February 2005 / Issue No. 7

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!


I am pleased to announce that Congressperson Jim Ramstad (Republican, MN) has endorsed my latest book Alcoholism Myths and Realities. In a personal note, he wrote that "every policymaker in America needs to read your book exposing the myths of chemical addiction...Excellent."

To read additional reviews of Alcoholism Myths and Realities please click the link below. If you'd like to add your own review, please email to Jennifer@GaltPublishing.com or post on Amazon or BN.com. All comments are appreciated. If you haven't yet ordered your copy of Alcoholism Myths and Realities it is now available through Galt Publishing and will be in book stores in June.

Now on to the news...

Alcoholism Myths and Realities - Reader's Comments

Michael Jackson: could addiction to pharmaceutical drugs explain the behaviors?

Image Top Story: Is Michael Jackson capable of having committed the crime of which he is accused?

The trial of Michael Jackson, the extraordinary entertainer who began a bizarre transformation in appearance and behaviors some two decades ago, has begun. It would be shocking that someone who seems so gentle, caring and concerned for the welfare of children could be accused of committing heinous acts of child abuse, were it not for the role that alcoholism may have played throughout Jackson's life.

Alcoholism takes its toll gradually. However, in the case of entertainers and others in the public eye, we need to keep in mind Lucy Barry Robe's admonition that the higher the social status of the addict, the greater the enabling, which includes hiding the addiction from others. The greater the enabling, the less likely the adoring public will learn about the addiction, until it becomes so overwhelmingly obvious that no one can hide it. Multi-billionaire Howard Hughes provided such an example: by the time the public began to get wind of his misbehaviors, Hughes was reported to have acted as bizarrely as Jackson, albeit in his own style. The public missed the "gradualism" of the private toll taken by alcoholism, seen clearly only by the enablers.

So it has likely been with Michael Jackson. Insiders have known for years that he refers to white wine as "Jesus juice" and red wine as "Jesus blood." Close persons have likely long been aware that he usually drinks wine out of soda cans in an effort to hide the consumption. His handlers have known of various admissions into and "graduations" from rehab for addiction to pain killers, including Demerol and morphine. Any heroin addict will, in a pinch, substitute these drugs, as well as Oxycontin and Vicodin. Any Demerol, Oxycontin or Vicodin addict will use heroin if the pharmaceutical is unavailable. Like Rush Limbaugh, Jackson is, essentially, a heroin addict, even if the media refuses to identify him as such.

Jackson has been reported to get so inebriated on airplanes while gulping "soda," a former business adviser asked Jackson's security detail how wine could throw so big a punch. They explained he combined pills with the booze. Since Jackson reportedly has owed as much as $62,000 to a Beverly Hills pharmacy we might conclude that the quantity of such pills is staggering.

Many of Jackson's defenders suggest that while he may have undergone 50 facial reconstructions and once spent $70,000 on surveillance equipment so he could spy on his own staff (his entire house is wired), he couldn't possibly abuse children. They claim that although he has acted like a 12-year old on a number of occasions and can be very vindictive, destroying the reputations and lives of others if given a chance, he would never take advantage of the children he so dearly loves. Yet recovering addicts with ten or fifteen years' sobriety report they were capable of any behavior while using. Michael Jackson, then, while not necessarily guilty, is capable of having committed the crimes of which he is accused.

The greater the position of power, the greater the damage that can be inflicted. Jackson has met presidents, CEO's and billionaires who have reportedly been awestruck by Michael Jackson. Consider his power over a 12-year old.

Sadly, as is true of most addicts, there were likely hundreds of instances for which handlers, family, friends and law enforcers could have acted to stem the inevitable progression into what is now a fairly obvious latter-stage addiction. To think that the Michael Jackson of twenty years ago could have turned into what he is today boggles the mind. Yet psychotropic drug addiction respects no boundaries either in terms of who is afflicted or the resulting behaviors.

There is another unfortunate aspect to the case. As is common in the criminal justice system, there may be more than one addict involved in the proceedings. Most healthy parents would be at best reluctant to allow their child to be alone in a bedroom with a grown man, a fact to which all parties have stipulated. While by no means were all the parents who allowed their children to visit Jackson's Santa Barbara Neverland compound addicts, behavioral clues to addiction can be found in one or both parents of the accusing child. The family sued J. C. Penney several years ago for inflicting physical, emotional and mental abuse after being pursued by security guards, who claimed the boy walked out with clothes for which no one had paid, with the father following. One month after winning the lawsuit and over $100,000, the mother charged the husband with spousal abuse and filed for divorce.

