June 2006 / Issue No. 21

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

There is something for everyone!

How Many Times Will Kennedy Fans Enable Before he Dies from his Disease?

ImageThe cops do what they can to prevent another attempt at sobriety, but (fortunately) fail

Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, six-term congressman from Rhode Island, entered rehab—again—for an admitted addiction to pharmaceuticals after crashing his car. He remembered nothing of the incident (meaning he was in a blackout), which occurred May 4th at 3 a.m. A police report stated at the time of the accident Kennedy’s “eyes were red and watery, speech was slightly slurred and, upon exiting his vehicle, his balance was unsure…. [His car] had no lights running” and almost swerved into a police car traveling in the opposite direction. When an officer tried to stop him, Kennedy “did not respond but continued at a slower speed,” finally colliding head-on with vehicle barriers placed around the Capitol after 9-11.

There may be two parts to this story that could prove more interesting than Kennedy’s relapse, but which the media will all but ignore. One is the cops, who attempted—no doubt, yet again—to enable Kennedy by protecting him from appropriate consequences for misbehaviors. We can only guess how many hundreds or even thousands of times his poor conduct failed to make news, when a friend, family member, fellow congressperson or law enforcer enabled Patrick J. Kennedy. In this instance, the officers who were involved sought to give a breath test, but were overruled by the watch commander and told to leave the scene so higher-ups could take Kennedy home. Kennedy and others whom he will come into future contact with got lucky: the publicity seems to have forced him into rehab.

The other overlooked part to the story may be the doctors, who provided a known addict with a prescription to at least one psychotropic drug. Kennedy admitted to having Phenergan and Ambien in his system. Ambien, a sedative-hypnotic (think: Valium), by itself causes problem behaviors in addicts. The warning label clearly states, “The habit-forming potential is high. Psychological and physical dependence is possible…[If you stop using this drug, there may be] physical withdrawal symptoms.” In other words, it’s an addictive drug, which you don’t give to addicts. The label also says, “Do not take this drug with any other drug that might slow the central nervous system, like another sedative, benzodiazepine, sleeping pills, monoamine oxidase inhibitor, antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, or antihistamines.” Phenergan is an antihistamine. You don’t compound the destructive potential by providing drugs to an addict that could prove deadly in combination. Addicts frequently ignore warning labels.

This is not the first time his antics have appeared on the front pages. The youngest of three children of alcoholics Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and former wife Joan Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy was admitted to rehab after getting caught with cocaine in 1986 at age 18. In 2000, he shoved a security guard at Los Angeles International Airport when she told him he had to check his bag because it was too large to carry on board. He settled a lawsuit she brought against him for an undisclosed sum out of court. In 2001, the Coast Guard was called to his rented yacht to intervene in an argument with his girlfriend, who said he had been drinking. It must have been quite a scene, as he was accused of causing $28,000 in damage to the boat. Five months ago he sought treatment for his psychotropic drug addiction. Just a month before this latest incident he was reportedly at fault in a two-car accident in Portsmouth, RI, as he was “hurrying into the parking lot of a pharmacy.” Any one of these behaviors suggest an almost certain likelihood of addiction: a young person in the public eye using an illegal drug (one would expect non-alcoholic children of famous people to shy away from controversy); a sense of entitlement and a “rules don’t apply to me” attitude; arguing while drinking to the point at which law enforcers are called to the scene; damaging property while drinking; prior stays in rehab; causing an accident because he was in a hurry (at a pharmacy, no less). How many more incidents might have escaped public notice?

A Rhode Islander is reported to have said, “People accept the Kennedy’s. Everyone knows they’re going to get in trouble—and everyone knows they’ll get out of it.” Yes, as long as there are enablers willing to protect alcoholics from proper consequences. Such enablers need to be reminded that as long as they are willing, the odds of sobriety are greatly reduced and the likelihood of real tragedies ultimately occurring are dramatically increased.

Runners-up for top story of the month:

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who told a reporter inquiring about reports of evacuations, extreme poverty, mass killings and gang rapes in Darfur, “These are all lies. I tell you these are lies. There is no mass killing.” Sudan, the largest country in Africa at nearly a third the size of the lower 48 States, has a per capita gross income of $530, 1,200 miles of paved and gravel roads (the U.S. has 2.4 million miles of such roads) and six million internally displaced refugees, 61 per cent of whom have experienced a family member killed in its Civil War.

