November-December 2009 / Issue No. 52

Viewing the news through the lens of alcohol and other-drug addiction

We hope you enjoy this double issue. You may wish to take the opportunity to look at our books at Amazon or our own Galt Publishing for upcoming holiday gift-giving ideas. We’re proud of the fact that 39 of 51 collective reviews at give the books five-star ratings (and you are welcome to add to those reviews!). Both of us at the Thorburn Addiction Report—Doug Thorburn and Linda Gurian—along with our occasional correspondents, including Randy Cassingham, wish you all a safe holiday season!

Welcome to the Thorburn Addiction Report. Each month in which we interpret the news through the lens of alcohol and other drug addiction. Each month we bring you several sections, including:

  1. Top Story of the month along with runners up, persons under watch, enablers, disenablers and more
  2. Review or Public Policy Recommendation of the month
  3. Dear Doug in which a recent letter to "Dear Annie" or other "help" column is rewritten, with responses given from the unique perspective that alcohol or other drug addiction best explains the misbehaviors described
  4. Alcoholic Myth-of-the-Month
  5. Alcoholic Antic-of-the-Month, usually where someone deserves the Darwin Award, but lived.

There is something for everyone!

© Doug Thorburn. All rights reserved.

The blog is now reopened to your comments. We’ll be interested in any thoughts you, our loyal readers, may have.

By the way, call us (800-482-9424) for deals on books you won’t be able to refuse. (They are also available, of course, at or They make a terrific gift to teens and anyone thinking about becoming professionally or romantically involved with someone else! (including other drivers, landlords, tenants, employers, employees, neighbors...)

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Chremes: “And what vice [is] the vilest?”
Pamphilus: “Drunkennesse, for it makes a Beast of a Man.”
--Nicholas Breton, An Olde Mans Lesson and a Young Mans Love, 1605

Drug-addicted enabler to Anthony Sowell, Lori Frazier—and a slew of drug-addicted victims

The criminal justice system is filled with addicts, who often were arrested by addicts, judged by them and guarded by them. Victims are also frequently addicts. While too often an innocent was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming victim to a stray bullet, a vehicular homicide or a robbery, the number of occasions where the victim is another addict is probably woefully underestimated.

It doesn’t make it any less tragic, as so often addicts of all stripes are decent human beings when sober. However, it does explain how someone could put himself or herself into a situation that sober people wouldn’t get close to. How else can we explain someone living with a serial murderer?

Lori Frazier, a niece of Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Johnson, lived with Anthony Sowell, the man accused of being the “Cleveland Strangler,” since a month after his release in 2005 from a 15-year prison sentence for rape. “I want to know why, why would he do this. He took care of me.” Yes, Ms. Frazier, Sowell took care of you in the way you know best—he gave you plenty of drugs until you moved out last year in an attempt to kick your addiction. He also gave you a place to live, foul though it may have been. It stank and you didn’t smell it. You believed him—you’d believe anything your supplier told you—when he explained away the pungent smell of decaying bodies in the house by blaming his stepmother downstairs and, when she moved out, the sausage company next door.

When he lured other women into his home—so far authorities have found 11 of them—and killed them, mostly by strangulation, he may have drugged you up so you were comatose, or asked you to leave for the weekend, or whatever. The uninitiated can’t even imagine the sorts of believable lies the addict tells, even to another addict, or the suspension of belief by an addict who wants her drugs. The seven women who have been identified by the coroner were all black mothers aged 31 through 52 with criminal records and histories of drug addiction. Your uncle Johnson rightly notes that you “would probably fit the same profile of many victims.” You just got lucky.

Other people nearby suspected, but there were always explanations—there always are when it comes to the foibles and misbehaviors of addicts. Sowell’s residence is shielded by an empty house on one side and the windowless brick wall of the meat factory on the other. When the stench of death blew over the street, neighbors blamed the factory. Sowell’s rented house was one of the nicer ones on a block filled with homes in need of new paint and windows, many vacant, so it looked relatively safe. Despite being a registered sex offender and convicted felon, Sowell, a former U.S. Marine, slipped under authorities’ radar despite repeated suspicious goings-on at the house. No one can explain why an officer who went there as recently as September 22 to make a random check was not entitled to enter, despite the stench of death. A city councilor who filed a complaint about the odor two years ago has called for a federal investigation into the lack of proper police response, many victims too late.