Runners-up for top story of the month: Juan Manuel Alvarez, who drove his Jeep Grand Cherokee onto Los Angeles Metrolink tracks in an effort to kill himself but instead killed 12 innocents, reported by his estranged wife Carmelita to be "using drugs" and having been in and out of rehab twice, was described in the media as having had a history of "mental problems and legal problems" (no, he has a history of addiction). Gilbert Cash, 38, chairman of the Chumash Indian gaming commission responsible for overseeing more than $1 billion per year in wagering at the Chumash Santa Barbara County casino, despite having filed for bankruptcy four times, who is now under investigation by the California attorney general's office and the National Indian Gaming Commission for a conviction in November to a felony charge of beating and choking his estranged wife, after having been ruled in December as "fit to serve." (Those who so ruled qualify in the "Under watch" section.) Former "Growing Pains" child star Tracey Gold, whose SUV overturned, injuring her husband and two of her three children, pleaded guilty to DUI. Singer Lynn Anderson, winner of a 1970 Grammy for "Rose Garden," who punched a police officer after being arrested for shoplifting a Harry Potter DVD; just two months ago, she was charged with DUI. Pop star June Pointer, involved in a "program I really like - and it's working," who reported that while she was a functional addict for decades, her life began to unravel; boyfriend Joel Coigney, whom she was charged with beating up last year, says "she's a changed person" and has asked to marry her. Here's hoping Ms. Pointer stays the course.

Under watch: O.J. Simpson's daughter Sydney Simpson who, after sucker punching two girls who were "in her way" and screaming profanities at officers asking her to quiet down, was arrested for disorderly conduct. Former "ChiPs" star Erik Estrada, who now uses his celebrity status to hawk overpriced land in the middle of nowhere for National Recreational Properties, Inc., run by Jeffrey Frieden and Robert Friedman, in Internet and television English and Spanish infomercials (guess who the victims are). California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, who resigned over accusations of having improperly used public funds for personal gain, was also reported to have maintained "an abusive working environment" in complaints alleging sexual harassment filed by Shelley's employees, which have since been "mysteriously" lost.

Note to family, friends and fans of the above: we give the benefit of the doubt by assuming alcoholism (they are either idiots and fundamentally rotten, or they are alcoholic/other drug addicts). If alcoholic, there is zero chance that behaviors, in the long run, will improve without sobriety. One absolute 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. To give sobriety a chance, the enabling must stop.

Thorburn Substance Addiction Recognition Indicator

Sideways - fluff with damaged goods

ImageMovie Review: With five Academy Award nominations, L.A. Times reviewer Kenneth Turan writes that Director Alexander Payne's Sideways "turns seven days with scoundrels Miles and Jack (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) into a completely satisfying movie that quietly, gently blows you away." Turan says "the film brings emotional reality to a consistently amusing character comedy, making it something to be cherished." How true for those who enjoy seeing a couple of would-be drunks on a last binge before one is due to be married - and if you don't mind the nagging suspicion that the bingeing and prowling doesn't end at the altar.

Miles Raymond is a middle-school English teacher suffering from at least a two-year depression, gobbling up Xanax after a divorce caused, as near as we can tell, by his infidelity and depressive tendencies, exacerbated while drinking. After suffering a hangover, he arrives late to meet his actor friend Jack in Los Angeles for Jack's bachelor week with just the two of them. Driving to Oxnard to visit Miles' mother, they drink from an open bottle of white Pinot Noir. After Jack steals money from Mom's secret stash, they head up to Santa Barbara wine country and savor innumerable fine wines reminiscent of a "Wine Spectator" tour in a wine lover's dream. Miles knows fine wine, while all Jack wants to do is drink (anything will do) and prowl.

They hook up with Stephanie (played by Sandra Oh), a wine pourer at one of the wineries, and Maya (Virginia Madsen), a favorite waitress of Miles. Before a double date, Jack says to Miles, "Don't drink too much. I don't want you passing out or going to the dark side," which is marked by Miles' self-destructive negativity. After at least five bottles of wine among the four by the end of dinner, the only one who acts and looks drunk is Miles. (One bottle of wine over two hours increases the Blood Alcohol Level to over .10 per cent in a 180-pound person and to .15 per cent in a 120-pounder. Most non-alcoholics appear inebriated at the lower BAL, while failing to appear so at the upper one is an almost certain sign of high tolerance found only in alcoholics.) Morose throughout, when drinking he becomes far more so and excuses himself to call his ex-wife, who recognizes the ritual and says, "don't call me when you're drunk."