Actor Kiefer Sutherland, reportedly throwing a tantrum in a Tennessee restaurant after being asked to smoke outside by a busboy, Nathan Rush, who was fired after the incident. Rush is quoted as saying that Kiefer told the manager his party was leaving because he “sprayed food and drinks at him.” This is the latest in a run of misbehaviors that seem to be worsening, a concern for those who enjoy Sutherland’s character Jack Bauer in “24.” But then, that’s the nature of alcoholism: it only gets worse.

Former Playboy Playmate and would-be heiress Anna Nicole Smith, who won a unanimous ruling from the Supreme Court, clearing the way for further legal battles over $500 million from the estate of her late husband, J. Howard Marshall. A Texas oil billionaire, Marshall was worth $1.6 billion when he died in 1995 at age 89 after marrying the then 26-year-old Smith in 1994. The high court’s review was made possible because Smith had filed for bankruptcy, creating a legal quagmire over which had priority: a federal bankruptcy court in California or a Texas probate court. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Smith’s award after deciding that federal bankruptcy judges had no right to intervene in state probate matters. Because this would have crimped the IRS’s ability to collect taxes owed by an estate, the Justice Department sided with Smith and the bankruptcy court. Who else but an alcoholic could bring together the Supreme Court, the Justice Department, the IRS and a Playmate all in one story?

Los Angeles Lakers center-forward Kwame Brown, under investigation for sexual assault. Brown, the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft, reportedly clashed with Michael Jordan and Wizard Coach Eddie Jordan. He was arrested in 2002 on suspicion of driving 120 mph and arrested again in 2003 on suspicion of DUI.

Former Georgia state school superintendent Linda Schrenko, who in 1994 was the first woman to win statewide office in Georgia, pleading guilty to defrauding the government and money laundering. Among other violations, Schrenko and her boyfriend funneled federal school money into a $9,300 face-lift and her 2002 campaign for governor. After the election, she split from her husband (yes, she was married and had a boyfriend) and filed for bankruptcy. Even political opponents were shocked at her fall from grace, including former Gov. Roy Barnes who said that Schrenko was “blinded by something—I never could understand what it was—and it led to her downfall.” How about the fact that her staffers said she was drug-addled and rarely showed up for work? Then again, all we need to know is she bankrupted almost $70,000 in credit card debt and tens of thousands in medical bills while earning $113,000 per year. Memo to Gov. Barnes: she was blinded by distortions of perception and memory that made her think she could do no wrong, a byproduct of long-standing alcohol and other-drug addiction.

Under watch:

Helen Golay, 75, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 72, who allegedly offered room and board to Los Angeles area homeless men in exchange for their cooperation in applying for insurance policies on the men’s lives. More than $2 million was collected from policies, which paid off when the men were killed in mysterious hit-and-run crashes. The women initially took out small policies but duplicated the men’s signatures on rubber stamps, which were used to obtain more policies, keeping each policy small enough to stay under life insurers’ fraud radar. They were caught only when two detectives were sharing “war” stories and realized an unsolved murder of a homeless man in 1999 was similar to another one in 2005, both of which involved the two elderly women collecting insurance. This “Arsenic and Old Lace” story is already proving to have “legs” on par with that of Stefan Eriksson, who crashed an Enzo Ferrari into a power pole on Pacific Coast Highway at 162 mph in February.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, leading his country towards despotism via the ballot box with the aid of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. As money is the addict’s biggest enabler, so it is with despots, including those masquerading as populists. Whether his government will be as irresponsible as his rhetoric, which is virulently anti-American, will depend upon whether or not he is an alcoholic. Unfortunately, I suspect Morales and Chavez are drinking buddies, with Morales following in his footsteps by attempting to draft a new constitution, which was Chavez’s main legal tool for concentrating power into his own hands. Recall that Hitler, whose drugs of choice were amphetamines and barbiturates, was also elected democratically.

Financial commentator Louis Rukeyser, who delivered the fun- and pun-filled commentary on economic and financial events for over three decades as host of “Wall $treet Week With Louis Rukeyser,” dead at age 73 from a rare bone cancer. Rukeyser was considered warm, witty, highly intelligent and charming by almost all his viewers. Peering through the veil, there were several public and inexplicable events that raised my antennae: he capriciously fired long-standing panelists on at least two occasions and lambasted a guest with whom he happened to disagree more than once. Since his style was generally non-confrontational and interviews were intended to extract as much information as possible from both panelists and guests, this made no sense until I asked, was Louis Rukeyser a hidden alcoholic?

