September 2004 / Issue No. 2

Welcome to the Thorburn Addiction Letter. Each month, you can look forward to several sections, including:

1. Top Story of the month
2. Movie 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 from Randy Cassingham's on-line newsletter, This is True

There is something for everyone!

Does Scott Peterson Have Alcoholism?

ImageTop Story: His behaviors suggest alcoholism, and the disease would explain his behaviors.

Verifying early-stage alcoholism is often a daunting task. Hardly anyone, including journalists, understands that alcoholism is the most important tool available in explaining and predicting monstrous behaviors. Even if suspected, confirmations of alcoholism may be ignored because of the stigma or fear of being sued for defamation. Yet, by assuming alcoholism, we give the benefit of the doubt: the person under scrutiny is either fundamentally rotten, or an alcoholic. Surely "alcoholism" would be preferred.

Many of Scott Peterson's behaviors are indicative of alcohol and other drug addiction. He not only committed adultery, which is far more common among alcoholics than non-alcoholics, but also did so when his wife, Laci, was pregnant and continued an affair after she "disappeared." He lied in a pathological style and even when unnecessary. Lying is far more common among alcoholics than others because, like adultery, it's an effective way by which to wield power. He allegedly changed his identity and used a fake driver's license, both of which are possibly felonious behaviors far more common among alcoholics. He owned four cell phones and, reportedly, called his mistress, Amber Frey, dozens of times per day up to their last conversation on February 19.

Overall, police intercepted 4,000 calls on his cell phones in just a matter of months. In my book, How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics, I tell the story of a person in whom a nasty case of 'telephonitis' at a roadside restaurant was the best indication I had that he could be under the influence. With the help of my "heads-up" report to 911, he was stopped a few hours later for running a red light and arrested for DUI. Excessively calling people is another way by which the addict attempts to control others ("you answer the phone when I want you to do so").

Within three weeks of Laci's disappearance Scott ordered the Playboy channel (which she, apparently, would have objected to) and hardcore triple-X rated porn. His reported use of Viagra, which at age 31 is generally unnecessary for basic sexual performance, as well as turning conversations to sex at every opportunity, increases the odds of sexually compulsive behavior. Of the sexually compulsive, 50% are alcohol or other-drug addicts.

Peterson displayed inappropriate emotional responses in hyperbolic fashion, which also suggests alcoholism. Athough not the type to show emotion, he cried like a baby when confronted by Frey about his marriage. Yet, he could be extraordinarily callous. Posing as a heartsick bachelor, he told Frey that he had "lost" his wife - before Laci disappeared. He turned his unborn son's nursery into a storage room sometime during the first seven weeks after Laci's disappearance, while telling Diane Sawyer on national television, "I can't go [into the nursery]. That door is closed until there's someone to put in there." Less than a month after the disappearance, he spoke with a real estate agent about selling his home, furnished. At the same time, he was capable of extraordinary charm in seducing his quarry: he had champagne and strawberries brought to his hotel room on his first date with Frey, whom he seduced that night.

In experimenting with the question, "If alcoholism causes misbehaviors, what are the odds of finding the disease when such behaviors are observed?" I have found alcoholism about 80% of the time when there was a similar confluence of misbehaviors. (See Thorburn Substance Addiction Recognition Indicator - link at end of article) Unfortunately, since hardly anyone grasps its relevance to understanding behaviors (no other motive for murder would be necessary), there's little public information on Scott's drinking habits. Therefore, it's impossible to confirm or disconfirm alcoholism from this vantage point.

Alcoholism is often hidden in various ways, even from close family members. Some drink heavily only late at night, after the family is in bed. Others drink in front of everyone and still go undiagnosed. Since we're not trained to count drinks and calculate the approximate Blood Alcohol Level (BAL), no one has a clue that a friend, co-worker or family member would register a BAL of .18 per cent while appearing stone cold sober. Early-to-middle-stage alcoholics such as Henri Paul, Princess Diana's driver, do not appear inebriated at this level, or even at levels up to .24 per cent. Alcoholism, however, will manifest in misbehaviors at far lower BALs and long before addiction becomes obvious.

Even biographers often fail to mention heavy use, or are unconcerned with it. Yet, we cannot comprehend the motivations of the subject without being made aware of his or her alcoholism. Many well-known alcoholics have gone unidentified as such in biographies, including actress Bette Davis, con-artist Charles Ponzi and 1950s Senator Joseph McCarthy. In all of these, alcoholism explains the need to wield power capriciously, which each did in his or her own way.

Alcoholism is also relevant because we can predict that we cannot know how destructive the behaviors may become, or when. Brynn Hartman, described as a "wonderful mother who was devoted to her children," relapsed and murdered her husband, the great comedian Phil Hartman, before committing suicide and orphaning their two children. Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer poured on the charm to entice young people into their deadly lairs. These and most other serial murderers, who by definition planned their crimes, were alcoholics.