While Jack begins an ill-fated affair with an unsuspecting Stephanie, Miles gets blitzed. After a day or two of cavorting, Miles, who does not like lying, finally tells Maya that Jack is getting married, but probably "believes" all the lies he's told Stephanie about his love for her. Maya, who is sickened by the deception in her past marriage, tells Stephanie, who does what she can to destroy Jack's rugged good looks. Even with a broken nose, Jack is still on the prowl and seduces a rather plain-looking waitress ("two tons of fun") who, it turns out, is married. After being chased out of the house by her husband, leaving his wallet holding the specially-designed wedding rings behind, Jack cries to Miles, "You gotta help me, Miles. If I lose [my fiance], I'm nothing." And Miles (we might think, "yet again") bails out Jack and manages to snag the wallet, barely avoiding getting killed by the crazed husband.

In a movie without endearing characters, Maya is a standout. While some might think her inexplicable attraction to Miles is another example of "opposites attract," she probably just feels sorry for him. Miles, sullen to the end, is the polar opposite of Jack, ever the optimist. Jack manipulates, lies, commits numerous DUI offenses, uses foul language, engages in serial sexual conquests, dreams up grandiose schemes ("lets move to Los Olivos and buy a vineyard") and experiences wide emotional swings (he's suddenly in love with Stephanie - and probably believes it). However, he's never nasty and his easy-going mood never really changes except when crying the blues about having "f-d" up when he ran off without his wallet. Considering how superficially charming the character is, one might wonder about Rex Picket, on whose novel the story is based. Alcoholic author Dashiell Hammet, after all, portrayed Nick Charles in The Thin Man as a charming, competent, never nasty and always sweet sleuth. Alcoholics are far more likely to portray their fellow alcoholics as caring, calm and someone whose transgressions are easily forgiven.

Miles' character, seemingly the more obvious drunk to the uninitiated, is woefully inconsistent. While most early-stage alcoholics feel (and act) like God, Miles appears to feel anything but. The more he drinks the more negative and morose he becomes. He accuses Jack of being an "infant," adding, "this is all a big party for you, but not for me." When readying himself to bail Jack out of his infidelities, he does so because of his need to be liked rather than a need to inflate his ego. His glum attitude isn't punctuated by even one manic state. While he steals from his mother, he is far from being the manipulative con artist that Jack is. While Jack seems to experience no remorse for his numerous transgressions, we get the idea that Miles might actually feel bad for violating the rights of others.

While the movie has its comedic moments, the inconsistencies for those of us with an understanding of alcoholism make it unsatisfying and something to be cherished only in a fantasy lacking any emotional reality.

This is yet another in a long line of "alcoholic" movies that are fatally flawed in their portrayal of a tragic disease, where tragedy is temporarily sidestepped. I would spend time this weekend instead with two movies on DVD, The Pianist and The Red Violin. Look for the 15-minute segment in The Pianist in which the hero is betrayed and you will see the results of early-stage alcoholism in its full glory. And see if you can figure out who, in a long line of owners, makes the violin so famous.

Image Dear Doug: Undisciplined son from a prior marriage

Dear Doug:

My wife and I have been married five years in what is for both of us a second marriage. Things have been good, except for problems created by her undisciplined 16-year old son who lives with us most of the time. Due to the fact that she never sticks with her weak attempts at discipline, the stress has been so great I have filed for divorce. While we love each other very much, we cannot live together. Is it ok to date your ex-spouse?

Signed, Wanna-Be Step-Dad

. . . . . .

Dear Wanna-Be,

Other columnists might suggest that you certainly can date your ex- or, for that matter, maintain separate households while married until her son is out of the house. However, that ignores the likely underlying core problem.

While there are no clues in your letter other than the lack of discipline in a son by a prior marriage, considering the apparent extreme misbehaviors I would give even odds on alcoholism in the son or the biological father. Since you aren't likely to see any use of alcohol or other drugs by either, you need to ask about the possibility. Why did the marriage end? Was the father physically or verbally abusive to the mother or son? If he was, the odds of alcoholism are 80%. If alcoholism explains the divorce, the odds are 40% that the son has inherited the disease. At age 16, if he has inherited alcoholism, he's probably already triggered it. In either case, alcoholism could be at the root of the problem behavior.