Attention was paid to Sowell only after a woman reported being raped and choked with an electrical extension cord just hours after the authorities’ visit in September. She knew Sowell and accepted his offer to share four bottles of cheap malt liquor in his upstairs room. After drinking “for some time,” Sowell became angry (it’s called “alcoholic rage”), punched her in the face and began choking and raping her. When officers went to the home about five weeks later (!!!) with an arrest warrant for the alleged rape, Sowell wasn’t there, but six bodies were—two on the living room floor, two more in a crawl space inside, another in a shallow grave in the basement and a sixth in a freshly-dug grave in the back yard.

There’s no explaining why one alcoholic is relatively benign and another turns into a serial murderer. One of the more benign sort, Lori Frazier, is a victim, though infinitely less of one than the unfortunate 11 (and very likely many more, yet undiscovered). Anthony Sowell was known to have a history of alcohol and other-drug addiction. As I point out in Drunks, Drugs & Debits: How to Recognize Addicts and Avoid Financial Abuse, there were probably dozens or even hundreds of incidents for which close persons or the law—or the military—could have appropriately intervened with coerced abstinence as a condition of freedom, but didn’t. After spending 15 years in prison, he was out for no more than a few weeks before finding a fellow druggie with whom to get and stay high. If coerced abstinence was a condition of freedom for all convicted felons, the odds of recidivism would be dramatically reduced. Instead, there’s a multiple body count. It shouldn’t have happened.


Runners-up for top story of the month:

Tessa Zelek
, 25, found guilty on two counts of cruelty to children, four counts of contributing to the deprivation of a minor and two counts of prescription drug forgery. Zelek, who fed her twins so little that at 13 months they reportedly looked like skeletons and weighed only nine pounds each (more than 50% underweight for their age), blamed the pediatrician for failing to tell her what and when to feed them and give proper parenting advice. The twins’ father, James McCart, also 25, copped a plea and admitted he didn’t “know how many days went by that the kids weren’t fed. I thought like two, but I’m not sure.” What could possible distort the perceptions of parents to the point they would starve their children? McCart admitted they spent months in a drug-induced haze, each taking about 20 Methadone tablets a day, along with Xanax, Oxycontin and alcohol. As a result of the drug addiction, McCart testified “we were both throwing up and we stayed in bed….We just ignored the baby monitor. We turned it down.” The boys’ aunt, Lisa Scroggins, now shares custody of the children with McCart’s parents. Zelek’s mother, Christi Ann Zelek, 53, a special education coordinator, will be tried for her failure to report child abuse. Incredibly, she was reportedly teaching a class on child development at the time of her arrest. (Amazingly, the twins are reportedly now only a bit behind and a little smaller than others in their 3-year-old age group.)

Former Japanese finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa, 56, found by his wife lying face down in bed in their Tokyo home, dead of uncertain causes but with “numerous anomalies in his cardiovascular system as well as the presence of alcohol,” according to the Tokyo metropolitan police department. Nakagawa was a “runner-up” in the February-April 2009 edition of TAR, having slurred his speech and repeatedly appeared to doze off at a meeting of finance ministers focusing on the world’s economic mess, followed by a bizarre visit to the Vatican Museums in which he touched various exhibits that mere mortals like the rest of us would never dream of getting too close to (take a look at this and you’ll understand why). Oh, and according to Wikipedia, “Nakagawa had been known for his extremely heavy drinking since a young age. A [Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry] bureaucrat, who was a fellow of Nakagawa's, witnessed Nakagawa drunk frequently, especially before hosting big political conferences.”

Timothy Willgruber, 56, who took his own life a week after he killed his twin brother Thomas Willgruber in a freak “accident” (see the discussion on Heath Ledger’s death in the March 2008 edition of TAR for my view of such “accidents”) for which he was facing charges of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence. After both were drinking while driving to the Bethlehem, PA annual Celtic Fest, Timothy was having trouble parallel parking. When Thomas hopped out of the vehicle to help, Timothy backed into the spot and pinned Thomas between their minivan bumper and a sport utility vehicle, killing him. Such antics weren’t new: Thomas had previously pled guilty for DUI in 2000 and Timothy had done so in 2007. Alcoholism may have run in the family, as their late parents, Joseph and Geraldine, operated a bar in their home town of Allentown, PA for four decades. The brothers were reportedly the best of friends and a neighbor, Carl Himmelberger, commented that Timothy “would never cause trouble for anyone. I can’t imagine what he was going through.” Even seemingly benign alcoholism can take horrific turns.

