|August 2008 / Issue No. 42
Welcome to the Thorburn Addiction Report. Each month, we bring you several sections, including:
1. Top Story of the month
2. Review 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!
“Your book Alcoholism Myths & Realities has, for the first time, helped me to make sense of what is wrong with me and thus put it right. It's the first logical explanation of alcoholism I have ever read. I cannot thank you enough.”
--Christopher R., London, England
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Bruce Ivins, anthrax suspect. Verdict: alcoholic.
Bruce E. Ivins, PhD, was a leading scientist researching vaccines and cures for anthrax exposure. Until 2006, he was also one of the key members of the team investigating the October 2001 anthrax attacks. About a year ago, he emerged as the prime suspect in the one of the longest and most frustrating government investigations ever. A federal affidavit says he was the “sole custodian” of the unique strain of anthrax that killed five Americans and sickened 17 others. It asserts he was inexplicably working late on the nights before the deadly mailings and had not spent so many late-night hours in his lab “at any time before or after this period.” It states he purposely provided the wrong material when asked for samples. He had a decades-long obsession with a sorority with a chapter 60 feet from the only mailbox where spores from the letters were found. Learning he was going to be charged with five counts of murder, Ivins committed suicide.
If government investigators and those in management understood alcoholism, he might have been suspected far earlier, not only saving taxpayers millions but maybe even preventing the frightening episode from ever occurring.
Steven Hatfill was the first person of interest in the anthrax investigation, which is estimated to have cost the government at least $16 million. After realizing it had erred in focusing on Hatfill (awarding him $5.8 million for his trouble), Ivins, 62, came under scrutiny. He reportedly became distraught and died from a “prescription drug overdose” on August 1, with only Tylenol, a non-psychotropic drug, mentioned in initial news reports.
The “prescription” part, along with his reaction to being a target (consider the fact that the exonerated Hatfill didn’t commit suicide while under scrutiny for a far longer period), offered addictionologists clues to the likelihood of psychotropic drug addiction. However, evidence is not gold standard proof.
A dozen news reports and several days later, there was still no mention of heavy alcohol or other drug use in Ivins’ past. Instead, several items focused on a social worker, Jean C. Duley, who claimed that Ivins had stalked and threatened to kill her and she was “scared to death” of him. The addiction-aware might at first figure such threats as additional evidence of Ivins’ addiction. However, Duley has a 15-year police record including a DUI, at least two dropped arrests for DUI and dismissed charges for battery and possession of drug paraphernalia. Since Duley is, therefore, an addict, maybe she falsely accused Ivins, who might be just another Steven Hatfill. And while Duley works with (ironically enough) prescription drug addicts and had counseled Ivins, there was (and still is) no mention that he was being treated for addiction. In fact, she may have been a classic therapist enablershe is reported to have met with Dr. Ivins in weekly therapy sessions for the past six months. No explanation was given as to the reason she continued meeting with someone she considered a stalker.
Two statements by his brother, however, provided additional behavioral evidence that Ivins might be alcoholic. “He has a master’s degree, and other degrees. He thought he was omnipotent.” Chapter 4 in How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics details specific behavioral clues to alcoholism, listed generically as “A Supreme Being Complex.” A God-like sense of self is a terrific clue to alcoholism. Most people with degrees do not consider themselves or act like God. Further, even his brother conceded that Bruce may have been the anthrax mailer, since “he considered himself like a God.”
Long before the Addiction Report existed, I suggested to friends that the anthrax culpritjust like most wrongdoerswould prove to be an alcoholic. Few others inflict harm on innocents to make a point, whether over outright hatred or a sick love for an America that “wouldn’t listen” and develop a viable vaccine against anthrax (the best alcoholic twisted-logic excuse offered so far for his actions). While the government rushed to develop prevention plans and policies to prevent similar attacks, only months earlier the alcoholic FBI agent, Robert Hanssen (see the July 2007 TAR for the review of “Breach,” the movie about the story), was arrested for selling more secrets to the Russians than any American ever, before or since. Despite the damage these two have done, there was has been no public discourse over the idea that alcoholics need to be identified and treated or fired, especially when involved with top-secret work and clearances.