His refusal to do a small favor for a cruise ship’s captain, Loren McIntyre, reported in a 1991 Inc. Magazine article by author Michael Lewis, was a petty but telling incident. The captain needed to have a cassette mailed and heard that Rukeyser was leaving the cruise early. Rukeyser was reluctant, but finally agreed to take the tape when the captain all but begged him. McIntyre asked Rukeyser to write his name and phone number down, in case something went wrong. Rukeyser asked, “You mean you don’t know who I am?” McIntyre admitted he had no idea. Rukeyser responded, “If you have to ask that, I’m not taking it,” and marched out without the cassette. It is little, seemingly unimportant incidents such as this, suggesting an inordinately large sense of self-importance, that have often been my first clue to alcoholism.

Also notable were his disdain for being upstaged, some raucous partying where alcohol was served and a love of gambling, all of which are consistent with alcoholism. But despite several hours of research including interviews with a number of people who knew him, I found no hard evidence of addictive use. Few, even those who related bitter feelings in private, were willing to go on the record saying anything negative about Rukeyser, avoiding what many might consider an attack on a dead person who can’t defend himself. Still, while most seem to have enjoyed his public persona (including this correspondent), one explanation for Rukeyser’s occasional personality defects and capriciousness—love him or not—is alcoholism.

Codependent of the Month: The U.S. Army. If the incident in Haditha proves true, we can look to soldiers with symptoms of alcoholism as the source of the atrocities. According to the Los Angeles Times, at least one prisoner told investigators that “he frequently smelled alcohol on the guards’ breath in the cellblock where most of the abuses occurred” at Abu Ghraib (June 13, 2004). Who doubts that alcohol and other-drug addiction wasn’t at the root of Viet Nam atrocities, particularly My Lai. Due to the possible misbehaviors of a few, all U.S. soldiers will be subjected to “ethics training.” Unfortunately, such training offers no benefit for those in whom the biological processing of alcohol damages the seat of reason and logic, the brain's neo-cortex.

Note to family, friends and fans of the above: the benefit of the doubt is given by assuming alcoholism (they are either idiots and fundamentally rotten, or they are alcoholic/other drug addicts—which would explain the misbehaviors). If alcoholic, there is zero chance that behaviors, in the long run, will improve without sobriety. An essential prerequisite to sobriety is the cessation of enabling, allowing pain and crises to build. Thus far, many have done everything they can to protect the addict from the requisite pain, making these news events possible. The cure for alcoholism, consequential bad behaviors and, ultimately, tragedy, is simple: stop protecting the addict from the logical consequences of misbehaviors and proactively intervene.

Review: “The Kennedy Curse: Why Tragedy Has Haunted America’s First Family for 150 Years,” by Edward Klein

Edward Klein covered John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Presidential campaign and later served as foreign editor of Newsweek and editor-in-chief of The New York Times Magazine. He has authored countless articles and several books, including two others on Kennedy family members. He’s a good writer and meticulous researcher. However, despite his resume and, sadly, in concert with virtually every other biographer and historian, he reverses cause and effect.

As discussed in by books, How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics: Using Behavioral Clues to Identify Addiction in its Early Stages, and Alcoholism Myths and Realities: Removing the Stigma of Society’s Most Destructive Disease, alcoholism mimics virtually all the Personality Disorders, particularly Narcissism. A diagnosis of this Disorder requires any five attributes out of a menu of nine, including “a grandiose sense of self-importance,” “a belief he is ‘special,’” “a sense of entitlement” and an “arrogant and haughty attitude.” These, as well as the other five attributes, are all classic symptoms of alcoholism or severe codependency, especially in children of alcoholics.

According to studies cited in my first book, Drunks, Drugs & Debits: How to Recognize Addicts and Avoid Financial Abuse, 70-80% of recovering addicts with two or three months of sobriety who were diagnosed with a Personality Disorder when drinking are found to have been misdiagnosed. While most Disorders clear up or become far less of a concern after two to three years of sobriety, experience shows that what most consider normal behaviors usually don’t return for five to ten years.

