Issue # 71 - August/September 2012

Welcome back, rather quickly to a "regular" TAR because, well, we don't control the news. There were a number of newsworthy events over the last few weeks that we just had to comment on. Our favorite piece is "chutzpah of the month," but we think you'll find every article interesting and, in a few cases, shocking. As usual, we show that the media doesn't have a clue in its coverage of the news.

As a reminder, Alcoholism Myths and Realities is now available as an e-book either on or IPG in multiple formats; we're working on the others.

Enjoy the latest Thorburn Addiction Report!

Welcome to the Thorburn Addiction Report in which we interpret the news through the lens of alcohol and other drug addiction. Each month, we bring you several sections, including:

1. Top Story of the month along with runners up, persons under watch, enablers, disenablers and more
2. Review or Public Policy Recommendation of the month
3. Dear Doug in which a recent letter to "Dear Annie" or other "help" column is rewritten, with responses given from the unique perspective that alcohol or other drug addiction best explains the misbehaviors described
4. Alcoholic Myth-of-the-Month
5. Alcoholic Antic-of-the-Month, usually where someone deserves the Darwin Award, but lived.

There is something for everyone!

Addiction Report Archives here

© 2012 by Doug Thorburn

The blog is open to your comments. We’ll be interested in any thoughts you, our loyal readers, may have.

Books Here

James E. Holmes Murders 12 in an Aurora, CO Theater: Another mass murderer, another undiagnosed substance addict

I used to say, “While the vast majority of mass murderers in U.S. history have been alcohol or other-drug addicts, I’m sure there are exceptions,” and used as my prime example Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. However, I eventually learned I was wrong: McVeigh was a methamphetamine addict.

In the Top Story of issue # 29 of TAR, I suggested that Cho Seung-Hui, who murdered 32 and injured 25 in a shooting spree at Virginia Tech, was no different. I examined an article by Bob Unruh entitled, “Are meds to blame for Cho’s rampage?” in which he, like many, blamed anti-depressants (which are not psychotropic drugs) on mass murder. He listed 20 school shooters, all of whom he said were on one or more of these anti-depressants, including Luvox and Prozac. Bear in mind journalists don’t have a clue as to the critical importance of addictive use of alcohol and other psychotropic drugs and authorities are often reluctant to release toxicology reports; therefore, proof of addictive use is often elusive. Despite this dearth of information, I found that at least eight of the 20 shooters—four times what we’d expect of a random sample of the population—were known heavy alcohol users (i.e., “alcoholics”) or on Xanax or Valium, both of which are psychotropic drugs capable of causing distortions of perception and memory in susceptible individuals. Another three mass murderers were on Ritalin, a commonly-prescribed amphetamine, which was one of Judy Garland’s favorite drugs. A 12th shooter was described as being on “a variety of prescriptions,” which were not likely limited to just the anti-depressants. The rest were old enough to have used alcohol or other drugs addictively; such use generally begins by age 13. I concluded that “since 80-90% of convicts are alcohol or other-drug addicts and it’s so darned difficult to obtain actual evidence of use even on the Internet, the idea that only 11 [65% of these] mass murderers were such addicts strains credulity.” If journalists actually understood the role of alcoholism, they would look for and report it in the first paragraph of news stories, rather the 27th, if at all.

The fact that many shooters are on anti-depressants could be coincidence. Many mass murderers are not on these drugs and there were countless such killings long before they were invented. Consider the alcoholic Ivan the Terrible who, using sleighs, had at least 15,000 citizens of Novgorod chained and dragged to their deaths in the Volkhov River in 1570—and drowning was among the most humane ways he murdered his subjects (see James Graham’s Secret History of Alcoholism). Anti-depressants also could serve as a trigger for alcohol and other-drug addicts, potentiating their effect. I would argue, however, that psychotropic drugs, including alcohol, are all-but-essential in creating such horrific behaviors and that anti-depressants are not an essential component. The fact that shooters are often on anti-depressants may be simply coincidence: psychiatrists may prescribe anti-depressants to full-blown alcoholics without identifying the true source of the patients’ problems, instead misdiagnosing alcoholism for mental illness as therapists did to my long-ago ex-fiancée (the story of which I tell in Drunks, Drugs & Debits).