Five days after his death, the first kernels of proof of Ivins’ alcoholism could be unearthed in the 24th paragraph of an article (“Documents link U.S. anthrax scientist to terrorism warning” by David Stout and Scott Shane) in the International Herald Tribune, which mentioned that the “prescription” part of the fatal overdose included codeine. While codeine is a painkiller for non-addicts it’s a psychotropic drug for addicts. So it’s possible he’s a non-addict who happened to get his hands on a bottle of Tylenol with codeine. However, in the coup de grace several paragraphs later friends and colleagues were quoted as saying that Ivins was so distraught by the FBI’s constant scrutiny he began “drinking excessively” and had to be hospitalized twice for “substance abuse.” A friend and fellow member of “a 12-step program for alcoholics” said that Ivins had not been a “drinker” in recent years. Perhaps, but the clear implication is he was a “drinker,” code-word for “alcoholic,” in prior years. Stress, including that created by an FBI search with agents questioning one’s spouse and children, can trigger a relapse. Since the house search over seven months ago another friend said Ivins was drinking “large amounts of vodka, combined with Ambien and prescription tranquilizers,” providing all the proof we need to diagnose alcoholism. As regular readers of these Reports and my books are aware, alcoholism is triggered at an average age of 13, not 62. The likelihood that Ivins’ God-like sense of self was rooted in a sick alcoholic mind borders on 100%. The need to be right regardless of cost, as well as the desire to control others, most likely impelled him to release anthrax to “prove his point” about the need for a vaccine.
Not only can we as individuals benefit from identifying the addicts in our lives, but also the country can as well. Journalists everywhere reported that “Ivin’s possible motive remains unclear.” Bio-warfare expert Elisa D. Harris said that in order to develop plans and policies that will prevent future attacks it’s important to know how the attacks were executed. However, those who understand that alcoholics need no motive grasp the idea that we need to prevent practicing addicts from gaining access to weapons and secret clearances and coerce as many of as possible into sobriety. If we get addicts sober, we eliminate over 80% of the people who would attack others and greatly reduce the need for plans and policies that would protect us from such people. And as I have said many times before in these pages, journalists can help forge the link between alcoholism and misbehaviors. They could start by informing the public of a suspect’s alcohol or other drug addiction closer to the 1st paragraph and at the inception of such reports rather than burying such crucial information in the 24th paragraph almost a week later.
Because the amazing “enablers of the month” are all connected to this story, we’ll present the follow-up stories in a slightly different order than usual. Here you go:
Enablers of the month:
|Bruce Ivins’ attorney, Paul F. Kemp, said his client’s suicide was the result of the government’s “relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo.” He was disappointed that Ivins “would not have the opportunity to defend his good name and reputation in a court of law.” If Kemp understood addiction, he might have said, “Since Ivins was an addict, he was capable of any crime. He may have been guilty, but it’s unfortunate he didn’t give me the opportunity to defend him and let a jury of his peers decide whether he committed the heinous crime of which he is accused.”
Social worker Jean Duley’s attorney, Mary Drawbaugh, said that under Maryland law “you can’t use a prior violation such as driving under the influence to impeach somebody or attack their ability to tell the truth.” That may be the law, Ms. Drawbaugh, but it doesn’t make it correct. A DUI is a clue to alcoholism. Practicing alcoholics not only lie well, but also frequently. We should neither discount nor believe anything Ms. Duley said about Dr. Bruce Ivins.
The Los Angeles Times. The day after the International Herald Tribune story, The Times ran one titled “Delving into the suspect’s state of mind” by Tom Hamburger. We would think that they might mention Ivins’ alcoholism at least once. We would think wrongly. It talked about his “long history of mental illness.” It mentioned his friend who said Ivins had told him he had “incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times” and feared he could not control his behavior. It mentioned his overdose of acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in Tylenol. It said his “mental illness flared about the time of the 2001 anthrax mailings.” It cited U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor, who blamed his deteriorating condition in the summer and fall of 2001 in part on the fact that the anthrax vaccine he was working on was failing. It mentioned a letter to a friend that said his psychiatrist and his counselor (presumably Ms. Duley) thought his symptoms “may not be those of depression or bipolar disorder, [but instead] may be that of a ‘paranoid personality disorder.’” It spoke of prescriptions for antidepressants, anti-psychotics and anti-anxiety medications. Nowhere did it mention the most likely underlying reason for all of Mr. Ivins’ symptoms, including his horrifying actions: alcoholism.