Dennis LeRoy Anderson, 62, who pleaded guilty for DUI. However, he wasn’t driving just any old motor vehicle. After consuming “eight or nine” beers at a bar, he hopped into his La-Z-Boy reclining lounge chair equipped with gasoline engine and stereo and was heading home when he crashed into a car. His blood alcohol level was .28 per cent—which, using the chart and analysis in Get Out of the Way!: How to Identify and Avoid a Driver Under the Influence, would translate to the 24-ounce variety of beer.

Flamboyant lawyer John O’Quinn, 68, who won billions in verdicts against makers of breast implants, pharmaceuticals and tobacco, killed when the SUV he was driving skidded across a rain-soaked parkway near Houston and crashed into a tree. While stories of his legendary drinking escapades were common among friends and enemies alike, he claimed to be sober in recent years. However, he may have been driving as fast as 60 mph in a 40 mph zone and neither he nor his passenger, who also died from injuries sustained in the crash, was wearing a seat belt. You never know when or under what conditions an addict will relapse, but you can observe the behaviors to calculate the likelihood.

Under watch:

In an early 2009 piece on white collar crime, The Economist magazine mentioned something those who have read my books would predict: “Many [Club Fed and other white collar] prisoners suddenly discover, post-conviction, that they had a drinking problem….” I would add that those who haven’t figured this out might benefit from greater introspection. In the spirit of The Economist’s discovery, a litany of recent stories follow for which the evidence of alcoholism is in the behavior itself.

Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, pleading guilty to lying to the White House while being vetted for the top Homeland Security post and for income tax evasion. As Commissioner on 9-11, he won glowing reviews for his leadership—all the while filing false tax returns (he has promised to refile 1999 through 2003 and 2005). As discussed in Drunks, Drugs & Debits: How to Recognize Addicts and Avoid Financial Abuse, most crimes, including white-collar crimes such as tax evasion, are committed by alcoholics. Other clues to likely alcoholism include abandoning an illegitimate Korean daughter, accepting undisclosed gifts from firms doing business with New York City while Commissioner, having at least two mistresses, being expelled from Saudi Arabia after a physical confrontation with a local police official and ignoring an arrest warrant for failure to pay his debts, all of which and more are detailed in the December 2007 edition of TAR. Kerik could be one of the great examples of what I call the Grand Paradox of Addiction--the highly functional alcoholic who achieves extraordinary success, while abusing others and living with a "rules don't apply to me" attitude.

Major Malik Nadal Hasan, an army psychiatrist, who killed 14 and wounded 31 others in a mass murder at Fort Hood, Texas after getting “upset” over being given orders to deploy to Iraq. The tragedy is so well-known only one observation bears mentioning, which other commentators seem to have completely ignored: psychiatrists have access to all sorts of drugs that are capable of causing distortions of perception, egomania and grandiosity, which in rare instances can lead a person afflicted with addiction to commit mass murder. Seven-year-old boys were turned into little killing machines in the Sierra Leone civil war by feeding them drug cocktails containing tranquilizers and amphetamines. Hasan had plenty of access to such drugs. While we may be frustrated in proving or disproving the idea that he used them, we need to keep in mind the example of Anthrax killer Bruce E. Ivins, whose alcoholism eluded almost all the journalists and “experts” (described in the top story at August 2008 edition of TAR).

Convicted swindler Bernie Madoff, accused of financing a cocaine-fueled work environment and a “culture of sexual deviance.” Bernard Madoff Investment Services was known in the 1970s by insiders as the “North Pole” due to the excessive amount of cocaine used in the work place. The complaint, brought by former investors, alleges that Madoff used stolen money for his extravagant spending, which included escorts, masseuses and topless entertainers at company parties.

Florida attorney Scott Rothstein, who according to The Wall Street Journal is being investigated by the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office for allegedly selling stakes in phony employment-dispute settlements that could rank as South Florida’s largest-ever Ponzi scheme. Known for lavish spending, Rothstein owns several mansions overlooking the canals of Fort Lauderdale, apparently owns a stable of very expensive cars (including a Bentley, a Rolls Royce, a Ferrari and a Bugatti Veyron that retails for more than $1.5 million) and sports some very fancy clothes (including alligator shoes, hand-painted ties and dyed-orange Ostrich-skinned boots). He’s known for being the “life of the party,” including one at his home where he set up a 20-foot-long ice bar, and he makes sure everyone knows he’s buddies with Florida Governor Charlie Crist and pro football legend Dan Marino, who owns the Americana brand of vodka. Rothstein paid $100,000 to a favorite charity of Eagles drummer Don Henley’s for dedicating a song at an Eagle’s concert to him and his wife Kimberly on their one-year wedding anniversary. The song: “Life in the Fast Lane,” the Eagles’ paean to the perils of excess.

