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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
2011 by Doug Thorburn
The blog is open to your comments. We’ll be interested in any thoughts you, our loyal readers, may have.
By the way, call us (800-482-9424) for deals on books you won’t be able to refuse. (They are also available, of course, at amazon.com or galtpublishing.com They make a terrific gift to teens and anyone thinking about becoming professionally or romantically involved with someone else! (…including other drivers, landlords, tenants, employers, employees, neighbors…)
Arizona Shooter Jared Lee Loughner: Angry Political Rhetoric—or Alcoholism?
Various reasons have been cited for the attempted murder of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the murder of six other innocents and the serious injury of over a dozen more. The 22-year-old shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, has been described as a socialist, a right-winger and a left-winger. Bloggers and radio talk show hosts are accused of having angered Loughner. Some say such bloodshed was only a matter of “when” given these “hateful” times. The blame game is rampant. These comments disregard the fact that most “angry” people, right-wingers, left-wingers and even socialists and other statists don’t go out and kill people. Such comments ignore the evidence that 99.999% of those writing and reading blogs, even radical ones, don’t commit bloodshed and that few people who listen to talk radio ever become violent.
Not even most alcohol and other-drug addicts commit mayhem and murder. However, there is a plethora of evidence that most murders and mayhem are committed by those addicted to psychotropic drugs. And, as is so often true, there were plenty of clues to Loughner’s almost-certain psychotropic drug addiction long before this ultimate tragedy occurred. He was described as “odd,” “scary,” “rambling,” “strange” and “disruptive” in class. As explained in Drunks, Drugs & Debits: How to Recognize Addicts and Avoid Financial Abuse, a probability of alcoholism bordering on 80% can be ascribed based on these behaviors alone. Classmates thought he acted “wildly inappropriate” and felt he was “troubled.” He had five recorded run-ins with campus police over "classroom and library disruptions.” Disciplinary action had been taken against him at college. His web page posts are clearly rambling and incoherent and include such mind-blowing convoluted assertions as, "The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar.” Perhaps among the observations that are most telling and indicative of a classic Jekyll and Hyde transformation, a long-time friend and former classmate said there was a “mysterious, significant change in him a year before the shooting….He was a good person that just somehow changed so much. I don’t know what the hell happened to him.”
Some think Loughner must be schizophrenic, while Puma County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik figures “he has mental issues.” While it’s possible that’s all there is, the odds of non-addiction are less than 20%. Further evidence all but proves addictive use of drugs: he was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia in 2007 and had unknown charges brought against him in October 2008, which were dropped a couple of months later. Reports say he “has had minor run-ins with the police for drugs-related offenses”—and a person with drug-related offenses likely used hundreds of times between contacts with law enforcers. He was described as a pothead by former classmate, Caitie Parker, who also claims he “got alcohol poisoning” in 2006. Military officials disclosed he was rejected due to “issues related to his history of drug use” and may have actually failed a drug test. Based on these reports, we can ascribe a nearly 100% likelihood of alcohol and other-drug addiction.
But addiction to most drugs wouldn’t result in the combination of behaviors observed. Whenever we see extraordinarily bizarre and destructive behaviors, methamphetamine addiction must be suspected. I often used to say, “If there’s murder, there’s almost always an addict. However, not every murderer is one; for example, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh might be an exception.” Years later I learned that one of his conspirators, “heavy drug user” Michael Fortier, introduced McVeigh to methamphetamine, which they used often. A recent study found that over 40% of incoming prisoners in the Midwest have meth in their system. Methamphetamine has reportedly long plagued the Pima County, Arizona area, where the percentage could easily be greater. The evidence leaves little doubt that Jared Lee Loughner’s delusional thinking and consequential rampage are rooted in psychotropic drug addiction. The behaviors strongly suggest his main drug of choice, which seems to create a combination of greater delusions and destructive behaviors than others, was methamphetamine. On the other hand, the drug or combination of drugs used doesn’t matter so much as the fact that he was almost certainly an addict, which led to grotesque actions having nothing to do with whatever beliefs he may have held.
Runners-up for top story of the month:
Actor Rip Torn, pleading guilty to breaking into a bank and carrying a loaded weapon while so drunk that prosecutors stipulated he believed he was at home and had left his hat and boots by the door. Torn, who has repeatedly been bailed out of his alcoholism-fueled misadventures by fame and money, was given a two-and-a-half year suspended sentence, three years of probation and is required to undergo random alcohol and other-drug testing. Who knows, at 79 maybe, just maybe, Rip Torn will finally get clean and sober. As many older alcoholics have said near death, they were very happy to have the opportunity to die sober.