Runners-up for top story of the month:
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” actor Shia LaBeouf, 22, busted on suspicion of DUI. After failing to negotiate a turn at around 3 a.m., he crashed his truck into another vehicle and rolled it. It was “immediately apparent” to responding officers that LaBeouf was intoxicated. It’s not his first public indication of early-stage alcoholism. He was taken into custody in Chicago last November after security officers made repeated requests that he leave a Walgreens pharmacy. (I can’t even imagine what he was doing to merit such attention.) He also had a warrant out for his arrest because he skipped a court hearing over a smoking violation. If the “public policy recommendation” for this month was implemented nationwide, this might be the last we hear of LaBeouf. Unfortunately, this may instead be only the beginning of his death spiral.
Comedian Andy Dick, 42, arrested on charges of sexual battery and drug possession. Dick was warned by police to leave the scene of an altercation at the Corner Pocket Sports Café in Murrieta, California at about 9 p.m. or face arrest on charges of public intoxication. Four hours later, in the parking lot of the Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Dick allegedly grabbed and fondled a 17-year-old girl as he pulled her top down. Police described Dick as “heavily intoxicated.” As was true for LaBeouf, this was not his first public indication of addiction. Dick was cited last year for urinating in public and was kicked off the set of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” for repeatedly touching fellow guest Ivanka Trump. In 1999 he drove into a telephone pole and was charged with cocaine and marijuana possession. As is the norm in the lives of addicts, there have been plenty of opportunities for legal interventionwithout which we have likely not heard the last of Andy Dick’s escapades.
Actors Josh Brolin and Jeffrey Wright, filming the Oliver Stone movie “W,” arrested in a bar fight at the Stray Cat club in Shreveport, Louisiana at about 2 a.m. after a call to deal with a rowdy patron “drew interference” from other patrons. How about thata movie about a (recovering?) alcoholic, directed by an alcoholic, starring an alcoholic (Brolin) playing an alcoholic? Sort of reminiscent of alcoholic actress Vivien Leigh playing alcoholic Scarlett O’Hara in a story written by alcoholic writer Margaret Mitchell, but I digress. (Rhett: “You must need a drink badly.” Scarlett: “I do not.” Rhett: “Take it! I know you drink on the quiet, and I know how much you drink. You think I care if you like your brandy?”)
Shooter Jim Adkisson, 58, charged with first-degree murder after killing two and injuring seven at a Unitarian Church in Knoxville, TN. Police claimed he was motivated by his frustration over being unable to get a job and his “hatred for the liberal movement” and especially for gay people. Neighbors said Adkisson kept to himself and that he was “just a really, really nice guy.” Oh, the only criminal record authorities found shows two instances of DUIone in California “a number of years ago” and one “more recently” in Tennessee. This is just another case supporting the theme in this month’s “public policy recommendation of the month,” which suggests elevating DUIs as the key for “broken window policing.” It’s also another instance supporting the idea that alcoholics may be “sweet” to some people while they act lethally toward others.
Jamiel Alexander “Jimmy” Chagra, a drug kingpin accused of leading a successful 1979 conspiracy to assassinate federal judge John Wood Jr., who was to preside over his drug trial, dead at 63 of cancer. Ordinarily, such characters wouldn’t be worthy of our attention. However, the cast of alcoholics in Chagra’s circle could easily make the big screen. They included hit man Charles Harrelson, father of actor Woody Harrelson, who was convicted of murder and died in federal prison last year. Chagra’s third wife, Elizabeth, was sentenced to 30 years for delivering $250,000 to Harrelson to kill Wood. She died in prison in 1997 of cancer at age 43. Chagra’s younger brother, Joe, pleaded guilty in 1982 to conspiracy charges relating to the Wood murder. He was a disbarred lawyer and was killed in a car crash in 1996 at age 50. Chagra’s older brother, Lee, was also an attorney and had defended alleged drug dealers in Wood’s courtroom. He was murdered in 1978 at age 41 during a robbery of his law offices. You know the old saw, birds of a feather….