The best you can do if you confirm alcoholism in either father or son is to share with your wife information about the affliction that might help her understand that a lack of discipline only adds fuel to the fire. Such information is your best hope at giving her the courage to act firmly with her son, either intervening if he has inherited addiction or, perhaps, formulating a strategy to deal with the alcoholic father. This could include doing everything possible to prevent him from seeing his son until he has a period of proven sobriety.

(Source for story idea: Annie's Mailbox, January 7, 2005.)

And, here's a bonus one:

Lost daughter

Dear Doug:

My marriage to a violent abuser ended 10 years ago, when my daughter, "Trisha," was five. Despite the abuse, I was told that I would destroy my relationship with Trisha if I blamed her father for the divorce. I have never talked with her about the abuse and have only encouraged her relationship with her father.

When her father was diagnosed with Hepatitis C a month ago, she moved into his house and now won't speak to me. The court says she has a legal right to do what she wants. What can I do?

Signed, Distraught Mom

. . . . . .

Dear Distraught,

Other columnists might suggest that perhaps Trisha remembers the abuse, has felt ill will toward her father for many years and, now that he is dying, wants to pay amends for her own private feelings. Such columnists might suggest you simply tell Trisha that you understand and support her choice, and know what their reunion means to her.

However, your ex-husband is a likely addict. The crucial multiple choice question is, (1) has your daughter inherited the disease and knows she can get away with using under his nose, (2) is he now clean and she truly wants to support him, or (3) is she only enabling someone who, despite his secondary disease, is still a practicing addict? If the first answer is true, you need to intervene quickly and without compromise, doing everything in your power to coerce abstinence and inspire in her a need for recovery, including using the law to do so. If the second response is correct, you might consider educating your daughter about alcoholism with the goal of explaining that you, like almost everyone else, didn't grasp the idea that addiction causes abusive behaviors, or you would have tried to coerce him into a program of sobriety. If the third, you should do everything in your power to have her removed from his home. While I cannot begrudge her for caring about her father, he has committed abuse before and easily could do so again if he is still using. Your daughter, if not an addict, needs to understand this.

(Source for story idea: Annie's Mailbox, January 6, 2005.)

Alcoholic Myth-of-the-Month: How much is too much?

"Researchers considered any man who averaged more than two drinks per day or more than four drinks per occasion to be an excessive drinker. For women it was more than one drink per day or more than three drinks per occasion."

So said The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a recent study, estimating that 35,000 people in 2001 died from disease linked to drinking too much alcohol. They concluded that "these results emphasize the importance of adopting effective strategies to reduce excessive drinking..."

Studies such as these not only create confusion in the mind of the non-alcoholic, but also cause the uninitiated to take their eye off the ball. By the time physical diseases secondary to drinking surface, years of excessive drinking have occurred. Further, such drinking cannot be "reduced," since consumption that damages one's own body is, by definition, alcoholic in nature and no alcoholic can successfully "reduce" drinking for an indefinite period. Strategies must be found that stop the drinking, not reduce it, which is at best a temporary fix.

While three drinks in quick succession for a 120-pound person and four for a 200-pounder will make someone legally drunk for purposes of operating a motor vehicle, it will not if the drinking occurs over the course of more than two hours. Recall from my books that each drink increases the BAL by .02 per cent for the 200-pound person and .03 per cent for the 120-pounder, while the body assimilates alcohol at an average rate of .015 per cent per hour. The BAL increases to less than .08 per cent if the drinking occurs over two hours, only .02 to .03 per cent if drunk over four hours and remains at near zero if drunk over a period of over five hours. Since most think of several hours as an "occasion," this clearly obfuscates the issue.

To suggest that someone having more than one or two drinks per day is drinking "excessively" only confuses those trying to distinguish truly addictive drinking from non-addictive use. A 200-pound person can drink two bottles of Bordeaux (the equivalent of 12 shots of 80-proof liquor) over the course of 12 hours, only to see his BAL rise to .06 per cent. A 120-pound woman can drink one bottle over 12 hours and maintain a BAL of near-zero. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might be more successful in its mission if it didn't promote ideas that would make us think every French person must be alcoholic.