Elsewhere (issue # 13, issue # 24, and issue # 53 of TAR, along with my article on bin Laden shortly after 9-11 at ), I’ve made a case that suicide bombers—mass murderers of a different stripe—are high on a cocktail of psychotropic drugs, possibly either an amphetamine-tranquilizer combo or khat (Scrabble® players may spell it “qat”) or some combination.

In the worst of recent shootings, James E. Holmes’ murdered 12 and wounded 58 in an Aurora, CO theater. Journalists and pundits have displayed their usual ignorance of the likelihood that addiction is the best explanation for the deadly behaviors. The evidence, however, leads the addiction-aware to a near certainty that Holmes’ actions were, in fact, driven by alcohol or other-drug addiction-fueled egomania.

  1. The behaviors alone suggest at least 80% odds of addiction to psychotropic drugs, most likely alcohol and / or an amphetamine-tranquilizer drug cocktail, capable of causing distortions of perception and memory in susceptible individuals; two manifestations of this are impaired judgment and an inflated sense of self—a God complex. Holmes clearly exhibited both in spades.
  2. After graduating with highest honors in the spring of 2010 with a neuroscience degree from UC Riverside, Holmes enrolled in the neuroscience Ph. D. program at the University of Colorado-Denver, but withdrew unexpectedly. Alcohol or other-drug addiction usually explains the inexplicable, including bizarre behaviors that have us shaking our heads and asking, “What’s he thinking?” It also usually explains huge changes in behavior, especially from “good” to “bad,” with the converse occurring when an addict gets clean and sober.
  3. A furniture mover, who obviously didn’t know him (“I figured he was one of the college students”), said he had drinks with Holmes at a local bar two days before the shooting. So, he was at a local bar on weeknight talking with a furniture mover, with whom a doctoral student is likely to have little in common other than sports. Drinking must have been very important to Holmes. When drinking is that important, there is addiction.
  4. Holmes went to that bar by himself. While heading to a local bar by oneself on a weeknight is not always indicative of alcoholism, it usually is. As a good friend pointed out, “This was not social drinking with friends. This is, ‘I need to drink, and I’ll chat with whoever is there.’”
  5. A neighbor “often” saw him at the bar. There you go.
  6. Glenn Rotkovich, who owns a gun range where Holmes wanted to practice shooting, reviewed Holmes’ application, made a routine call to invite him for an orientation and got his answering machine. According to Rotkovich, Holmes had a “bass, guttural, rambling, incoherent message that was bizarre, at best.” It was so bizarre Rotkovich decided he didn’t want him shooting at his range.
  7. While described as brilliant by many, a grad student who oversaw him during an internship at a computer lab at the Salk Institute at UC San Diego, said “His grades were mediocre….Holmes was enormously stubborn and refused to follow instructions [for a project].…He never completed the project. What he gave me was a complete mess.” Mental confusion and/or arrogance that manifests in stubbornness and a refusal to follow rational and appropriate instructions, which these appear to have been, are excellent behavioral indicators of substance addiction.
  8. Holmes was seeing a psychiatrist. While many non-addicts see psychiatrists, we suspect the odds of addiction in a person seeking such medical help are much greater than in the overall population.
  9. Holmes’ psychiatrist, 51-year-old Dr. Lynn Fenton who, to her credit, reported to authorities she was concerned about him a few weeks before the tragedy, was disciplined by the State of Colorado medical board in 2005. She had prescribed medications to herself, her husband and an employee without maintaining proper medical charts; the medications included the psychotropic drugs Vicodin, Xanax, lorazepam (Ativan) and Ambien. She was ordered to complete more than 50 hours of medical training and to promise not to prescribe medications to family members or employees. There is no record of her being diagnosed as an addict or required to enter a program of sobriety, but the addictionologist would likely ask, “Why not?” We might hypothesize that addicted MDs are more likely to prescribe addictive drugs than non-addicted ones even if she may have stopped prescribing for him, based on the fact she warned the University of Colorado about Holmes’ potential for violence several weeks before the shootings.
  10. Finally, Holmes’ pupil size in court, even several days after the shootings, strongly indicates addiction. Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Thomas Page wrote to me regarding this picture: “The pupils are very dilated, probably about 8.5 millimeters in diameter. This compares with pupils of about 4.0 mm in normal room light and is especially noteworthy since courtroom light is usually quite bright. Stimulants, hallucinogens and, to a lesser degree, marijuana and the so-called ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ cause dilation. Since these photos were taken four days after the shootings, during which time he was in police custody, it’s crucial also to note that withdrawal from narcotics such as heroin and OxyContin can also cause pupil dilation to this degree.”