Helen Golay, 77, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 75, sentenced to life in prison for murdering two indigent men for financial gain. The “black widows” befriended the homeless men, took out insurance policies on their lives, let a couple of years run and then drugged and ran over them to collect the insurance proceeds. As mentioned in the April-May 2008 issue assuming that addiction explains their horrific behaviors, instead of having been offered the opportunity to get clean and sober a few decades ago, they get to live out their golden years behind bars.
Actor Omar Sharif, 76, announcing through his attorney that he will never pay a dime of a $449,000 award to a valet, Juan Ochoa Anderson, 50, for assault and battery, civil rights violations, commission of a hate crime, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence after punching him in the nose. When Sharif handed Anderson a 20 euro note outside a tony Beverly Hills steakhouse in 2005, Anderson gave him a quizzical look and handed it back to Sharif. According to Anderson, Sharif became enraged and punched. Anderson refused medical attention and police interviewing him after the incident observed no visible injuries. Anderson’s attorney, John C. Carpenter, alleged in court documents that Sharif repeatedly called Anderson a “stupid Mexican” and claimed that Anderson suffered neck, back and head pain, difficulty breathing, a nasal fracture and a deviated septum. A doctor hired by Carpenter claimed the valet needed a $17,500 operation to fix a fracture caused by Sharif (which, if true, would make Sharif one of the hardest-punching 76-year-olds anywhere), while another specialist found no break. The case fills three volumes in the L.A. County Superior Court. Such mass alone is enough to identify everyone involved as a serious codependent (possibly Anderson) if not alcoholic (everyone else). Sharif’s lawyer, alcoholic-celebrity defense attorney Harland Braun, explained that Sharif “was drinking that night.” It may not have been the first time drinking caused problems for him. In 2003, he received a one-month suspended prison sentence for head-butting a French policeman who tried to intervene in an argument he was having with a casino croupier. Omar, while sober people would agree with your feeling that a system awarding $449,000 for a punch is broken, the lawsuit was probably meant as the wake-up call you need to get you to stop drinking.
Co-Dependents of the Month:
Actress Evelyn Keyes, who played Scarlett O’Hara’s younger sister Suellen in “Gone with the Wind” and was involved with some, shall we say, very interesting men, dead at 91. Her first marriage to the “heavy drinking” Englishman Barton Bainbridge ended when he committed suicide. She married film director Charles Vidor in 1943 and divorced him two years later. Vidor was married four times. Her marriage to director John Huston in 1946 ended in 1950. Huston was married five times. She was, apparently, devastated and sought analysis, concluding that she “was always looking for the same man: a strong father figure.” She lived with the “flamboyant” (aka alcoholic) producer Mike Todd for three years before her last marriage, to bandleader Artie Shaw in 1957, which followed a familiar pattern. Shaw was a self-described “very difficult man” and married eight times. He often disparaged his wives publicly and when asked why he was estranged from his children he responded, “I didn’t get along with the mothers, so why should I get along with the kids?” Lucy Barry Robe in her magnificent Co-Starring Famous Women and Alcohol found that the odds of alcoholism in someone married and divorced four times are 85%. Indeed, why should Shaw get along with anyoneexcept those he intended to sweep off their feet? As for Keyes, one explanation is alcoholism. Another, however, is that her “strong father figure” was an alcoholic, which might explain her repeated involvements with likely addicts.
Disenabler of the Month:
Sarasota, Florida landlord Ace Holland, offering 25% off the monthly rent for those willing to be drug-tested, explaining he got “fed up with druggies…telling me they couldn’t pay their rent.” At least one prospective tenant, who laughed when she first saw Holland’s sign offering the discount, said “this is a place I want to rent” because she knows there won’t be any drug use. As mentioned in Drunks, Drugs & Debits, tenants who don’t keep their promise to pay rent or even vandalize the property are virtually always alcohol and other-drug addicts. While he may miss screening out a few objectionable types (nothing in the news item suggests he’ll test for addiction to the drug alcohol), I’ve a hunch he’ll do a lot better than he did before, when he evicted one tenant who was addicted to prescription pills, another to crack cocaine and a third he caught with a huge bong.
Sometimes, it takes an addict:
Boxer Mando Ramos, who won the lightweight title at 20, dead at age 59. Ramos turned pro at age 17 and was living in cars by the time he was 25. While according to his own testimony he “never really trained,” he went to the gym every day and the bar every night and still managed a career 37-11 record with 23 knockouts. After losing two brothers to heroin overdoses, he checked himself in to rehab in the early ‘80s and remained sober for the last 25 years of his life. He ended up helping a lot of inner-city kids by starting the Boxing Against Alcohol and Drugs program. After partying hard and developing diabetes, he was obviously living on borrowed time, because his death was reportedly due to “natural causes.” The kids will miss you, Mando.