Dr. Christopher Thompson, 60, convicted of mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon and other criminal charges after being arrested for slamming on his car’s brakes on a narrow Brentwood road with two bicycle riders right behind him, seriously injuring them. Thompson, a veteran emergency room doctor, was the subject of the January 2009 TAR Myth of the Month) after a blogger asked, “Do you really think that a prominent local member of the community—himself in the medical profession—deliberately tried to cause harm to these cyclists?” If he’s an addict, the answer is a resounding “yes!” but, unfortunately as is often the case of non-celebrity professionals, personal information is difficult to find (and in fact was redacted from many web sites, prompting me to comment, “As is all-too-normal in the case of non-celebrity professionals, this sort of knee-jerk need to redact makes it practically impossible to confirm alcoholism, where we really need to: in people who may affect our lives profoundly, rather than in those who simply entertain us.”) While Thompson faces up to 10 years in prison, there is no report that he faces what he probably needs most: coerced abstinence, which would give him a shot at sobriety.

Anthony Marshall, 85, son of the late philanthropist and Manhattan socialite Brooke Astor, and estate attorney Francis X. Morrissey Jr., found guilty of fraudulently tricking Astor into changing her will and scheming to defraud her estate out of millions of dollars. Marshall was convicted on several counts, including grand larceny, and Morrissey was found guilty of forging Astor's signature in a codicil to her will in which she left most of her $198 million fortune to Marshall rather than to step-children of subsequent marriages and her grandson, Philip Marshall, 54. While witnesses, including Barbara Walters, Nancy Kissinger and Annette de la Renta, could not testify as to Astor’s mental condition at the moment she signed changes to her will, they recalled moments when she appeared confused, erratic and irrational, a result of the Alzheimer’s disease with which she was diagnosed in 2001. A discussion of Philip’s accusation of his father’s disgusting mistreatment of his grandmother can be found in the “under watch” section of the December 2007 edition of TAR along with the observation that Astor's first husband and father of Marshall, New Jersey Republican councilman, assemblyman and state senator John Dryden Kuser, clearly had alcoholism. The elder Marshall will probably spend the rest of his life behind bars—which is likely due either to misbehaviors stemming from his own alcoholism, being egged on by his wife Charlene and her possible alcoholism, or going through life as an untreated codependent to his long-dead father from whom he may have learned awful lessons.

Actor Nicholas Cage, who filed a $20 million lawsuit against his former business manager Samuel J. Levin, alleging that he was reckless with his money, including failing to pay more than $6 million in taxes. However, the actor purchased more than a dozen houses (including mansions in places like Newport Beach, Venice Beach, Malibu, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York and a castle near Bath, England), two Bahamian islands, dinosaur skulls, shrunken heads, two yachts, a Gulfstream jet and at least 50 cars (including Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Rolls Royces and Bentleys). Two mansions in New Orleans have been foreclosed and he recently sold his main home in Bel Air for less than half of the $30 million he paid for it. He also owns rare birds, lizards and snakes including two albino King Cobras. Cage admits he went through a period of “drug and alcohol abuse,” but claims he was able to “to get out of that scene on his own.” Based on behaviors Nick, we must ask the question: did you relapse, were you a victim of an alcoholic business manager, or did you just never get sober, which requires an ego-deflation that you clearly haven’t undergone?

Richard and Mayumi Heene, admitting they perpetrated a hoax when they claimed their 6-year-old son Falcon floated away in a giant balloon, when in fact he was in their Fort Collins, Colorado home while the entire nation watched the drama unfold on national television. Flights in and out of Denver International Airport were rerouted and a farmer’s field was destroyed by would-be rescuers when the balloon landed without the boy and authorities feared the worst. Aside from the obvious (“He’s a great liar,” clue # 12 in the chapter entitled “A Supreme Being Complex,” How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics: Using Behavioral Clues to Recognize Addiction in Its Early Stages), Heene is known for his “extreme” risk-taking personality (“Engages in risky behaviors in reckless fashion,” clue # 6 “A Supreme Being Complex”—he is known for chasing tornados and hurricanes with his children in tow); Sheree Silver, who lived at the Heene house for two weeks when she and Mayumi traded families as part of the reality TV show “Wife Swap,” said the household was out of control and “his children went berserk” (clue # 10, “Children are out of control,” in the chapter “Poor Judgment”); and the children, who no doubt learned from their father, swore “nonstop” in front of Silver (clue # 2, “Regularly uses foul language” in the Supreme Being chapter).