Seven Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies relieved of duty (with pay) pending an investigation into a brawl at a Christmas party for employees of Men’s Central Jail. An argument led to violence among the roughly 100 guests gathered at the Quiet Cannon banquet hall in Montebello, CA. At least two people were injured. While relatives were in attendance, only deputies were involved in the violence. Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore admitted that while it was unclear if alcohol was involved, “it was a Christmas party, [so] one could assume there was.” You think?
U.S. District Court Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., 64, found guilty on four articles of impeachment and removed from the bench for accepting cash and other favors from attorneys and bail bondsmen with business before his court. Prosecutors said gambling and drinking problems led Porteous, only the 8th federal judge to be removed from office and the first ousted in more than two decades, to engage in such egregious behavior. Correction: the drinking likely came first, so prosecutors would have better served the unknowing public so desperately in need of education on alcoholism instead by stating: “Alcoholism led Porteous to think he was Godlike, which in turn made him think he could beat the House, creating a desperate need to raise cash to pay his gambling debts, which he attempted to do by engaging in criminal behaviors.”
Harold Smith, killing himself in the lobby of his apartment building after Beverly Hills detectives attempted to serve a search warrant at his home in the investigation of the murder of Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen. Some residents of Harvey Apartments, a weathered building on Santa Monica Blvd., said Smith was a “disconcerting” presence who often told conflicting stories about his past and, despite two stints in state prison, claimed he owned a gun and vowed he’d never go back to prison. One neighbor said Smith was “very strange;” another heard him brag that he had killed Chasen but ignored the comment because he so often told tall tales. Another mentioned he “frequently” saw Smith carrying a tall can of malt liquor, but I can’t imagine that might be important.
The report in the June 2010 issue of TAR (http://www.preventragedy.com/pages/TAR/055.jun10.html) of University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love, 22, having died at the hands of fellow student and men’s lacrosse player George Huguely, which put the entire blame on Huguely, may have been premature. Love’s friends said Huguely had a temper and “may” have “abused” alcohol, and the arresting officer testified during his 2009 trial for public intoxication and resisting arrest that she felt so threatened she used a stun gun on Huguely. However, it turns out that Love may have died from cardiac arrhythmia caused by—guess what?—drugs. If the only drug found in her system had been the amphetamine Adderall we might figure she was using it for attention deficit disorder. However, it turns out her blood alcohol level was .14 percent, which is the equivalent of seven shots of 80-proof liquor over a four-hour time span for a 120-pound person. Since a single dose of two or more different drugs packs a far more powerful punch than a double dose of any one drug, addicts frequently use multiple drugs. In addition, addicts often hang out with other addicts, which may well be the case here. In June 2010 I wrote, “Because [Huguely’s] friends and family didn’t grasp the meaning of his drinking—that this was a completely different and potentially lethal person when using—no one intervened and tragedy happened.” We can add that because Love’s friends and family didn’t grasp the probable meaning of her drinking and using, no one intervened and, well, tragedy happened.
In an early 2009 piece on white collar crime, The Economist magazine suggests there may be some truth in 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 couple of recent stories follow for which the evidence of alcoholism is in the behavior itself.
British doctor Andrew Wakefield, whose 1998 study linking the widely used measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism was found by the British medical journal The Lancet to have been an “elaborate fraud.” The purported study had an enormous effect, inspiring a panic to get the mercury compound called thimerosal out of vaccines. Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins killed a vaccine liability provision that would have prevented parents from bringing thimerosal suits, Britain’s immunization rates dropped to 80% and 40% of American parents delayed or declined at least one of their children’s shots. Former Playboy playmate Jenny McCarthy (see http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com/Jenny_McCarthy_Body_Count/Home.html) promoted anti-vaccination rhetoric on Oprah and many other venues (never thinking perhaps keeping kids from getting sunlight might be in fact one of the main causes of autism—see http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/health/autism/ for some of the evidence).