In terms of behavioral proof, the mass shootings indicate a near-certainty of addiction. The other behaviors further confirm the hypothesis. Short of blood testing, pupil size is probably the single best physiological proof of addictive use. Holmes’ drinking patterns, other behaviors and pupil size allow us to conclude that psychotropic drug addiction, once again, is the underlying cause of barbaric actions.

Runners-up for top story of the month:

Wade Michael Page, who murdered six before being gunned down by police at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, was described as a “gentle and kind and loving” child by his stepmother Laura Page. She wondered, “And what happened, God only knows, because I don’t.” Let me try and explain, Ms. Page: your step-son, gentle and kind and loving though he may have been, inherited alcoholism. How do we know? He had convictions for criminal mischief and arrests for driving under the influence; as a soldier in 1998 he was demoted for being drunk on duty and was later discharged for “patterns of misconduct”; he was also fired by a trucking company after being cited for driving while impaired. Pete Simi, a journalist who studied and wrote about White Supremacists in California, lived with him for a period of time and reports he “drank heavily.” An evaluation of his behavior (see my work, including Drunks, Drugs and Debits and How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics) shows your step-son was clearly an alcoholic. We cannot begin to predict how destructive a practicing alcoholic may become or when, regardless of how gentle, kind and loving the person may otherwise be. Unfortunately, your step-son engaged in an extreme example of such destructive behaviors. We also know that alcoholics are capable of anything. This is what is meant by “anything.”

UC Irvine pharmaceutical sciences professor Rainer Reinscheid was understandably upset when his teenage son hanged himself after being disciplined by an assistant principal at his high school. Most parents would grieve for years, but would never consider vengeance, which is what Reinscheid allegedly did. He was arrested after setting a series of small fires at the high school, the assistant principal’s home and the park where his son died and now faces several counts of arson. In an email, while reportedly “on medication and drinking a second bottle of wine,” he wrote he had dreams of burning down the school, getting a dozen machine guns, shooting administrators and sexually assaulting at least one of them. He then planned to shoot “at least 200 students” before killing himself, asserting total control, as if to say to the police, “Not even you can touch me.” Non-addicts pale in comparison with addicts in having a need to control everything. Note also that few non-addicts can finish a bottle of wine at one sitting, much less get through part of another bottle, and the number of non-addicts mixing “medication” and alcohol is very low—non-addicts tend to follow the instructions on the package that says “do not drink alcohol while taking this medication”. In addition, non-addicts don’t set fires or dream of burning down schools and killing hundreds of people. And by the way, with a dad like this we should ask what really made his son commit suicide.

