December 2004 / Issue No. 5

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

1. Top Story of the month
2. Movie or Book 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!

Might alcoholism have precipitated the NBA brawl?

ImageTop Story: The destructiveness of unimpeded early-stage alcoholism can take form in many ways, and in varying degrees. An estimated 80-90% of convicted criminals and domestic abusers are alcohol or other drug addicts. Over 35% of inconsiderate on-road misbehaviors such as failing to yield the right-of-way and tailgating are committed by likely alcoholics who are under the influence at the time of the infraction. These same drivers are responsible for an estimated 60% of obscene gestures and 80% of road rage. While some non-addicted children engage in physical violence, threats, or other forms of assault, the odds of a non-addicted adult doing so trend toward zero with age. So do childish and inappropriate behaviors such as throwing things at unsuspecting people.

Indiana Pacers player Ron Artest, described by his former coach Mike Jarvis as at times a gentle and wonderful person, has been suspended or fined by the National Basketball Association for improprieties during play on numerous occasions. With a history of out-of-control behaviors, Artest was previously forced into anger management therapy. He did, however, apologize for his part in the November 19 brawl. While there are no reports of addictive use of alcohol or other drugs by Artest in anything I have read, he clearly makes our "under watch" list, as do a number of other players.

Season ticket-holder John Green, 39, who threw the cup of beer at a sprawled-out Ron Artest that apparently caused the brawl, is a different matter. While Artest clearly overreacted, jumping into the stands and throwing punches as he climbed over seats, at one point Green stepped aside and, according to Oakland County, Michigan prosecutor David Gorcyca, sucker-punched Artest. Instead of apologizing, Green told interviewers on "Good Morning America" that he was trying to pull Artest off another fan. Green, rather than admitting to a gross error in judgment, denied throwing the cup in an interview with Detroit's WDIV-TV, apparently before he saw the video of himself doing just that. He faces assault charges.

This is not Green's first brush with the law. He has been convicted for writing bad checks, carrying a concealed weapon and assault, serving three years in prison for the latter. He is currently on probation for his third DUI conviction and apparently violated a Circuit Court's order to abstain from drinking. He'd be wise to admit to this because if he didn't purchase the beer to drink, he must have intended to throw it, in which case the assault is premeditated and would carry a more severe sentence.

Subtle misbehaviors are often clues to alcohol and other drug addiction and, therefore, of worse behaviors to come. One such clue immediately before the near-riot is that Green had sneaked into the lower section of the stands and was, according to real estate agent William Paulson, jockeying "from seat to seat" during the entire game, annoying other fans the whole time. A lack of consideration for others along with a "rules don't apply to me" attitude are hallmark traits of alcoholics. This is not dissimilar to misbehaviors we see on the road every day as drivers jockey for position, occasionally resulting in far greater tragedy than the melee.

The reaction of the media to this event showed how misinformed observers are about the cause of most erratic behavior. Columnist Steve Dilbeck suggested this as a response to an 11-year old asking what happened: "anger can overtake all reason" and "supposedly grown adults...[descended] to their most base and repulsive side." Yet, this doesn't explain the fact that most people never engage in such misbehaviors. The response of the Drug Addiction Recognition Expert would be that alcoholism impedes emotional growth and results in power-seeking and attention-getting behaviors. Therefore, an adult alcoholic will sometimes engage in childlike misbehaviors, including throwing beer at people.

Another columnist, Leonard Pitts, Jr., had trouble with the idea that we could "blame it all on an excess of beer. Alcohol, by and large, does not create emotion so much as it magnifies and distorts it." Alcohol "by and large" does not create emotion, but in the 10% or so of the population with alcoholism, it not only creates emotional states that would not otherwise exist, it also completely changes behaviors. To be precise, alcoholism damages the neo-cortex, the seat of reason and logic, rendering it incapable of restraining the base impulses of the reptilian brain, the basal ganglia, as well as the emotional reactions of the other lower brain center, the limbic system. While we cannot blame misbehaviors on an excess of beer in a non-addict, we find that excessive consumption by an addict, either at the time or during an overall period of addictive use, will result in misbehaviors at least some of the time.