Wakefield used no controls, never disclosed that he was approached two years before his study was published by a lawyer who represented several families with autistic children, and that this lawyer specifically hired Wakefield to find justification for a class action suit against MMR manufacturers. Wakefield didn’t disclose that a company owned by his wife was paid nearly half a million pounds plus expenses for the work he did for the lawyer. Originally, he denied being paid at all and then he lied about how much he was paid. Before the study was published, Wakefield filed patents for his own measles vaccine and several autism-related products. His study was not approved by his hospital’s ethics committee; when confronted, he first claimed it was approved and later claimed he didn’t need approval (he did). He purchased blood samples for his research from children as young as 4 and callously joked in public about them crying, fainting and vomiting. Several of the eventual 12 subjects, 11 of whom became litigants, were later found to have had autistic symptoms before they got the MMR vaccine. There’s more, but you get the idea: based on behaviors we’re at 80% likelihood of addiction. (This story from a slightly different point of view is in the June 2010 issue of TAR at http://www.preventragedy.com/pages/TAR/055.jun10.html, under “Codependent of the month.”)
Springfield, Illinois Mayor Timothy J. Davlin, dead of an apparent suicide by gunshot at 53. Davlin was scheduled to appear in court over his role as executor to give a financial accounting of a cousin’s estate after Catholic Charities of Springfield claimed it didn’t receive money due to it as a beneficiary. He was under investigation by the IRS for unpaid taxes totaling nearly $90,000. Let’s see…politician, check. Unpaid taxes despite an apparent decent income—check. Divorced, but only once, check. Suicide—check. A confluence of behavioral indicators can indicate up to an 80% or so likelihood of addiction. Silence on the part of everyone who could confirm or disprove addictive use of one or more drugs and, hence, alcoholism—check.
Enablers of the month:
Outgoing California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who reduced the sentence for the son of his good friend Fabian Nunez (who happens to be a business partner of his chief political adviser), Esteban Nunez, in the stabbing death of San Diego State University student Luis Santos after a night of heavy drinking. Even The Los Angeles Times editorialized the partial commutation smelled, pointing out that although Nunez didn’t make the fatal wound, he stabbed two other victims who survived. As The Times reported, “Schwarzenegger issued only 10 commutations during his tenure, and it strains credibility to suppose that Esteban Nunez would have been found worthy of such consideration if his father didn’t have a personal relationship with the governor.” You’ll find our original report on the story in the January 2009 TAR (http://www.preventragedy.com/pages/TAR/045.jan09.html), where Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is quoted as coming to Esteban’s defense, saying he was “a great kid, a good boy.” Yup, until he isn’t, just like almost every other addict.
Journalists with the Associated Press, who couldn’t get themselves to use the word “alcoholic” in reporting the death in prison of John du Pont, one of hundreds of heirs to the du Pont family fortune. We learn in the 7th paragraph that in 1996 du Pont shot and killed David Schultz, a 1984 gold medalist in freestyle wrestling. The 10th paragraph reports that the trial exposed du Pont’s “bizarre, paranoid behavior and his many delusions, including believing that his body was being inhabited by bugs and that he was being spied on.” In the next paragraph we find he had a reputation for acting bizarrely in other ways as well, including driving two new Lincoln Continentals into a pond on his property, one after the other. Finally, in the 12th paragraph, journalists tell us that wrestlers who trained at du Pont’s state-of-the-art Foxcatcher National Training Center alleged that du Pont pointed guns at them, once kicked out a wrestler because he was black and he “drank too much.” Du Pont’s lawyers contended in the murder trial he was insane and (reminiscent of the sort of comments we will likely be seeing regarding this month’s Top Story, Jared Lee Loughner) suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, but we learn in the 14th paragraph a psychiatrist testified that cocaine, “not mental illness,” fueled du Pont’s rampage. Journalists missed the opportunity for a teaching moment by their failure to explicitly state at the get-go that John du Pont, because of his longstanding addiction to alcohol and cocaine, exhibited numerous truly bizarre and destructive behaviors that came to a head in the ultimate tragedy of the shooting death of David Schulz. They might also have explained that alcoholism tends to run in families when reporting that his mother was left to raise du Pont after his father, William du Pont Jr., abandoned the family when John was two years old.