Hans Kristian Rausing, 49, billionaire heir to his Swedish family’s drink carton company (his grandfather, Ruben Rausing, invented the Tetra Laval milk carton in the 1960s), was stopped for driving erratically. Drugs were found in his car and, in a subsequent search of their luxurious London townhouse, the body of his wife, Eva Rausing, was found. Her body was largely decomposed, under a pile of clothing and garbage bags that had been taped together in a fly-filled room. Officers were fortunate: the stench was at least partly offset with deodorizing powder. Kristian, in one of the classics in the annals of alcoholically-induced confabulated thinking, explained he couldn’t survive without his wife. He was arrested but quickly exonerated of murder by a judge, who ruled that Eva likely died from heart failure coupled with longstanding drug “abuse” (i.e., addiction) more than two months before being found. During this time, whenever friends or family asked about Eva, Kristian gave vague replies but never, according to reports, suggested anything was awry. I’ve a hunch an addictionologist would have strongly suspected something, but I digress. Eva, who was 48 and the daughter of a wealthy Pepsi executive, was arrested four years earlier for trying to smuggle crack cocaine and heroin into the U.S. Embassy in London. A decision by the judge to drop charges in favor of a conditional caution, which attracted criticism of double standards for wealthy offenders, obviously didn’t do Ms. Rausing any favors; money, as so often proves true, enabled Ms. Rausing to her death. Kristian was sentenced to a 10-month suspended jail sentence that will require extensive drug rehab. He noted, “I do not feel, with the benefit of hindsight, that following her death I acted rationally.” You think? Ah, the lives of addicts; nothing surprises, and yet, in one of the numerous paradoxes that is addiction, the variations in behaviors are so endless they all surprise.

Under watch:

In an early 2009 piece on white collar crime, The Economist magazine mentioned something those who have read my books would predict: “Many [Club Fed and other white collar] prisoners suddenly discover, post-conviction, that they had a drinking problem….” I would add that those who don’t figure this out might benefit from greater introspection. In the spirit of The Economist’s discovery, a recent story follows for which the evidence of alcoholism is in the crime itself.

Michael Steven Poret, arrested on suspicion of vandalism, having “calmly [fired] metal marbles from a slingshot across six lanes of Ventura Boulevard in broad daylight,” as well as at night, and shattering windows at dozens of businesses and homes over a several month period along the Sherman Oaks-Encino-Tarzana-Woodland Hills corridor. Poret, 58, a vice-president at UBS Financial Services in Beverly Hills, may have been stressed by the markets. More likely, he’s just doing what alcoholics do: wielding power capriciously, however odd this particular style appears to be. Los Angeles police raided his Encino home and found an arsenal of slingshots, marbles, BB guns and firearms. Note to law enforcement authorities: this could have been a lot worse. After all, if Mr. Poret has alcoholism—and the alleged behaviors alone suggest the odds are at least 80% (see the Thorburn Substance Addiction Recognition Indicator, as well as How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics for an updated version of the TSARI)—he is capable of anything. Those marbles could be bullets next time. Please, for the sake of the community, treat him accordingly.

Codependent of the month:

Ryan Lochte, who despite his father’s alcoholism (Steve Lochte has multiple arrests for DUI), succeeded against the odds by winning two gold medals (along with three others) at the London Olympics. On the other hand, we don’t know yet whether he inherited his father’s alcoholism and that, perhaps, his success is motivated by an inflated ego. While the jury’s out, he can certainly put them away—take a look at his pupil size here. While they are not big enough to suggest stimulants, they do suggest a lot of booze in the system; but then, a lot of young people party hard. In the meantime, congratulations Ryan—and to all the other athletes who competed; it’s quite an accomplishment. For the uninitiated who may think Olympians and Olympic swimmers can’t be alcoholics, think again: Roy Saari, gold medalist swimmer at the 1964 Olympics, was full-on (even if you’d never know it from his obituaries, including this one), and the man widely considered the greatest athlete ever, Jim Thorpe had alcoholism. Being an alcoholic does not preclude one from being an amazing athlete and, as I’ve often pointed out, an extraordinary overachiever.