Alcoholic victims of the month:

Alcoholic victims of the month:

Katherine Willis, 15, and Melissa Elh-Mirra, 5, the two foster children in the care of Genevieve Bethea who died after her daughter, Sheila Bethea, 45, lost control of a van and slammed into another vehicle in Queens. Before pleading not guilty to manslaughter and other charges, Bethea admitted to smoking crack cocaine at 2 a.m., doing heroin at 9 a.m. and drinking “one” alcoholic beverage at noon before the crash at about 5 p.m., where she told a witness she lost control after “driving too fast.” Investigators believe she wrapped a crack pipe in tissue and hid it in a “body cavity” after the crash, which she claimed occurred because a replacement tire gave way at 45 mph. One of the surviving children said “she was driving fast,” which cops believe to be more than 70 mph. Foster kids are usually children of addicts and the foster mother’s daughter clearly was (she pled guilty to DUI in 2003), which indicates a high probability that the foster mother, who allowed her foster children to drive with the addicted daughter, is also an addict. Alcoholic victims often succumb to tragedy because of a maelstrom of addiction, in which addicts abound.

The 50 followers of James Arthur Ray who, after enduring five sleep-deprived days of fasting and mind-altering breathing exercises, were led into a sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona, Arizona, where three died and many others became gravely ill. I’d love to get some pictures of Ray’s eyes to check his pupil size. Jim Jones of Jonestown, Guyana fame was addicted to alcohol and amphetamines. The addictionologist in me doubts that Ray’s drugs of choice were any different.

Enablers of the month:

Facebook fans of Colton Harris-Moore, 18, who glowingly describe him as a teenage Jesse James, for being suspected of having stolen at least one boat, at least two airplanes, a thermal imaging camera (giving him night-vision capabilities for living in the woods he often lives in) and necessities. But he may not be the addict. Read on.

Colton Harris-Moore’s mother Pam Kohler, who doesn’t find much wrong with her son’s exploits. “I hope to hell he stole those airplanes. I would be so proud.” Kohler was usually unemployed while raising her son in a reportedly run-down, single-wide trailer in the woods on the south end of Camano Island, north of Seattle, Washington. She sometimes threw her young son out of the house. A neighbor says that Colton “had a horrible childhood. I could hear every kind of bad language out of [his mother’s] mouth, screaming and yelling at him. One time I yelled…’Knock it off!’ And she screamed back, ‘F--- you!’” The neighbor’s daughter, who was Colton’s childhood friend, explained, “When you’re told every day of your life that you are worthless and you are no good and get…out of my house…you do what you need to do.” Gosh, I feel like swigging from a jug of Ripple or Thunderbird, don’t you?

Police in Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia, who have imposed a strict limit on the number of cans per day each attendee can drink at the Bathurst 1000 four-day auto race: 24 cans of full-strength, or 36 cans of mid-strength or light beer, or four liters of wine. And this will keep fans in line? Huh?!

Disenabler of the month:

Mary Strey, 49, who called 911, saying “Somebody’s really drunk driving down Granton Road.” When the dispatcher asked, “Are you behind them?” Strey responded, “I am them.” “You am them?” “I don’t want to hurt anybody. I’m drunk.” She admitted to having been “drinking all night long.” With a blood alcohol level of .16 per cent, she was. It’s rare to get an honest drunk who disenables herself, but she is them.