Klein includes vignettes on a potpourri of Kennedy clan members, some alcoholics and several children of alcoholics. The manifestation of narcissism in apparent non-alcoholic members of the family, including Joe Kennedy’s favorite daughter Kathleen, suggests the power of familial alcoholism. Extraordinary tolerance to alcohol makes the disease all but invisible in many, including Joseph P. Kennedy, even while numerous behavioral indications of the disease are evident (I counted two dozen such clues in the 45-page chapter on Joe, from attempts at blackmail to hyperbole and a public display in which he flouted long tradition). The fact that narcissism can be so obvious in non-alcoholics, as well as in those who defy the diagnosis, may account for the fact that alcoholism is overlooked as the most common root of the Disorder. However, the likely underlying cause becomes more apparent when we realize that a confluence of narcissists is found in families in which alcoholism is epidemic.

The Kennedy Curse is billed as a “detective story”. Unfortunately, Edward Klein helps to perpetuate the myth that most character flaws are inherent, when they are instead usually rooted in alcoholism. While including some interesting and telling depictions in the lives of alcoholics and their codependents in what may be America’s most famous family, Klein’s book fails in its most fundamental goal.


Dear Doug: Backstabbing Employee

Dear Doug:

One of my subordinates invariably puts himself in a positive light at my expense in front of my manager. He’s either not truthful or fails to give the whole story. Should I say something or let it go?



. . . .

Dear Slighted,

Other columnists might suggest that you carefully, professionally and in a mature way correct his comments, so that your manager doesn’t buy into the misinformation. Such columnists might also suggest a private encounter with the employee, letting him know you expect the cheap shots to stop. There might even be an allusion to the behavior as a “power game.” Indeed.

Left unsaid is that power-seeking behaviors, especially those coming at the expense of others, are frequently connected to alcoholism. You should look for supporting behavioral indications of addiction such as trouble at home, belittling and disparaging remarks about others and regular visits to bars after work. If such clues exist, assume that his lies and insinuations will worsen. Then, you must do everything you can to protect yourself. This would include having incontrovertible proof that any allegations he makes are false, as well as planning for the likelihood that his lies will be more believable than your truths. And whatever you do, don’t confront him one-on-one. Such confrontations are breeding grounds for false accusations by alcoholics.

(Source for story idea: Ken Lloyd, Ph.D., Management Consultant, The Daily News, May 8, 2006.)

Prevent Tragedy Foundation

“There’s certainly a streak of recklessness in the family, despite how much they’ve achieved.”

So said Ron Kessler, author of a book on the Kennedy clan’s patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy (The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded), in commenting on the family’s latest front-page antics. Unfortunately, Mr. Kessler lacks an understanding of the key ingredient to alcoholism: a biochemistry that, with use, causes addicts to view themselves as godlike. This egotistical self-perception makes the addict truly believe he or she is invincible, which often manifests in reckless behaviors. And, those who think they're God tend to develop a need to control others. Overachievement provides a ready means by which to control fans, constituents, co-workers, employees, friends and family. As a result, reckless behaviors do not occur despite achievement in alcoholics; rather, alcoholism impels the addict to engage in reckless behaviors and overachieve.

And this month, a bonus myth-of-the-month:

“The defendant, unquestionably, had some mental issues.”

So said Assistant District Attorney Bob Gordon, in describing the mental state of Jan Erickson, 28, who was found guilty in April of murdering his father, Stephan Erickson, 65. Jan stabbed his father 37 times and used a meat cleaver to castrate him in what police said was one of the most horrific crime scenes in recent memory. The victim reportedly fed his 20-something, troubled, unemployed and crack-addicted son and let him live with him rent-free. His mother testified that she indulged her son by shopping, job-hunting, using methamphetamine with him and helping him solicit transvestite prostitutes (meth addicts truly do the craziest things). His sister, perhaps unknowingly lending support to the idea that addiction has nothing to do with upbringing, testified that the family previously had a nice life in Marin County, California. Erickson explained that he committed the murder because his father coddled him and fostered his drug addiction, but failed to explain why he didn’t take out his mother as well.

Yes Mr. Gordon, Jan Erickson had mental issues. Most people who hear such comments probably think of Bipolar or other Personality Disorder. They would be misled. Jan Erickson was simply an addict. As such, he was capable of anything.