Enabler of the year:
The University of Notre Dame. Lizzy Seeberg told authorities an unnamed Notre Dame football player fondled her against her will and that he became so aggressive in his assault she froze in terror. Ten days later, she committed suicide. Five days after that, authorities finally interviewed the player. The mother of a former classmate of the player told reporters that even in elementary school her daughter often came home complaining about something that player had done, such as picking up a girl in their fifth grade class and throwing her. “He was bigger than everybody else, and violent.” The accused player reportedly regularly bullied other students and was expelled in the 7th grade for threatening a girl. According to reports, he was suspended in high school for throwing a desk at a teacher who’d taken away his cell phone. We might be excused for our failure to believe the football player’s assertion that everything that happened with Lizzy Seeberg, whose story was otherwise essentially the same as his, was consensual. While Ms. Seeberg clearly had her own issues—she was apparently seeing a psychiatrist for depression and anxiety before committing suicide—there is no excuse for the University to have denied the Seeberg family a disciplinary hearing or for Notre Dame’s President Father John Jenkins’ refusal to meet with the Seebergs and to have, according to Lizzy’s dad, lawyered up. But, then, the player, who Notre Dame recruited despite his shocking past and the University’s claim of how carefully it selects players, reportedly is a star.
This could be a classic case of indirect alcoholism resulting in multiple tragedies. The unnamed player exhibited reportedly awful behaviors by the fifth grade, which is strongly indicative of parental alcoholism. The behaviors may or may not now be fueled by direct alcoholism. A suicide occurs in someone who, except for depression (which can occur without benefit of drug addiction) by all accounts shows no other behavioral indications of alcoholism. A great university enables the behaviors and even protects a friend of the accused player who sent Lizzy a text: “Don’t do anything you would regret. Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.” Greater tragedies may yet ensue: the player has apparently gotten away with something, which fuels alcoholic egomania. If he has the disease of alcoholism, he will continue to abuse others and such abuse is likely to escalate until greater tragedy occurs unless he somehow gets sober first. However, so long as Notre Dame and others enable, the likelihood of sobriety before tragedy is remote.
Co-addict of the month:
Brooke Mueller, Charlie Sheen’s estranged wife with whom he has two children, checking into rehab a week after calling reports she had already re-entered rehab “ridiculous” and saying, “I am healthy and happy.” Which reminds me of a question: how can you tell if an addict is lying? She opens her mouth.
Disenablers of the month:
Jodi Ritzen, who told former child star Butch Patrick (who played Eddie Munster in the mid-‘60s TV show, “The Munsters”), “Get in the car, I’m taking you to rehab—and I’m not taking no for an answer.” The intervention worked in terms of getting him into rehab, but despite Ritzen’s hope that this would be “the start of a whole new life for him,” Patrick quickly checked himself out of rehab and again began boozing and drugging. Fortunately, his family, apparently with the help of John Rose, the producer filming a new A&E series “Life’s a Butch,” staged a formal intervention and got him to check back in.
Sometimes, it takes an addict:
Writer-Director Blake Edwards, dead from complications of pneumonia at 88. Edwards, who got sober in 1963, married actress Julie Andrews in 1969 and remained sober and married for the next 41 years. Although he had some success after he got sober (“Victor/Victoria” from 1982, “10” from 1979, “The Great Race” from 1965 and, one of the few relatively obscure movies I don’t tire of, 1968’s “The Party” starring Peter Sellers), Edwards directed many of his great movies during a flurry of activity over a few years while drinking alcoholically: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961), “The Pink Panther” (1963), “Operation Petticoat” (1959) and, incredibly, “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962), which is often billed as one of the greatest alcoholic movies ever, starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remmick as two addicts on the decline (briefly reviewed in Drunks, Drugs & Debits). Five months in traction resulting from a dive into a shallow swimming pool shortly after high school while in the Coast Guard during WW2, after a night of alcohol-fueled partying, didn’t get him sober. The making of the film however, during which he and Lemmon partied hard, apparently did (Edwards admitted “the film had as much to do with [getting sober] as anything did”). (Lemmon and Remmick got sober long after completing the film.)
Laurie “Bambi” Bembenek, a former Playboy Club bunny and police officer convicted of shooting her then-husband Fred Schultz’s ex-wife Christine Schultz, dead of liver failure at 52. She was sentenced to life in prison in 1982 for the murder, but escaped in 1990 and was recaptured a few months later. She maintained her innocence and, after her original case was set aside she pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and was released on parole in 1992. It often takes multiple addicts to create a story convoluted and interesting enough to attract international attention and inspire a movie (“Woman on Trial: The Lawrencia Bembenek Story,” starring Tatum O’Neal), and hers is likely no exception. She admitted to alcoholism and Fred Schultz, who claimed he was on duty investigating a burglary with his partner at the time of the murder, later admitted they were actually drinking at a local pub. Following Bembenek’s conviction, a career criminal, Frederick Horenberger, boasted of killing Christine Schultz to other inmates while serving a ten-year sentence for having robbed and beaten a former close friend and fellow police trainee of Bembenek’s, Judy Zess, who had been dismissed from the police department following an arrest for smoking marijuana. As pointed out in Drunks, Drugs & Debits, we can’t truly make sense of current events and history without understanding the addiction that was often an essential component in creating those events. However, that doesn’t mean we can always identify which addict is the ultimate culprit when tragedy happens.