There are unconfirmed reports that Scott Peterson drank excessively and always made alcohol available, organizing events around it. When he went to dinner at a friend's the night after Laci disappeared, the first thing he is reported to have said was that he would bring the wine. That's not something a non-alcoholic would normally think of the day after a spouse has disappeared. Trial testimony suggests that his romance with Frey was "fueled" by sex and drinking. If alcohol was the center of his activities, we can surmise that it may have been the center of his universe. If true, this is virtual confirmation of early-stage alcoholism.

If a jury determines that he committed murder, appropriate consequences are deserved - and needed - regardless of motivation. However, a message of far greater value is that such tragedies can be prevented. If Scott Peterson is an alcoholic, we can predict that there were dozens and maybe even hundreds of incidents for which close persons or the law could have intervened, but didn't. These ultimate tragedies would be far less likely to occur if we identify alcoholism and intervene early in the course of the disease.

Thorburn Substance Addiction Recognition Indicator

The Sam Sheppard Story

ImageMovie Review: If I'd been able to land a copy of "The Sam Sheppard Story" in time for this issue, I would have reviewed it. Unfortunately, it was a movie made for television and cannot be rented. While the top story is long enough to forego a review, the Sheppard story, which also inspired the movie and television series "The Fugitive," is worthy of a brief discussion.

Sheppard was accused of murdering his wife in 1954. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently freed him due to the prejudicial atmosphere surrounding his trial. A second jury trial in 1966 resulted in acquittal.

The "Sam Sheppard Story" was, apparently, written by his son in an attempt to offer an alternative theory of the murder. While impossible to confirm his guilt or innocence, Sheppard was a full-blown addict at the time of his second trial. His attorney, F. Lee Bailey, refused to let him testify because he was drinking heavily and using a "variety of pills." Such obvious addiction suggests a high probability of early-stage alcoholism a dozen years earlier, since the progression to easily identifiable addiction often takes decades.

If Sheppard committed the murder, he did so in an extraordinary sudden rage. If Peterson committed murder, he likely did so in careful premeditation, which is the modus operandi of serial murderers. While some compare Peterson with Sheppard on the basis that both are innocent, I would suggest that a more apt comparison might include the possibility that both are alcoholics, capable of grotesque crimes in their own styles.

Dear Doug: Petacide

Dear Doug,

My husband shot and killed my pet poodle in front of my daughter and me. He flew into a rage because I had burnt some food and took his anger out on a helpless animal. While he was always in a foul mood and sometimes hateful and mean, I never dreamt he would do something this perverse or I'd have left him long ago. I had him arrested for animal cruelty and have filed for divorce after 15 years of marriage.

Unfortunately, he is in jail and I have only $30 to my name. I am wondering how I can access his money and some of the several pension checks he receives every month.

-- Abused and Broke

. . . . . .

Dear Abused and Broke,

While other columnists might focus their comments on how to collect pensions, access his money and obtain inexpensive or free legal help, the more important advice relates to a message you might provide to others. Your husband, with whom you no doubt tried to reason for 15 very long years, displays numerous behavioral indications of alcoholism. If alcoholic, he was incapable of reason and quite capable - as he has now proven - of horrifying behaviors.

One of numerous misbehaviors gleaned from your letter suggesting there is an addiction to psychotropic drugs (those capable of causing distortions of perception and memory, leading to impaired judgment and manifesting in destructive behaviors) is an incessant foul mood. Due to the residual brain damage from a build-up of poison (acetaldehyde), the emotional state of the middle-stage alcoholic can be especially volatile. Hatred and malevolence, while rarely found in non-alcoholics, are common in addicts. As you discovered, this can take extreme forms. Most abuse, whether inflicted upon humans or helpless animals, is rooted in alcoholism. (If PETA really wants to help end abuse, they will concentrate on early intervention in the lives of alcoholics.)

The alcoholic's need to wield power often takes its toll financially. While some spend beyond their means, others control finances, refusing to allow a spouse access to his or her money. The fact that you have no apparent means of support suggests an extra effort was expended in controlling your use of family funds, increasing the odds of addiction.

Assigning inappropriate blame is one of numerous unhealthy traits found almost exclusively in alcoholics. As you can see, this can take monstrous forms. Unfortunately, because nobody ever taught you the behavioral indications of alcoholism and that this may lay at the root of the behaviors, you didn't know that his conduct was destined to worsen over time. Something you might consider for the future, after recovering emotionally and financially from this devastating series of events, is to share your experience with others. You will be able to offer firsthand evidence that if the signs are there, regardless of how wonderful a loved one might be at times and how great his or her potential, alcoholism left untreated will inevitably lead to tragedy.

(Source for story idea: Annie's Mailbox, August 8, 2004)

Alcoholic Myth-of-the-Month: "He was a young guy with a lot of testosterone. He just seemed to be angry."