Columnist Richard Cohen asked, "what is it with fans?" He was completely bewildered over what the fighting was for and amazed that basketball fans could be so stupid as to take on 7-foot tall athletes in the prime of their careers. However, the Darwin Awards are full of alcoholics committing stupid acts. What appears to be stupid, however, is often a very logical attempt to inflate the ego; in this case, what could be more ego-inflating at a basketball game than to successfully assault a very powerful player? Another writer, Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi, wrote that "beer plus sports equals rude, rowdy fans." However, the truth is beer plus alcoholism plus codependent followers plus sports can equal rude, rowdy fans.

This was a low point in professional sports. If we look, we will often find an addict either precipitating events or leading others into committing atrocities at most low points in all areas of civilization. The NBA brawl was, sadly, no exception. Crucially, we will also find enabling long before the event. Who can doubt that friends and family members of John Green knew the Court's requirement that he abstain from use, yet failed to intervene before tragedy happened?

Runner-ups for top story of the month, a busy one: Gregory Haidl, 19-year old son of a former Orange County, California assistant sheriff and influential political contributor, arrested for violating the terms of his bail in a rape case (involved in an automobile accident after drinking and using tranquilizers). Anna Nicole Smith, former Playboy Playmate of the Month and current TrimSpa spokesperson, who gave a "manic and incoherent" performance at the American Music Awards show in Los Angeles. Wally Backman, fired after four days as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks when the team belatedly discovered he had a restraining order issued by an ex-wife, was once arrested for abusing his current wife after a night out drinking, had been arrested for a DUI, and previously filed for bankruptcy. Liza Minnelli, described as out "drinking again because of the heartbreak from her divorce" from producer David Gest, who reportedly struggled to "keep her away from the bottle" during their entire 16-month marriage. Former U.S. figure skating champion (1989 and 1992) Christopher Bowman, arrested on charges he pointed a loaded gun at a friend while drunk. Geraldine Kelley, who murdered her husband and stuffed him into a freezer in 1991, moved the freezer from Ventura, California to Somerville, Massachusetts in 1998 and shared her secret with her children on her deathbed. Rap artist Russell Jones, known as O.D.B., who crashed the stage after losing the Grammy for best rap album in 1998 and was later sentenced to two years in prison for drug possession and escaping mandatory rehab, dead at 35 from "unknown" causes. Actress Drew Barrymore's father John Drew Barrymore (one of many in the generations of alcoholics in the famous acting family) who, until Drew gained legal and custodial control of him in 2000, was reportedly living on the streets for years, dead at 72.

Under watch: Former GI Charles Robert Jenkins admitted he had "started to drink a lot of alcohol" and "wasn't thinking clearly" when he defected to North Korea in 1965. Explaining that "life in North Korea can be so miserable that you wish you were dead," he was given probation, everyone apparently agreeing he's more than served his time. Six-time Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, arrested on charges of DUI. "American Dreams" star Gail O'Grady, forced to file bankruptcy a decade ago over gambling debts even with a steady role on "NYPD Blue," alleged to have recently gambled away $500,000 of ex-boyfriend Chris Byers' money. Albert Robles, former South Gate, California treasurer, after having been accused of threatening to kill political opponents while exuding bravado and charm during his tenure, charged with plundering $12 million over five years from the city, whose entire annual budget is only $28 million. Linda Schrenko, Georgia state school superintendent from 1995 to 2003, reported as picking fights with "just about everybody" during her first years in office and taking after detractors "with a vengeance," indicted on federal charges of stealing $614,000 in public funds, including $9,000 used for a face lift. "Mean Girls" star Lindsay Lohan, whose partying and multiple car crashes have recently caused friends to describe her as "spinning out of control," following a magnificently enabling cover-story in the September 6 issue of "People" magazine, in which both she and her mother denied that anything was wrong.