Headline of the month:

“Teen Burglary Ring Rooted in Friendship.” So headlined the story reporting a gang of suspects arrested on suspicion of burglarizing Lindsay Lohan and other Hollywood celebrities from October 2008 through September 2009 on No it isn’t. The ring is rooted in alcohol and other-drug addiction, along with possible codependency; where alcoholism is involved, friendship is secondary. Most of the group, including Nicholas Frank Prugo, 18, Alexis Neiers, 18 (sister of Playboy playmate Tess Taylor), Rachel Lee, 19, Diana Tamayo, 19 and Courtney Ames, 19, were classmates at a continuation campus for high school drop-outs in Agoura Hills. Prugo pled guilty to possession of cocaine in February and agreed to an 18-month drug diversion program. Lee, reportedly the group’s leader, was arrested in Las Vegas with more than two hundred $100 bills and a vial of marijuana. Neiers, the most likely codependent, admitted in an interview that she needs “to make some better friends and some better decisions as far as my friends go.” On the other hand, she may have been more forthright than the rest only because she was arrested on the set of a reality-show pilot for E! television with the cameras rolling. Ray Lopez, a 27-year-old bartender, is accused of helping the teens fence the stolen goods, the price tag for which is expected to total several million dollars. Police served search warrants at locations in Los Angeles, Calabasas, Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park and Las Vegas and found guns and narcotics in at least one of the locations.

Quotes of the month:

“I guess all the rumors our parents told us about drugs and alcohol are true. I was just dying an alcoholic death….I had to be putting poison in me 24/7. It went on for quite awhile.” So said Kevin Green, would-be Mammoth Lakes, California king of real estate, now 20 months sober and making amends to those he harmed. On a personal note, back in late 2005 my wife and I traded two of our three overpriced Mammoth vacation rentals for real estate outside the bubble states (Tennessee, to be precise—but the idea was to go anywhere else). We kept the third because it’s very cute (and available for rent), we love Mammoth and I figured, hey, I could be wrong about the bubble bursting. My concern over the likelihood of the Mammoth bubble bursting badly increased when I watched Green enter into contracts to purchase several of Mammoth’s better-known restaurants in 2006—and quickly get arrested for writing a $34,000 bad check for one of them, followed by a collapse of all the deals. I knew this was just another kiss of (or sign of) death to the local market—and that it had been largely fueled by alcoholic egomania. Thanks for helping to confirm my suspicions, Kevin. And good luck in your new life.

“I was back to partying…spending seven hundred dollars a week on meth [and] coke.” So writes former “Full House” child star Jodie Sweetin, 27, in her newly released book, unSweetined, in which she admits to downing a bag of coke right before one of the interviews she did on her “sobriety tour” in which she spoke at college campuses touting sobriety while high as a kite. Her cop-husband of five years didn’t suspect her of meth addiction while married (“He had no idea”); the audience, including college professors, either didn’t suspect or just didn’t speak up, while she made the money to pay for her $700-a-week addiction. “I thought for sure that one of the professors would take one look at me and kick me out. But none did. They wanted to hear about the trials and tribulations of Jodie Sweetin, or at least the Jodie Sweetin I had created.” They also don’t know what to look for to detect a relapse, such as rude, abrupt and inconsiderate behaviors that she was no doubt exhibiting while touring.

Sometimes, it takes an addict:

Dickie Peterson, the bassist and lead singer for the heavily amped Blue Cheer, dead at age 63 of metastasized prostate cancer. Best known for its name (a potent strain of LSD) and a 1968 rendition of the classic “Summertime Blues,” Blue Cheer members were not only enraged over Viet Nam, but “we were outraged at society in general and we were expressing it in a way that had never been done” in a style that The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll says was a “heavy-metal landmark.” While Peterson admits that band members took “a lot” of drugs, he acknowledged that while he still believed “LSD and such drugs have a positive effect…we took it over the top….We got very involved in all sorts of drugs….I was addicted to heroin for years.” While under the influence, he and his fellow band members took risks that others were unwilling to take and helped to create fundamentally new sounds, for better or worse.

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, where possible, proactively intervene.

“Law & Order: SVU Hammered”

Rarely does the small screen accurately portray alcoholism and even less frequently, if ever, does it do so in one show with two very different strains. The episode of “Law & Order: SVU” entitled “Hammered” does so, and does it well. summarizes the plot: “An alcoholic who fell off the wagon is charged in the brutal rape and murder of an abortion doctor. His defense argues that alcoholism is a disease, but why is ADA Paxton so bitterly opposed to the claim?”

ADA Sonya Paxton, played by Christine Lahti, is bitterly opposed because (warning: spoiler alert!) she turns out to be an alcoholic, although one with a dramatically different style.

Dalton Rindell, played by Scott Foley, wakes up naked with blood all over. He has no idea how a dead girl, who has been bludgeoned to death, got into his room. Nor does he recall how he got there, providing clue # 1 for the addiction-aware.