This was the explanation ascribed by a sheriff' deputy, Frank Sherwood, to the behaviors of a man arrested at an airport terminal while arguing with officials (St. Petersburg Times, August 6, 2004).

Joseph G. Ernst, 24, agreed to leave a plane which was still boarding after being confronted over disrupting flight attendants and making other passengers uncomfortable. Amazingly, an airline representative tried to schedule him for another flight while Sherwood, who had escorted him off the plane, tried to calm him down. Ernst began yelling and swearing at the employee and subsequently tore off his shirt in what was described as "Hulk Hogan-style," which at 5 foot 8 inches and 150 pounds must have been rather amusing. After "flailing around and cussing" a bit longer, Ernst was finally arrested.

Volatile behaviors indicate intoxication and are, by themselves, symptoms of alcoholism, especially at an airport in a day and age of terrorism. Indeed, Deputy Sherwood reported that Ernst "had been drinking. He was intoxicated."

The fact that even a sheriff's deputy would ascribe such conduct, along with anger, to an excess of testosterone, shows how far we have to go in dispelling the myths surrounding alcoholism. Excessive testosterone by itself may lead to daily sex or masturbation, but not to extraordinarily bad behavior, particularly at an airport terminal. Suggestion: anyone showing such indications should be tested using the non-intrusive Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, which any trained law enforcer can administer in about 60 seconds to determine BAL. Misbehaving at a BAL over .08 per cent should be sufficient grounds for an arrest for public intoxication.

Runner-up: Beer drinker gets suspended license for drinking 6-pack a day. "Anyone consuming six drinks a day must be an alcoholic."

The Associated Press reported (August 18, 2004) that a judge ruled the state of Pennsylvania had the right to suspend the driving privileges of a man whose consumption of a six-pack of beer daily was reported to police by his doctor.

The odds are, if his alcohol consumption was heavy enough to warrant reporting to police in an effort either to stop his drinking or to keep him off the road, he was consuming a lot more than six beers daily. If drank in quick succession by a 200-pounder, the Blood Alcohol Level would rise to .12 per cent. In the more likely scenario of consumption occurring over four hours, the BAL would rise to only .06 per cent, hardly enough to qualify him as alcoholic. Therefore, the doctor may have failed to mention the 27-ounce Long Island iced tea taken as a warm up.

On the other hand, consuming only a six-pack a day is not enough to suspect alcoholism, much less take away his driving privileges. This is the sort of headline that gives the impression that a person taking more than a few drinks daily "must" be an alcoholic. Plenty of non-alcoholic Italians drink the equivalent of two six-packs over the course of a day in the form of two bottles of wine. Spread out over twelve hours, the BAL for a 200-pounder rises to about .06 per cent (however, .18 per cent for a 120-pound person, which would point to alcoholism). The facts that need to be confirmed before spreading myths about signs of alcoholism prior to intervention, especially with the force of law, include quantity of alcohol consumed, time period over which the drinking occurs, the weight of the drinker and, crucially, his or her behaviors while under the influence and shortly after.

Amazing Antics: Stories of Alcoholism-Driven Behaviors
Disability - or not - is no impediment to alcoholism

Story from This is True by Randy Cassingham, with "tagline:"

"ROLE MODEL: Sherry Bartlett, 45, was stopped by police in Louisville, Ky., at 7:50 a.m. The officer was giving her a field sobriety test, but stopped it because she was "too unbalanced" to safely continue. A breath test found her blood alcohol level was .20 per cent, well above the legal limit, and she was arrested. And where was Bartlett going at that hour? She was on her way to school: she teaches fifth grade at Slaughter elementary School. After being released from jail, school officials let her return to the classroom. "It's too early to speculate on disciplinary action," said a district spokeswoman, who added that if Bartlett had made it to school and was drunk, she would have been fired. (Louisville Courier-Journal) ...See no evil, is no evil."

Reaching a .20 per cent BAL at anything over age 30 is reported by many chemical dependency experts to be a strong indicator of alcoholism all by itself. The fact that Bartlett appeared inebriated at a .20 per cent BAL at 7:50 in the morning suggests late-stage alcoholism. Recall that Henri Paul, who didn't appear drunk in the hotel video prior to driving Princess Diana to her death, would likely have completed a field sobriety test easily and, perhaps, even passed it even though his BAL was .18 per cent. (The field sobriety test does not include a test for Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, the involuntary shaking of the eyeballs as the eyes move from side to side with the head held straight.)

Morning drinking strongly suggests long-term active alcoholism. There should be no speculation on disciplinary action and there should have been no return to the classroom, a response on the part of school officials that shows zero understanding of the disease. Bartlett desperately needs rehab before she kills someone on her way to (or from) school, before she pollutes the minds of young children (one can only imagine the quality of her teaching and teaching methods at this late stage) and before she succumbs to her own alcoholism. The (likely) good person underneath the muck of addiction will emerge only in sobriety. Let's help speed up the process.


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