Untrue quote of the month:

“[Thomas] Eagleton, little more than an acquaintance of Mr. McGovern’s, was hurriedly picked despite vague rumors of alcoholism (untrue) and mental illness (true).”

So wrote Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, in a review of Joshua M. Glasser’s new book, The Eighteen-Day Running Mate. Partly as a result of the failure to properly vet the late Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) while running for President in 1972, George McGovern suffered a landslide defeat. Eagleton was diagnosed with clinical depression and clearly suffered the extreme and prolonged highs and lows of someone with bi-polar disorder. However, friends also “noted his drinking” and described him as having “drank quite a bit….Sometimes he was funny, sometimes he was frightening, sometimes he created some stirs about that,” which implies he caused trouble. If there is trouble and there is heavy drinking, the trouble, as they say in AA, is alcoholism. It would appear Mr. Eagleton had this disease and alleged “rumors” stating as such weren’t just “rumors.” It would also appear history was greatly affected by one alcoholic and, as usual, completely missed by historians.

Alcoholism is often confused for and may trigger mental illness. In Drunks, Drugs and Debits, I noted that actress Vivien Leigh was “repeatedly diagnosed as bipolar (manic-depressive) even while she drank regularly and heavily,” and that “Patty Duke’s autobiography is suggestive of heavy drinking and other (legal) drug use as a trigger for her bipolar disorder….[which] doesn’t usually appear until at least the late teen years, well after most have had their first of many drinks.” Duke, in fact, was fed Bloody Mary’s by her obviously alcoholic business managers at age 13 or 14 and she didn’t experience her first bipolar episode, by her own testimony, until she was 18 or 19. In her 20s she was “hung over most of the day because I drank most of the night.” In this case, both Glasser and Barnes should have considered the underlying trigger for Eagleton’s bipolar disorder as alcoholism, as was likely true for Duke and Leigh. If there’s a problem, a personality disorder, or something otherwise inexplicable, the cause is usually alcoholism. Barnes, by being so cock-sure, helps to increase the myths surrounding the public’s vast misunderstandings of alcoholism. You’ll find 118 other myths debunked in Alcoholism Myths and Realities.

Headline of the month:

“The Suspect: ‘Shy guy,’ brilliant scholar, mystery; 24-year-old clean-cut doctoral student offers no clue to bizarre acts.”

See Top Story, above, for numerous clues to why the “shy guy,” James E. Holmes, would engage in “bizarre acts”: alcoholic egomania. Just don’t look for a “reason,” since addiction requires nothing other than a need to inflate the ego at the expense of others. You just need to know to look for it.

of the month:

The $60 million plus estate of “Painter of Light” Thomas Kinkade, at the center of a legal battle with two wills, two women and two very different pictures of his last wishes. The estranged wife has one will; his girlfriend another. The details hardly matter—the crucial point being that Kinkade had alcoholism, a manifestation of which is frequently awful planning for estates where heirs have clear conflicts.

Retrospective look of the month:

A 24-page search warrant affidavit regarding 25-year-old Krystle Marie Reyes, a runner-up for Top Story in the June-July 2012 issue of TAR, disclosed that three Oregon Department of Revenue employees were required to override the flagged payment, resulting in the issuance of a fraudulent $2.1 million state income tax refund. According to the affidavit, none of the three ever opened the file to look inside and no one looked at the W-2 form Reyes filed, even though they signed off on it. I’d love to see that form. My money is on “how could anyone with tax experience have failed to see the W-2 was fraudulent unless they’re drunk?” Oh yeah, they didn’t look at the W-2. Ok, my money would have to be on “how could anyone not look inside the file or at the W-2, unless there is a culture of alcoholism inside the Oregon Department of Revenue?” Note to ODR employees: I give the benefit of the doubt by assuming addiction. It’s either that, which would explain gross incompetence (or being complicit in a criminal act) or gross incompetence all by itself, without the benefit of flawed judgment rooted in alcoholism.