And so long, too, to British actor Pete Postlethwaite, dead at 64 of cancer. Described as “wild and true, lionhearted, unselfconscious, irreverent” and “edgy,” Postlethwaite, who when his agent suggested he change his name opted to instead change his agent, had a bulbous nose that was broken playing rugby as a boy and re-broken “in barroom brawls as a man.” Director Jim Sheridan, who is credited as having brought him to international attention in “In the Name of the Father,” described him as having “lived life to the full” and “the most gorgeous human being you ever met….He was a great, great actor.” He also said, “He drank, but he could hold his drink. At the same time, he was the most professional. So he was a weird combination.” Steven Spielberg, who directed him in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Amistad,” reportedly called him “probably the best actor in the world.” My favorite was his portrayal of Danny in “Brassed Off,” the British film featuring a beautiful version of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” While we can’t be absolutely certain—all too often, the most destructive attributes of alcoholism are hidden behind closed doors—the best explanation for a “weird” combination of attributes as described, not to mention barroom brawls, is alcoholism.
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.
“The Closer: An Ugly Game”
The 2010-2011 season finale of TNT’s “The Closer” can be added to the growing list of carefully written and beautifully produced portrayals of addiction. When a USC graduate with an MBA from UCLA is arrested on skid row with rock cocaine in his possession, but arrives at the station without the car keys originally found on him, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) asks, “How does a college-educated investment broker end up on skid row?” Det. Lt. Provenza (G. W. Bailey) succinctly and accurately responds, “Addiction doesn’t discriminate.”
The addict, Trey Gavin (Riley Smith) appears contrite as he comes down, asking “Why did I do it again?....I tried so hard to straighten myself out…I let my parents down again,” all the while blaming the folks at the treatment center for being con artists and acting so badly towards him they made him want to leave. However, one of the detectives finds out the treatment center is “known for their tough love approach, but it’s not a con.” Indeed, as the plot unwinds, we slowly learn who the real con is.
While Brenda is being conned, Sgt. David Gabriel (Corey Reynolds) isn’t. On a hunch that it’s bigger than just a crack case, he goes over Brenda’s head and asks Assistant Chief Will Pope (J. K. Simmons) to look at everything closely (and keep the case in Major Crimes). “It’s the keys…I just don’t understand why he’d throw the keys away if he didn’t think it would get him in trouble.” Pope in turn calls in Brenda’s husband, FBI agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney), who is a recovering alcoholic.
After detectives find the car with a dead girl in the trunk, Brenda is skeptical that Trey could be involved. However, Sgt. Gabriel insists, “I have known junkies my entire life. They are all incredible liars. Do not believe this guy’s story.” Brenda responds, “I have questioned Trey…and he’s childish…but he’s not capable of stabbing a girl to death.”
This is where you find that the writer, Duppy Demetrius (who wrote several episodes of “24” along with a number of episodes of “The Closer”), knows a heck of a lot about addiction (even if I can find nothing else about this person online).
Fritz, who’s been watching the conversation between Gabriel and Brenda, asks Brenda, “Do you know that conversation you never want to have? We’ve put it off as long as we can.” He brings her aside and says, “I’m an alcoholic. That means I’m an addict.” Brenda insists, “I know everything about this stuff I want to know.” Fritz responds, “You think that, but you don’t.” He tells her she might be making a big mistake. “Look at me and tell me, am I a good guy? Do you think I’m a good guy?” “Of course.” “Two days before I got my second DUI….[I awoke from a stupor and] my gun is missing three bullets….I could have killed someone….I kept drinking [and] it took me getting another DUI before I asked for help…and I did that only because my career was on the line.....That’s how dangerous I was.” Brenda, confused, tells Fritz, “You’re making it sound like you’re some kind of monster, and you’re not a monster. You’re the most decent person I know.” “I’m both, honey. I’m sorry. But I’m both.”
