, and equine therapy to name a few, but again, the exact treatment protocol will depend on the best path for the patient.
The number one thing that we focus on when a patient comes to the facility is providing structure and exposing them to healthy activities when they are not in therapy or treatment.
Remember, these are the patients who were using drugs and alcohol for years, so they’ve often forgotten what healthy activities look like. At Malibu Horizon, they can discover yoga, exercise, and equine therapy while in treatment, which they may incorporate into their aftercare.
We take them on restaurant outings to teach them to be around alcohol without drinking, to have fun and a good meal without substances. These are the real-life challenges they will face outside of treatment and we want to prepare them to be successful to the best of our ability.
RV: What do you hope your legacy will be through Malibu Horizon?
DM: I believe that more and more people in drug treatment centers in the U.S. will be providing medical services; medication is and will continue become more widely embraced as an integral part of treatment in addiction. In my lifetime, I want to see that people are integrating all of these services and being compassionate to patients. Their brains are completely impaired [while using] and they simply cannot make good choices. We want to see that people can understand and be compassionate to treat the patient properly using science and evidence-based methodology while incorporating authentic individualized treatment. So we get them better and then reintegrate them into society; it’s better for the family and for the society.