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 addictswhich 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.
“Broken Windows” theory suggests that we should aggressively go after DUIs
Law enforcers have long observed that a broken window creates a tendency among vandals to bust a few more windows, eventually break into a building and even become squatters or arsonists. In the same vein, it theorized that litter, if not quickly picked up, accumulates. The idea suggests that if we fix the window and clean up the trashin other words, attack low-level offensesmore serious ones will be prevented.
When Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton implemented a version of this as head of the New York Transit Police in 1990, he adopted a zero-tolerance policy for fare dodging, made arrestee processing easier and required background checks on all those arrested. Rates of both petty and more serious crimes fell precipitously in New York City during the 1990s.
Doubters of the broken window theory suggest that serious crime and disorder might be symptoms of deeper problems, such as social and economic disadvantages. While this may be a factor in determining the particular style of misbehaviors, the underlying general problem may instead be rooted in the heavy use of alcohol and other drugs (licit and illicit alike). Support for this theory can be found in the fact that misbehaviors dissipate when addicts become clean and sober. We could experience dramatic crime reduction by coaxing users into recovery. In other words, the issue of alcoholism-driven misbehaviors needs to be addressed when it is the equivalent of a broken window.
Recovering addicts admit they were often high as a kite behind the wheel. A typical driver under the influence commits the act on average once or twice per week. Evidence suggests these are the same people responsible for at least 80% of misbehaviors off the road, including criminal conduct. Tremendous leverage could therefore be gained by getting addicts clean.
Many confess that an arrest for DUI got them sober. In other words, consequences knocked them down so they could bottom out. This suggests an even more efficient way to reduce crime might be apprehending more DUIs and requiring appropriate treatment.
Public policy needs to make it easier for police to act. We should reduce the “probable cause” thresholds for DUI testing. Then, we can:
- require that every police officer be trained to use a 60-second eye test called horizontal gaze nystagmus, or HGN, to determine the blood alcohol level (BAL) and employ additional non-intrusive eye tests to quickly identify the likelihood of other drugs in the system.
- mandate that every traffic violator be checked using these non-intrusive tests. Even trained officers can’t always spot highly tolerant alcoholics while under the influence at high BALs. Surprisingly, relatively innocuous traffic violations are evidence of possible DUI. Tailgating, cutting in line and sudden braking have been found to be committed by DUIs in roughly 50% of incidents. Alcoholics behave and drive recklessly and are often inconsiderate of the rights of others. They shouldn’t be on the road.
- require an immediate breathalyzer test for any offender appearing to be over the .08 threshold for per se DUI.
- mandate that anyone failing the initial test be given another one 20 minutes later and, failing that, be escorted to the station.
- reduce the paperwork burden. It takes three hours to process a DUI in Los Angeles. It took 45 minutes 30 years ago. That’s how long it should take today.
- restrict release of any detainee found to be under the influence.
Recovering addicts admit that pain was their best friend. We can help by letting them stare at four walls until the drug is out of the system. Someone with a BAL of .15% upon his arrest will test zero 10 hours later. Let him out then, not before.
Society has the right to coerce abstinence in those who have proven they act badly when drinking or using. Those convicted of even one DUI offense should be required to test clean for at least two years. With ankle bracelets and regular and random testing, we can achieve this goal.
Dad’s girlfriend younger than daughter
My mother suffers from Alzheimer’s and was placed in a home about five years ago. My dad, 75, regularly visits her, despite becoming involved with a 40-year old woman a few years ago. I understand his need for companionship, but the age difference is troubling and, worse, he gives her money. She claims she has had numerous cancers and other ailments, yet has no visible scars. My siblings and I think this woman may be using my dad to pay for cosmetic surgeries and that she is cheating on dad. What advice can you offer short of hiring a private detective?
Older than would-be step-mom
. . . .
Other columnists might suggest that if dad is of sound mind, he may have a good idea what his money is really paying for and that he has a right to see whoever he wants unimpeded by you and your siblings. They might accuse you of not liking this woman, but suggest you should simply have him talk to his financial planner to make sure she doesn’t steal his life’s savings.