Chutzpah of the month:

David Belniak and his sister, attorney Debra Tuomey have earned what could be the “Chutzpah-of-the-Decade” award. Belniak pleaded guilty to killing three people in a DUI car crash and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The estate of the deceased sued in civil court to recover damages; later, Tuomey filed a countersuit, saying her brother wasn’t actually guilty and instead the crash resulted from the victims’ driver swerving into the lane where Belniak struck them. She asked the court to award Belniak for his pain, suffering, mental anguish and medical bills for a permanent scar on his arm (which the court could barely see when he held his arm up for them). All this, despite the fact that:

  1. Evidence showed the victims were waiting at a traffic light at a standstill in their Chevy Tahoe when Belniak slammed into it at somewhere between 53 and 86 mph, sending the Tahoe from “zero to 40 mph” in an instant.
  2. Several witnesses testified they saw Belniak driving erratically miles before the fatal incident, careening into curbs, sidewalks and oncoming traffic.
  3. There were a number of 911 calls pleading with authorities to stop Belniak’s Nissan Titan before he hurt someone.
  4. Belniak had alcohol (no doubt plenty of it), Xanax and cocaine metabolites in his system.
  5. He already had an array of DUI and likely DUI-related incidents to his credit: in 1994, he hit and killed a pedestrian but wasn’t charged; in 2003, police found a gallon of the date rape drug GHB in his car; he faced DUI charges on two other occasions.

Belniak has had plenty of opportunities to get sober, but this is the first time he’s really had to face the music. There are some alcoholics for whom the keys should be thrown away, not only because of their extraordinary arrogance, but also because they have proven time and again they don’t get it and, for some reason, seemingly can’t get it. Belniak is, apparently, one of those. As for Tuomey, many defense attorneys act as enablers in unwarranted situations, but this one takes the cake. They should be put in the same cell.

Sometimes, it takes an addict:

Dr. James W. West, 98, dead from complications related to old age. West was a pioneer in the area of organ transplants, having been part of a team of surgeons who performed the world’s first kidney transplant in 1950. He was already addicted to alcohol and, due to a fellow student’s introduction in medical school, amphetamines. He eventually sought help, which led him to study psychiatry and substance disorders. While we have not been able to ascertain when he got sober, we suspect it was long after he began performing surgery, but likely by the early 1970s when he helped to found the Haymarket Center in Chicago, a well-known alcohol and other-drug addiction treatment center. After “retiring” in 1982, he joined the Betty Ford Center at its inception, where he insisted that physicians serve as active members of addiction treatment teams. Betty Ford wrote, “This little bit of insight has prompted Dr. West to develop models of assessment and detoxification that have been duplicated around the world.” John Schwarzlose, president and chief executive of the Betty Ford Center, described Dr. West as “an addiction physician before there was even that term. It wasn’t so much the actual medication used; other people were using those. It was the attitude. He would look at them and say: ‘It’s the way you treat them. Alcoholics and addicts always feel like nobody wants to treat them. We make them feel like you’ve come to the right place.’ He would say, ‘My doctors and nurses treat people with love.’” We’ll miss you, Dr. West. Thanks for all you did.

Note to family, friends and fans of the above
: the benefit of the doubt is given by assuming alcoholism (they are either idiots and fundamentally rotten, or they are alcoholic/other drug addicts—which would explain the misbehaviors). If alcoholic, there is zero chance that behaviors, in the long run, will improve without sobriety. An essential prerequisite to sobriety is the cessation of enabling, allowing pain and crises to build. Thus far, many have done everything they can to protect the addict from the requisite pain, making these news events possible. The cure for alcoholism, consequential bad behaviors and, ultimately, tragedy, is simple: stop protecting the addict from the logical consequences of misbehaviors and, where possible, proactively intervene.