Note to friends, family and fans of the above notables: we give the benefit of the doubt by assuming alcoholism. And if there is alcoholism, there is zero chance that behaviors will improve without sobriety.

Thorburn Substance Addiction Recognition Indicator

Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life"

ImageMovie Review: One of the greatest movies of all time is the holiday classic, "It's a Wonderful Life," staring James Stewart playing George Bailey and a very young and gorgeous Donna Reed, who becomes Mrs. Bailey. The story is one that answers the age-old question, "Why are we here?" by offering a tour of an alternate history of a world in which we were never born, in this case a visit to Bailey's Bedford Falls without Bailey. Upon seeing the calamities befalling his town without his efforts at protecting the drunk pharmacist from filling a prescription with poison, saving his brother from drowning and defending the town against the evil Mr. Potter, a humble George Bailey slowly begins to realize his own self worth. The observation by the tour guide, Angel Clarence, that "each man's life touches so many other lives" was a poignant precursor to the barely six degrees of separation we have between us.

For the alcoholism-aware, this movie may seem a bit confusing. Alcoholism appears in the very beginning, when Mr. Gower, the pharmacist, is shown drinking behind a door as 12-year old George comes to work. While young George merrily whistles away, Gower, who is so drunk he's almost slurring, yells, "You're not paid to be a canary." But George shows understanding as he reads the text of a recently delivered telegraph bearing news that Gower's son has died of influenza.

Although Gower is a sympathetic drunk, death is just another excuse to drink for the alcoholic, while it is a time for sober reflection and mourning for the non-alcoholic. It is also a time when errors are more likely to occur. Gower slaps George's ears for failing to deliver a prescription, but shows genuine remorse when he realizes he had accidentally filled the pills with poison. But even an alcoholic might apologize to an employee for saving his hide. Gower's addiction becomes obvious when, in the alternate universe of a world without George Bailey, he is portrayed as a panhandling street drunk, having served 20 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

The real alcoholic story, however, is one unrecognized in the movie. Crusty old Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore, is never once shown drinking. Yet he engages in power-seeking behaviors, doing anything to gain control over everything in Bedford Falls (which, in the alternate universe, becomes Pottersville, complete with sleazy bars, strip clubs and pawnbrokers). Conniving to keep $8,000 that was intended for George Bailey's building and loan company is just the culmination of a number of nefarious misbehaviors in which Potter engages. Because alcoholism best explains the conduct, the only flaw in this great movie is the omission of even one scene showing Potter drinking heavily, or one in which he might be shown hiding his stash. Perhaps such a scene ended up on the cutting room floor, edited out by a real-life alcoholic.

Image Dear Doug: I'm raising my sister's son. Help!

Dear Doug,

My husband and I are raising my younger sister's two sons. My sister has many problems, of which drug use is one, and wants to act like a mother to the extent she is able only when convenient. My mother lives down the street and allows her grandchildren to ransack her home daily. While we do not allow our own child to act this way, he seems to be learning some bad habits from the two cousins. What can we do to resolve the problem without losing all the boys, not to mention my mother's good (and well-intentioned) graces?

Signed, Frustrated Aunt

. . . . . .

Dear Frustrated Aunt,

Other columnists might suggest that you let Grandma be Grandma and that your discipline, if fair and consistent, will command the respect of the boys. Such a view would be naïve.

Your sister probably has the disease of addiction, which causes her to engage in reckless, inconsiderate and irresponsible behaviors. These behaviors cause problems. Therefore, what you call "drug use" is her core problem, without which everything else in her life, including her self-centered attitude towards her children, would dramatically improve.