Brenda begins to see that she could have gotten it horribly wrong. Fritz explains why: “You’re used to siding with the victim. That’s how addicts see themselves when they’re using. Nothing, nothing is ever their fault.” Even when Brenda is able to pin the grisly murder on Trey, who looks like such a nice young man despite his addiction, he insists “It’s not my fault.”
In the last scene, Brenda tells Fritz, “I know you had another life before you stopped drinking.” “What do you want me to tell you?” “Everything I don’t want to hear.”
There were a number of wonderful lessons about addiction imparted in this episode. No one masters the art of the con like the addict. Addicts are capable of anything. Anyone, regardless of background or education, can become an addict (if they are predisposed). The drug of choice is irrelevant and alcohol can make the addict as much of a monster as crack cocaine. Addicts need a credible threat of losing something they cherish to inspire in them a need to get clean and sober. And when addicts get clean and sober, they can be the most decent people we know.
As one reviewer suggested, this looks like a great set-up for the show’s (unfortunately) final season. If Demetrius continues to do the writing, the final season of “The Closer” could continue to provide one of the greatest forums ever in educating the unaware public about addiction.
At a recent block party, a couple of acquaintances revealed that when they go out to dinner, they have two or three cocktails just before leaving their home. They explained they saved money, since they “only need to order one or two more” drinks at the restaurant. We were shocked to hear them admit to driving home after consuming these drinks over just a couple of hours. When we verbalized our concern, the husband, who does the driving, admitted he gets quite a buzz-on. What should we do?
Acquaintances of regular DUIs
Other columnists would rightly say the next time you see this couple get into their car while impaired that you call police and ask them to be on the lookout for the car, even though they won’t get involved unless they have reasonable cause to pull them over. Such columnists might suggest that you and your neighbors reason with them and say, “It’s the holiday season and we just don’t want you or anyone else to get hurt. Please stop drinking and driving.”
The trouble is you would be trying to reason with brain-damaged individuals. They drink to get drunk and do so by drinking before the event. Such “pre-drinking” is a classic indicator of alcoholism, as is the apparent amount consumed, which is often far more than what we see or what they admit to.
Since a DUI conviction is the most effective legal intervention, other columnists wisely suggest you try to have them arrested. However, since to your knowledge it hasn’t happened and, as pointed out in Get Out of the Way! How to Identify and Avoid a Driver Under the Influence, alcoholics get away with driving under the influence an average of at least 1,000 times for every arrest, informing police is unlikely to help. As explained in Drunks, Drugs & Debits, the most effective extra-legal way of dealing with alcoholism is conspiring with friends, family and associates in a formal intervention with a qualified interventionist. As acquaintances, you are limited in your ability to offer “uncompromising tough love,” which requires that a choice be given to the addict: sobriety or termination of the relationship. However, you might begin the process of educating others in the neighborhood, as well as any of their friends and family you can gain access to. Oh, and if a sober cop lives in the neighborhood, by all means get him involved.
(Source for story idea: Ask Amy, December 23, 2010.)
“I really didn’t think anybody could pretend to anticipate that…[John Wesley Ewell] would suddenly go from stealing things from Home Depot to murdering old people.”
So said Los Angeles County Head Deputy District Attorney John Lynch in excusing the repeated exceptions under California’s three strikes law allowed by L.A. County prosecutors in failing to seek the maximum sentence for Ewell before he allegedly murdered four people in a series of home invasion robberies. Ewell was quite the con artist. He complained to journalists over the unfairness of the three-strikes law, saying he lived in fear that even a small offense, having had two prior convictions for robbery, would land him back in prison for life. When appearing on “The Montel Williams Show,” a caption flashed on the screen that read “Afraid to leave his house because he has 2 ‘Strikes.’” (The obvious response is, then don’t do anything bad, but I digress.) His wife, Carmen, became state treasurer of Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes, which focuses attention on scores of prisoners serving possible life sentences for minor drug offenses and petty thefts. Ewell was released on three occasions in the year preceding the grisly murders after arrests for stealing from Home Depot stores. Prosecutors said that, at age 53, he hardly fit the profile of a killer and that the “vast majority of [minor] offenders…have not gone on to kill or carry out serious crimes.”