He calls the police and explains that a man must have killed someone in his room. “Do whatever you have to do,” including DNA swabs. He’s cooperative throughout, which takes the suspicion off of him. He’s got a splitting headache, is dehydrated and is given an I.V. at the hospital, but it still doesn’t hit him that he might have had something to do with the brutal murder. Detectives are led further astray because the victim, Audrey Hale, turns out to have been an abortion doctor, providing a motive for someone other than Rindell, who is a businessman trying to raise money from prior investors to save a development from failing.

Twenty-three minutes into the episode, after a girlfriend of Audrey’s tells the detectives that Audrey and Rindell were at a bar, Rindell is arrested. He protests that he hasn’t “been into a bar in over a year,” having gotten sober one year three months and eight days ago. Finally, the addiction-aware all but confirm their suspicions—Rindell committed murder during an alcoholic black-out.

We soon learn that Rindell’s parents divorced when he was young and that his father was repeatedly reported for domestic violence against his mother, who died from liver cirrhosis. His is a family filled with alcoholics.

The second half of the episode, as is the norm for “L & O: SVU,” focuses on the trial. ADA Paxton is nasty and sarcastic, as she has been during the prior three episodes of “Law & Order: SVU.” Even in the first episode, identifying Paxton as an alcoholic was an easy call; the addictionologist in me asked only if and when the writers would bring her out of the closet. The writers, thankfully, came through in spades.

Aware observers can learn a lot about alcoholism in this one episode. Rindell’s ex-wife tells us that the real Rindell is the greatest guy you’d ever meet and that when sober he’d never hurt a fly. His partner convinced him that a little liquid courage would help with the sales pitch to the investors and, in classic unaware fashion says, “I only gave him one. What harm could that do?” Rindell explains, “Once I have one in me, I can’t stop.” Paxton responds, “What a load of crap. He just didn’t want to stop….Alcohol is a crutch for weak-willed and pathetic losers.” Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) tells Paxton he’s been in recovery for 20 years and struggles with it every day.

When Rindell finally admits that he “had a history of blackouts,” Paxton refers to alcoholism as “voodoo” science, pointing out that it cannot be used as an excuse. While, true, an expert witness explains that “addiction is a neurobiological disease. A brain disease.” Once Rindell begins drinking he loses volition. Paxton mocks this, pointing out that “alcoholics stop drinking all the time, out of sheer willpower alone. Do you know how they can do that? Because alcoholism isn’t a disease.”

When Paxton shows an animated version of the murder in which Rindell’s face is mistakenly superimposed, the judge sends the jury home. Paxton goes to a bar to work on her strategy, hoping to prevent the judge from throwing the entire case out. Detectives Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) find her in the bar, where she tells the bartender her friends need a drink. (At this point, while not clear, the two detectives are probably beginning to suspect something.) The next morning, Paxton shows up to court 45 minutes late, dazed and confused after a fender-bender on the way in. Rindell looks at her and exclaims in court, “She’s drunk! Trust me, I would know.” Paxton sneers back at him, “How would you know you tiny little man.” The judge orders Benson to the courtroom with a breathalyzer. Thinking it’s for Rindell, she is shocked when told it’s for Paxton. In response to the judge’s query about Paxton’s drinking the night before, Benson says she saw her consume two drinks. However, Benson points to Paxton’s bloodshot and watery eyes and stench of booze. “I thought you were my friend. Don’t do this to me,” Paxton pleads. “You did this to yourself.” When the breathalyzer shows her legally sober, Paxton says what shows is “residual from last night.” Although the end result is barely legally drunk at a tad over .08 per cent, the writers miss an opportunity to point out that eight hours earlier she would have tested at .20 per cent, the equivalent of over ten drinks over the course of four hours for a 140-pound person.

Several comments are made over the course of the hour-long show suggesting that the writers do not completely get alcoholism, even if overall they did a great job. Benson says pressure must have made Paxton drink, which would have been easy for the writers to refute (if pressure could make people drink alcoholically, all of the cops and detectives would be alcoholics). About 45 minutes into the episode, Benson says she doesn’t think that alcoholism is a disease. Sergeant John Munch (Richard Belzer) says he thinks that Benson’s mother, who was murdered, started drinking because she was raped. The writers could have easily shown the contradiction between their portrayal of Paxton and Rindell and such incorrect beliefs, but didn’t.