While your mother is a classic enabler (one who protects another person from proper consequences of misbehaviors), you are an unwitting one. By continuing to allow your sister to have contact with her boys, she gets to save face by claiming not to have abandoned them. In fact, by virtue of being an addict, she is already guilty of emotional abandonment (and, therefore, abuse). In addition, you have permitted her the luxury of partial physical abandonment, allowing her to believe she is still a parent while lacking the responsibility that goes with being one.

You need to set boundaries. Although this may seem harsh, you need to offer your sister a choice: enter a program of sobriety immediately, or you will seek legal custody of her children with no visitation rights for their mother until she has at least one year clean and sober. This is best done via an intervention with a qualified interventionist. The alternative is to give the boys back, but adoption (or even temporary custody) is preferable to living with an alcoholic. In addition, we can only hope and pray that the promise of consequences - or actual ones, if necessary - will create the bottom your sister so desperately needs. You also need to display uncompromising tough love towards your mother by forbidding her to see her grandchildren without you playing chaperone and under your rules, not her lack of them. The alternative could be complete loss of control over all the kids, including yours.

If your sister takes her sons back without entering a program of sobriety, you should do everything in your power to help her get a DUI (the single best legal intervention) and have the children placed in your custody. This may seem cold and heartless, yet ask yourself which is better: children growing up with a practicing drug addict with potentially horrifying risks, or children growing up with a non-addicted aunt? Of course, if we get really lucky, the kids will be back with their recovering mom within a year or two, and that is the very best result. This is exceedingly unlikely to occur with continued enabling.

(Source for story idea: Annie's Mailbox, November 16, 2004.

Alcoholic Myth-of-the-Month: "Although substance abuse, unemployment and poverty may add fuel to the situation, a desire for control and power over the partner is the real motivator behind [domestic violence]."

So says Jule Klotter in the November 2004 "Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients," citing the American Bar Association's Commission on Domestic Violence and the American Medical Association "Domestic Violence," This is yet one more instance of confusing cause and effect.

Substance addiction (not "abuse"), which is a genetic disorder causing the afflicted person to process drugs in such a way as to cause distortions of perception and memory that result in destructive behaviors, is usually the fuel behind domestic violence. Addiction, especially to the drug alcohol, makes the addict view everything he or she says and does in a self-favoring light. Since he feels he can do no wrong, he begins to feel god-like, resulting in controlling and power-seeking behaviors, which are observable. Therefore, substance addiction, not unemployment or poverty, is both the fuel and primary motivator behind the physical abuse of others.

In my first book, Drunks, Drugs & Debits, I cite a 1977 study by Maria Roy, founder and then executive director of Abused Women's Aid in Crisis, Inc., which found that out of 150 abused women, 85% of violent husbands had an alcohol or other drug problem. The reason the link escapes so many commentators is that, as Roy found, the assaults often came during periods of abstinence. More recent studies suggest that men who complete domestic violence counseling programs or anger management courses show no improvement in their abuse, which only escalates, unless they are in a program of sobriety in which abstinence is combined with ego-deflation. The real motivator behind domestic violence, then, is alcohol and other drug addiction and the cure is sobriety.

Amazing Antics: Stories of Alcoholism-Driven Behaviors
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Story from This is True by Randy Cassingham, with "tagline:"

DON'T MAKE ME COME BACK THERE: Police investigating the cause of a single-vehicle accident in Amherst, N.Y., were perplexed by what they found: both occupants, a husband and wife, were unconscious, and both were in the back seat -- no one was behind the wheel. Officers arrested Tiber L. Csapo Jr., 39, after his wife woke up and told them that he was beating her as he drove. She tried to escape by jumping into the back seat but Csapo followed, and the driverless car then crashed. Csapo was charged with driving while intoxicated, second-degree assault and felony reckless endangerment. (Buffalo News) ...And felony backseat driving.