Jan was right, however, about his father enabling him. If Stephan Erickson had understood the imperative of addiction—uncompromising disenabling and intervention at the earliest possible moment—he might be alive today and his son might be a sober and free man.

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

These antics involve law enforcers who, like Kennedy in this month’s top story, could have easily cost lives.

“WHO CONTROLS THE CONTROLLERS? ‘Due to circumstances that I deeply regret,’ said Teresa L. Kaiser, 56, she resigned as the executive director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. What sort of circumstances? While driving -- not in a state car, her deputy was quick to point out -- she swerved into oncoming traffic, causing a crash with injuries, and was arrested after her blood alcohol was shown by a breath test to be double the legal limit. Kaiser told police she
had only drunk two glasses of wine over several hours, but a chart released by her own agency notes that a person of her weight would have to consume six drinks in one hour to achieve a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 percent. (Portland Oregonian) ...If cops got a dollar for every driver who ‘only had two,’ we wouldn't have to pay them.”

All too often, law enforcers have undiagnosed and untreated alcoholism. While most of the time doing their job—and oftentimes, like so many addicts, doing it well—they will sometimes falter and violate the rules they enforce. All the while, there is usually some degree of abusive behaviors going on behind closed doors. I have known women “happily” married to law enforcers for fifty years who, after the spouse died, admitted they were verbally (if not physically) abused the entire time.

Here we have a law enforcer whose job it is to protect underage drinkers from gaining access to the drug alcohol, when she is the one who needs such protection. She’s 56, not 26, with a BAL of .16 per cent. She lied because, well, that’s what alcoholics do. She was behind the wheel of a car at a BAL of over .15 per cent which, while not a concrete limit for a certain diagnosis of alcoholism, is surpassed by few other clues in terms of the degree of certainty. There are few if any instances in which a driver over the legal limit who claims that he or she “only had two” doesn’t have this disease. It would be interesting to ascertain how many lives she has ruined and relationships destroyed while her alcoholism has likely progressed for some 40 years.

Cassingham’s tagline is an insightful one. Cops deal almost exclusively with those having alcohol or other-drug addiction and would do well if they could collect a buck for every contact, virtually all of whom would say if asked, “But officer, I only had two,” or “the drugs belong to my friend; I don’t know how they got there.”

And this month, a bonus antic involving two more law enforcers:

“ALL IN THE FAMILY: Police in Columbia Heights, Minn., struggled to get control over a couple after an alleged drunk driving accident. The female half of the couple, Lindsay E. Anderson, 29, hit a parked truck and then a car at 1:00 a.m. Her fiancé, Steven J. Herron, 34, allegedly refused to submit to arrest and had to be stunned with a Taser twice to place him in restraints. Anderson was charged with driving while intoxicated with a blood alcohol level of .213 percent, and Herron was charged with "obstructing the legal process." Both were booked into jail -- a place they know well since both Anderson and Herron are police officers in nearby Minneapolis. Both were placed on desk duty pending the results of an investigation. They won't be allowed to drive police cars, but were allowed to keep their guns. (Minneapolis Star Tribune) ...And, I hope, just one bullet in their shirt pockets.”

Since tolerance usually decreases later in life, the difference between a 29 or 34-year-old alcoholic and one who is 56 is in the blood alcohol level at which point trouble ensues. Kaiser showed obvious signs of inebriation at a substantially lower BAL. In both cases, due to the heavy drinking and serious misbehaviors, there should be no question about alcoholism. Their superiors don’t seem to grasp the idea that a person with this disease is capable of anything. A gun—even with only one bullet in the pocket (very clever, Randy)—is the last thing they should be allowed to possess after proving to society they have a disorder that causes them to process the drug alcohol in such a way as to cause them to intermittently act badly in unpredictable ways.

(Story and tagline from “This is True,” copyright 2006 by Randy Cassingham, used with permission. See http://www.thisistrue.com for free subscriptions.)

Visit 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.

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Thorburn Weblog

Doug's new book, Alcoholism Myths and Realities, is now available at
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Rave reviews include:

"Every policymaker in America needs to read your book exposing the myths of chemical addiction...Excellent book."
— Jim Ramstad, Member of U.S. Congress (MN)

"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."
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