What? Let this gold-digging tramp get away with it? Sure, dad’s no doubt having the time of his life with a (relatively) hot young babe. That’s no reason to fail to thoroughly investigate. Enormous age differences usually (but not always) include an alcoholic on one side or the other of an age divide this wide. You need to insure there are enough funds to take care of your mother and if either your dad or the girl is an alcoholic, you can bet the money is being spent far more wildly than is visible to you. You don’t need a financial planneryou do need a private detective.
(Source for story idea: Annie’s Mailbox, July 16, 2008.)
And this month, with so many to choose from, a bonus letter:
Is it ADD or alcoholism?
My husband of 25 years has never worked more than one job at a time. After our third daughter was born, he was unemployed for three years and refused to care for the children while I worked as many as two jobs at a time. I deal with collection agency calls, shop at thrift stores and pay as many of the bills as I am able. I hate to be a whiner, but am at my wits’ end and would like to keep my marriage a happy one. What should I do to instill financial responsibility in him and teach my children about staying out of debt?
Loaded with debt
. . . .
Other columnists might suggest your husband is disorganized and may have adult ADD. They’d tell you to speak with a credit counselor.
You’ve been married 25 years to this alcoholic good-for-nothing? You’re going to enable him to his grave, if you don’t die first of overwork.
It’s time to draw that proverbial line in the sand. You tell him he gets sober and gives you a life, or gets out and gives you a life.
(Source for story idea: Annie’s Mailbox, July 29, 2008.)
“I always thought she was a little nuts but I never suspected she was using drugs.”
So wrote “Help Me in California” to Annie’s Mailbox, July 26, 2008, regarding her 40-something stepmother who was caught red-handed with cocaine and methamphetamine. She wrote she was baffled, particularly since her stepmother had two young children. After all, how could a mother of two be involved with coke and speed?
The fact that the stepmother has two young children is irrelevant. When crazy behaviors are evident, it’s usually alcohol or other-drug addiction, regardless of responsibilitieseven to children.
The headline of the piece was, “Stepmom showing signs of major addiction.” Sorry, but this is not a “sign.” If she’s using coke and meth and has two young children, she is a full-blown addict. When dealing with addiction, it’s far better to call a spade a spade than to couch our words in euphemisms.
Story from “This is True” by Randy Cassingham, with his “tagline:”
“COUCH MEAT AND POTATOES: Police in Columbia, Mo., responded to a report of a house fire. They arrived to smoke -- and screams for help. The four officers used their batons to help smash through the front door, and rescued a victim inside while keeping the flames at bay with fire extinguishers from their cars. Manuel Douglas, 56, explained that he had been cooking a pork steak in the deep fryer he has next to his living room couch, and fell asleep. The fryer set the room on fire. (Columbia Tribune) ...What, and he couldn't spray beer on it from the tap next to the easy chair?”
Randy, you’ve been reading this Report! The story didn’t mention alcohol…and many readers would have figured he must have put in a hard day at work and was simply tired. However, given the percentage of fires involving alcohol or another drug, the explanation likely isn’t so innocuous.
In Drunks, Drugs & Debits, I cited a National Council on Alcoholism finding that “alcoholics are ten times more likely to die from fires than non-alcoholics.” This supports the idea that addiction is behind 90% of all fires, particularly where the victim falls asleep while doing something dangerous.
The fact that Manuel Douglas had a deep fryer next to his living room couch qualifies as dangerous. While he escaped Father Death this time, at 56 he’s no doubt running on empty. Instead of making the cut to the Darwin Awards he makes it to this pre-cursor, both populated by alcoholics. And by the way, if alcohol causes a problem, the problem is alcoholwhich is called alcoholism.
Douglas’ method is a creative alternative to something many alcoholics have done over the years: set themselves on fire by smoking and falling asleep. More than four pages in Drunks is devoted to detailing the numerous indications of alcoholism in actress Bette Davis (if you haven’t pulled out the book for a while, this section is a great read, beginning on page 166). One of the clues was that she “set her own bed on fire a few times” while chain smoking cigarettes.
(Story and tagline from “This is True,” copyright 2008 by Randy Cassingham, used with permission.)
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