If the vast majority of such offenders went on to murder people, we’d likely all be dead. The problem is, as stated in these pages numerous times and more fully explained in Drunks, Drugs & Debits, we cannot predict how destructive a practicing alcohol or other-drug addict may become, or when. Ewell appears to have been a classic Jekyll and Hyde type and likely was sober for long periods. Neighbors described him as a friendly handyman willing to help others (similar descriptions of the “Grim Sleeper” serial murderer Lonnie Franklin, Jr., are found in the Top Story in the July 2010 edition of TAR at http://preventragedy.com/pages/TAR/056.jul10.html). After narrowly avoiding a third strike conviction in the early 1990s he spent years out of trouble, no doubt while in recovery from his longstanding cocaine addiction. While there are no easy answers, we have the means to enforce sobriety on those who have proven to society they cannot safely use alcohol or other drugs. Since we cannot predict which addicts who commit minor offenses will go on to commit murder, but can predict that some will, the technology for enforcing abstinence—ankle bracelets and regular and random other-drug testing—should be mandatory for all convicts.
Along similar lines, while some alcoholics never drink and drive, most do and often regularly. Due to alcoholically-induced brain damage, one cannot reason with a practicing alcoholic. He may promise never to do it (whatever “it” is) again, but once he’s drunk, anything goes—he thinks he’s God and, therefore, perfect and invincible, so he can (obviously) drive safely. This is the reason advertising, including this very powerful and compelling DUI commercial from Australia making the Internet rounds recently (http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=Z2mf8DtWWd8), is unlikely to have any effect on those who matter most: alcoholics (although the video could easily inspire codependents to intervene). Addicts need consequences, including arrest and coerced abstinence via any and every technology available.
Stories from “This is True” by Randy Cassingham, with his “taglines:”
“SO MANY TAX DOLLARS, SO LITTLE TIME: A woman went to a grocery store in Grand Rapids, MI, and purchased 42 bottles and cans of soda. She charged them to her Bridge Card, a federally funded debit card that's managed by the state for use by public assistance recipients. She then took her purchase directly to the store's automated redemption machine, and fed all 42 containers, unopened, into the machine. Inside, they all exploded as they were crushed, spreading soda and debris inside the machine and all over the surrounding floor. She then pocketed $4.20 for the returns, and left. Store manager Steve Holland said he called the state, and was told the customer did not violate Bridge Card rules. (JW/WOOD-TV) ...Next she'll be back for a cash refund on already-chewed gum.”
Do you think taxpayers might benefit by requiring proof of sobriety in those on the dole? Let’s take a look at a similar story:
“SO MANY TAX DOLLARS, SO LITTLE TIME II: A Winslow, Maine, woman was indicted on charges of theft by deception and aggravated forgery for fraudulently obtaining food stamps. According to the indictment, Leah L. Wright, 34, falsely stated she was pregnant -- for 40 months straight -- and forged statements from physicians and state agencies to verify her condition. Assistant Attorney General Leane Robbin said Wright had received about $4,000 in benefits. Two notes from separate agencies show one pregnancy following another by one day. (JW/Waterville Morning Sentinel) ...Someone in the welfare department needs a refresher course in sex education.”
Although we lack gold-standard proof, the evidence strongly points to addiction in both women as by far the best explanation for their disgusting behaviors (after all, they are either exceedingly vile or they are addicts, which would explain the acts and for which we logically give them the benefit of the doubt). Consider the possibility that the woman in the next story could have easily committed the acts in the first two:
“MOTHER OF THE YEAR RUNNER-UP: Chicago, Ill., police were summoned to check out an apparently drunk woman, holding her 3-month-old baby ‘as if she had a football under her armpit.’ Officers say Jamie L. Riley, 27, was indeed drunk. Riley told them she had been drinking vodka, ‘celebrating with my husband because DCFS dropped their investigation.’ The city's Department of Children and Family Services confirmed they had been investigating the woman for child neglect. Riley was charged with endangering the health and life of a child and disorderly conduct. The infant, who was injured in the incident, was taken to a hospital -- and into protective custody -- and the DCFS has opened a new investigation. (RC/Chicago Sun-Times) ...The telling part isn't the second investigation, but that the first one was closed out.”
Sometimes I’m not sure who commits the greatest amount of enabling: friends, family or government. You have the right to be an idiot and enable your friend or family member to death. But stop putting taxpayers on the hook by coercing them into enabling.
(Stories and taglines from “This is True,” copyright 2011 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 twice the stories—I highly recommend it: www.ThisIsTrue.com.)
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