TV’s Real-Life Alcoholics

I’ve noted previously (in issue # 9 and issue # 14 of TAR, among others) that reality TV is filled with alcohol and other-drug addicts; “Survivor” and “Big Brother” are replete with them. While identifying such addicts on “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” might be a bit of a challenge (only a few are immediately obvious), they appear ubiquitous in this summer’s reality trash “Bachelor Pad.” In the latest incarnation of the series, Ed Swiderski is the patently obvious person with alcoholism, as he can’t seem to go a day without naked swimming, loud hook-ups and running around like a crazy person while clearly under the influence. In general, his poor morning-after performances in the competition events confirm middle-stage alcoholism in a younger man’s body. He couldn’t even get himself up the chocolate sundae slide, which all the other guys easily scaled. However, if signs of inflated ego are an indication of alcoholism, as is usually the case, there are many other alcoholics in the Pad. I would suspect at least Erica Rose, Kalon, Chris, Reid (who’s already gone home as of this publication) and Blakeley.

Occasionally, we stumble across shows in which addiction is unexpected. One of recent vintage was in the Animal Planet series “My Cat from Hell.” While one must wonder about Jackson Galaxy, the rather freakish but very gentle host who clearly lacks egomaniacal behaviors (at least on the show), one of his recent guests makes the likely-addictive cut, at least for me. In the first half of the show titled “Cat Escape,” Khrys is a trashy-looking girl with low-cut dresses in all the scenes. Her hair is messy, she does “hair flips” (no doubt thinking it’s sexy), she sounds like she’s slurring her words in an early scene and she has a propensity to fail to follow directions (“the rules are not for me” attitude). She owns a Russian Blue who, according to the boyfriend, “declared war on its owners.” Despite the fact that it’s “her” cat, she refuses to care for it—she won’t scoop the litter box, clean up its spray, chase it down when it goes outside and take the cat to have it neutered even though she’s agreed to do so. While the boyfriend is portrayed as having created the problem with the cat, Khrys may have set the stage for problems, but you can take a look here and see what you think. My associate Kristin thinks she acts just like some (most?) 20-somethings today, but I’ve got to wonder.




My son keeps getting deeper into debt

Dear Doug:

My son, who doesn’t earn enough to cover regular expenses, spends some $400 monthly on beer and cigarettes. He and his wife owe $15,000 on five credit cards and over his wife’s objections he just bought a new flat-screen TV. He refuses to see a counselor. What can be done?


Concerned and frightened father

Dear Codependent,

Other columnists might suggest that your son turn his paycheck over to his more responsible wife. They might also suggest divorce, keeping in mind your daughter-in-law would still likely be on the hook for the debt. They’d say she could try earning more, which would only serve to further subsidize and thereby exacerbate your son’s irresponsible behavior. A fourth approach would be to allow them to ride the train to the bottom, resulting in cutting up the credit cards and, if they own, losing their home. They’d suggest she look into credit counseling. Finally, other columnists might suggest she (and you) consider attending Al-Anon meetings.

Other columnists, while finally hitting the mark, have it bass ackwards.

Your son has the disease of alcoholism. That comes before everything else because, as all addicts do, he experiences distortions of perception and memory that manifest as poor judgment and, in his case, irresponsible spending behaviors—and who knows what else behind closed doors (your daughter-in-law is likely experiencing at least tremendous verbal abuse). While some of the suggestions may help your son bottom-out, without someone involved forging the link between his problems and the booze he’s likely to spiral down further to an even lower bottom. Turning the paycheck over to his wife serves only to enable, as would riding the train to a bottom with him. Since alcoholism is the underlying cause of all of his problems, his addiction must be addressed before anything else can be fixed. During an intervention with a qualified interventionist, she must give him an ultimatum: either he stops drinking and attends AA, or she walks. Only in sobriety can the addiction-fueled irresponsible behaviors be addressed and be expected to dissipate.