Amazing Antics: Stories of Alcoholism-Driven Behaviors

Smoking as an early-warning sign

Stories from "This Is True" by Randy Cassingham, with his "tagline."

THE DANGERS OF SMOKING: When a woman stepped up to the clerk at a gas station in Washington, D.C. asking to buy some cigarettes, he asked to see her I.D. to check her age. She said she didn't have any, so the clerk refused the sale. The woman then used her cigarette lighter to set fire to several gas pumps. Firefighters put the flames out before the tank caught fire, but the woman escaped. (AP) ...Either way, she wanted to see smoke.

THE DANGERS OF SMOKING II: A man shoplifted three cartons of cigarettes from a convenience store in Lake Station, Ind. The store clerk followed the man out to get his license plate number, but found that the man had locked himself out of his car. The man told the clerk the theft was "just a joke," but when he saw the clerk pick up the phone to call police, he came back into the store, ripped the phone from the wall, and then robbed him. The store was across the street from the police station, and dispatchers watched through their window as the man went into the store a third time, stole a broom, and used it to smash out his car's window. Officers chased down Dan L. Griggs, 26, and charged him with robbery. Police described Griggs as "the world's dumbest criminal." (Northwest Indiana Times) ...Yeah, but it's still pretty early in the year.

In the process of doing the research for my first book, Drunks, Drugs & Debits, I interviewed a number of law enforcers. In a discussion, one of the "regular" cops (i.e., not one of the elite Drug Recognition Experts) grouped tobacco with alcohol and the other "drugs" as capable of causing deviant behaviors. Having a (then) vague understanding of the differences between the drugs, I questioned whether tobacco should be considered similar to the "other" drugs, even though it is far more physically addictive to most people. He asked me whether I had ever seen a smoker without access to cigarettes. I didn't know enough then to properly respond.

Yes, a deprived smoker will do a lot of things to get his or her cigarette. But will he do anything? Sorry, but generally, no. The exception is the smoker who has damaged the neo-cortex of his brain, leaving the lower brain centers free to act without restraint. Smoking does not damage the neo-cortex, the human part of the brain, and therefore does not cause distortions of perception and memory.

Psychotropic drugs are those capable of causing such distortions in susceptible individuals (which requires a buildup of a metabolite - a derivative of the drug - on the brain). Such drugs include alcohol, legal pharmaceuticals such as Oxycontin and Valium, as well as illegal ones including cocaine and methamphetamine. They do not include tobacco.

A smoker denied her drug who then sets fire to gas pumps is likely to be suffering from a god-complex resulting from the effects of psychotropic drugs. The fact that over 80% of convicts are alcohol or other drug addicts supports this idea; after all, if those convicted of crimes are usually addicts, then those who should be convicted probably are as well (a logical extrapolation from the available statistics).

The fact that a smoker lifted the merchandise should have served as a warning to the store clerk that far worse violations might be committed. The old saying "where there's smoke, there may be fire" is an idea best heeded when dealing with likely addicts, whose behaviors may become unpredictably dangerous and potentially lethal at any moment. The simple fact of smoking is such a clue; although 70% of smokers in the United States are not alcoholics, 30% are. If there had been any anger, threat or argument (which the first story doesn’t mention), the gas station clerk would have been wise to watch her every move and, just possibly, press the 911 button at the first hint of worse behaviors to come.

While only 10% of the population consists of psychotropic drug addicts, the fact that three times the number of smokers in the U.S. are addicts is a good reason to be more wary of them than of others, especially when additional clues to addiction are observed. Since the behaviors of psychotropic drug addicts are erratically destructive, such extra watchfulness may just save your life.

("This is True" is copyright 2005 by Randy Cassingham, used with permission. See http://www.thisistrue.com 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 PrevenTragedy.com.

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

Thorburn Weblog

Doug's new book, Alcoholism Myths and Realities, is now available pre-publication to our readers only! Buy your copy now, before the general public can in June. Only $14.95 - and take a look at this endorsement by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and columnist, Scientific American:

"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."

Or get the whole collection of Doug's books PLUS a two-hour audio cassette of Doug's presentation on "Identifying early stage alcoholics, and why families and friends just don't get it," for just $49.95 plus tax and shipping. That's a $72.75 value for only $49.95.

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.

To purchase any of the above Thorburn books, go to www.galtpublishing.com

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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