This is one of those stories that would have made a great "Darwin Award" if he hadn't survived, given to those who do humanity a favor by taking themselves out of the gene pool. It's also one where we don't need any other clues to identify addiction, even without an arrest for DUI. Either the Blood Alcohol Level might have been several times the legal limit, or there was a hodgepodge of drugs in his system for behavior this bizarre to occur. Clues to a problem likely occurred early on in the driving - crossing over lines, tailgating and failing to yield the right of way among them - things to watch for as we keep ourselves safe from DUIs this holiday season.

Bear in mind that 10% of drivers, the DUIs and likely addicts, are responsible for almost 50% of on-road carnage and that because very few non-addicts drive with a BAL over the legal limit, the 10% are almost all alcohol and other drug addicts. Worse, if these addicts drive an estimated 20% of road miles while under the influence (a reasonable guesstimate), we can conclude that 2% of road miles driven account for almost 50% of road fatalities. Keep yourselves safe this holiday season by heeding the warning signs!

("This is True" is copyright 2004 by Randy Cassingham, used with permission. See for free subscriptions.)


To view reader's comments on last month's Thorburn Addiction Report and Doug's responses please visit the Thorburn Weblog at

Doug frequently posts alcoholism-related articles, as well as his responses, so be sure to check back often.

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Buy one set of Doug's books, get one set free, now through December 15. GREAT GIFT IDEA! For $41 (plus 8.25% tax if in CA) plus a nominal $3 shipping charge regardless of quantity ordered ($7 for priority) you get:
TWO copies of Drunks, Drugs & Debits: How to Recognize Addicts and Avoid Financial Abuse (retail value $19.95 each)
TWO copies of Get Out of the Way! How to Identify and Avoid a Driver Under the Influence (retail value $12.95 each - a GREAT gift idea for young drivers)
TWO copies of How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics: Using Behavioral Clues to Recognize Addiction in its Early Stages (retail value $14.95 each)
PLUS a special added bonus cassette tape (one per order): a two-hour presentation on identifying hidden alcoholism and the myths and realities of alcoholism (a precursor to Doug's new book*) (retail value $10)

That's a $105.70 value for only $41. We accept VISA, MasterCard and Discover.
To order online, click the following link (be sure to put "TAR SPECIAL" in the comments section of the order form.) Orders can also be placed by phone: 800-482-9424 OR fax: 818-363-3111.
If you wish to pay by check, send the appropriate payment with your shipping information and the words "TAR SPECIAL" in the "memo" section of your check to: PO Box 7777, Northridge, CA 91327.
Limit two per household.

Post December 15, we will be taking pre-publication orders for Alcoholism Myths and Realities, $14.95 plus tax and shipping. Or get the whole collection of Doug’s books PLUS audio-cassette for just $49.95 plus tax and shipping (a $73 value).

* Speaking of which, one of our goals is to make space for a few thousand copies of Doug's fourth book, Alcoholism Myths and Realities: Removing the Stigma of Society's Most Destructive Disease. It will be available for pre-publication sales by late December or early January. Here's one review:

"My father died of alcoholism. His father died of alcoholism. Three generations of alcoholism is enough. Now is the time to abandon superstition and pseudoscience, to debunk the myths surrounding alcoholism, and to apply science to solving this problem. Doug Thorburn's book is a model example of how this should be done. Read it and be prepared to change your thinking on this important topic. When enough of us understand what is really going on with alcoholism, society can make the shift from treatment to prevention and intervention."

Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and author of Why People Believe Weird Things

To purchase any of the above Thorburn books, go to

Click here to test someone you know for behaviorial indications of addiction.

Have you visited the Prevent Tragedy Foundation? The Prevent Tragedy Foundation is a tax-exempt 501c-3 organization, the goal of which is to educate the general public on the need for early detection of alcohol and other drug addiction. The Foundation is intended to answer a question that has been all-but-ignored by similar organizations: what does alcoholism look like before it becomes obvious?

Click here to visit the Prevent Tragedy Foundation


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