You are observing one variation on the theme of the nearly-countless adverse consequences of alcoholism. Cause and effect must be viewed in the right order: he drinks not because of poor spending behaviors and God-knows-what-else; instead he has poor spending behaviors, etc., because of an alcoholism-fueled sense of invincibility and entitlement. The cause of your son’s misbehaviors must be assumed to be alcoholism until proven otherwise. The only way to disprove the hypothesis is to inspire in him a need to get clean and sober and watch the misbehaviors dissipate. By far the best privately-imposed inspiration is the credible threat of concrete and severe consequences for failure. He must know that his wife will follow through and keep every promise, and she must do exactly that.

(Source for story idea: Ask Amy, July 25, 2012.)

“Individuals who commit acts of mass violence often have suffered some kind of loss and aren’t able to bounce back from it.” *

So said* Secret Service and the U.S. Marshals Service behavioral threat assessment consultant Barry Spodak, commenting on the James E. Holmes mass shooting. Some myths make my hair stand on end; this, one of the most ignorant statements ever made by someone who should know better (what?! He consults for the Secret Service and U.S. Marshals Service?!) is one of those. I suspect everyone reading this article has suffered a severe loss (likely several) during their lives. Were you able to “bounce back” without committing violence? Of course you were. If you didn’t or know someone who didn’t, why? My research indicates the odds are at least 90% that the emotional state was completely screwed up by substance addiction, either directly or indirectly; close addicts can really mess with the minds and emotions of close codependents. The statement might be accurate if Spodak had said, “Addicts who commit acts of mass violence often have suffered some kind of loss from which they were unable to bounce back,” except no such loss has been reported in the life of Holmes or, for that matter, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer or Timothy McVeigh. Let’s try again: “Addicts are capable of anything, including mass murder. Other than a need to wield power over others, no motive is required.”

* Apparently a journalist paraphrased what Spodak said. His actual words were: “Individuals who carry out acts like this of mass violence tend to perceive themselves to have suffered significant losses or failures and the people around them have generally been worried about their ability to deal with it.”


Story from “This is True” by Randy Cassingham, with his “tagline:”

“PENALTY STROKE: Patricia A. Maione, 46, ‘stated that her GPS had told her to turn left,’ a Northbridge, Mass., police officer wrote in his report. ‘She stated that this left brought her into a 'cornfield' and once she was in the 'cornfield' she kept driving trying to get out of her 'cornfield'.’ It wasn't a cornfield, it was a golf course: the officer found her car stuck in a sand trap. And, witnesses say, she took the turn onto the course at about 45 mph. It wasn't so much of a failure of the GPS navigation unit as it was, the officer found, that Maione allegedly admitted she had drunk half a bottle of vodka. She was charged with driving on a suspended license, fourth-offense drunk driving, and driving with an open container of alcohol in the car. (RC/Worcester Telegram & Gazette) ...She may have yelled ‘fore!’ but it sounds like she had a fifth.”

At least that much, Randy (the “RC” before the news source means this is Randy Cassingham’s headline and tagline), since confusion to this degree requires a lot of hooch. While it’s true we can’t always trust our GPS (or MapQuest) directions, unless we’re really plastered we’re not going to turn onto a golf course, we won’t think it’s a “cornfield,” we won’t end up in a sand trap and we’re unlikely to have made such a turn at 45 mph. If there was no proof she had been drinking, the uninitiated among us would shake our heads, wonder what she was thinking and make excuses for her, such as “She should have been able to trust her GPS” and “It must have been really dark.” The addictionologists among us would simply ask, “What drug or drugs was she on?” as we must always do when we shake our heads and wonder what someone is or was thinking.

(Story and tagline from “This is True,” copyright 2012 by Randy Cassingham, used with permission. If you haven't already subscribed to his newsletter—the free one at least, or the paid one I get, with more than twice the stories—I highly recommend it:


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