The defects are more than compensated for, however, in the portrayal of Rindell as a wonderful person who could turn into a monster when drinking, a perfect explanation of a blackout (knowing exactly what he was doing during the murder, but the memory never formed), and in the portrayal of Paxton’s alcoholism (Lahti did a great job). Although a bit of poetic license, the show ends on a positive note, with Paxton promising to make amends as she heads off to court-ordered rehab (the likelihood of such immediate self-admission is remote).

Image I have a secret

Dear Doug:

My father and I have always had a terrible relationship. Throughout my youth, he often yelled at me and was frequently extremely rude, boorish, critical, sarcastic and angry for no apparent reason. One time he was so angry he threw me out of a slow-moving car. I attempted suicide in my late teens and 20s three times and Dad refused to visit me in the hospital. He acted the same way to my mother and sister.

He recently developed some life-threatening medical problems, which have me greatly concerned that I will never carry on any meaningful dialogue with him. And, I have a terrible secret I’d like to tell him before he dies. How do I tell him my terrible secret? Oh, by the way, he was once a heavy drinker, but drinks less now. I imagine it interacts with all the medication he takes.


I have a secret

. . . . .

Dear Codependent,

Other columnists might suggest that you bring in a third party to facilitate a dialogue and that you tell him you care. They may ask you to consider the idea that you are trying to unburden yourself at his expense and that you examine your motives.

What incredible rot.

Your father has lifelong unchecked alcoholism. Forget about sharing any secrets with him; he won’t care, and it doesn’t matter anyway. The greatest gift you could give him is to conspire with the doctors and family to get him sober before he dies (Evel Knievel said he thanked God he got sober, even if only for the last six months of his life, because he was able to finally get to know his son). You will need to go beyond the usual doctors, because the ones he has are likely helping to fuel his addiction (the drug “interaction” you refer to is likely potentiation, which allows him to consume less alcohol and get the same godlike feelings as when he drank “heavily”). Get a top addiction doctor and interventionist and begin now to educate yourself and your family that alcoholism is responsible for all of the behaviors—from the yelling to the anger—that you describe.

(Source for story idea: Annie’s Mailbox, October 27, 2009.)

“The fact that they would dirty their own nest, as it were, is peculiar to me and suggests a level of mental illness or sickness.”

So said forensic psychologist N.G. Berrill, director of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioral Science, in hypothesizing that mental illness must play a role in the aberrant behavior of a killer like Anthony Sowell, who not only committed atrocities close to and in his home, but kept the trophies there as well.

Perhaps. However, the classic video of a bewildered Jeffrey Dahmer in prison, long sober, is revealing: he could be any John Smith. The common thread is more likely alcohol and other-drug addiction. It may or may not trigger mental illness, but without the addiction the crime would not likely be committed.

As I’ve long lamented, because journalists are unaware of its importance and, more recently, privacy laws interfere with solid investigative journalism, addiction cannot be proved in every murderer. However, the article that quotes Mr. Berrill lists eight of the most notorious serial killers in history. We can positively prove alcoholism in at least five of the eight: Dahmer, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Dean Coril and Elmer Wayne Henley. A sixth, David Owen Brooks, was a likely codependent accomplice in the Coril-Henley murders. I’ll leave it to other researchers to investigate whether the other two mentioned, Gary Ridgway and Herman Webster Mudgett (known as “Dr. Holmes”), were alcoholics—which would best explain (but not excuse) the atrocities.

And, a bonus myth for this month’s double-issue:

“A power company spokesman said the incident is an example of the danger of [electrical] substations to untrained people.”

So wrote Trace Christenson in an article reporting that a 27-year-old man had been found with burned skin, singed hair and serious internal injuries inside a fenced electrical substation, apparently having been shocked with 46,000 volts of electricity. Trace is merely reporting what someone else said, but still. Several paragraphs later we read what is to the addictionologist obvious: the man “had been drinking.” Reporting myths sends the wrong message. More accurately, the incident is an example of the danger of unchecked alcoholism.

Story from “This is True” by Randy Cassingham, with his “tagline:”

“FATHER OF THE YEAR: A man was arrested in a hospital in Ogden, Utah, after allegedly groping a nurse. Adam Jay Manning, 30, wasn't a patient at the McKay-Dee Hospital: he had brought his girlfriend there to give birth to his child. Manning looked ‘up and down’ at the nurse and told her ‘how attractive she was, how cute she was,’ said police spokesman Lt. Loring Draper. The nurse ignored him, but he tried to massage her shoulders and then grabbed her breast, Draper said. She pulled away, but Manning kept after her and allegedly grabbed her again. ‘After the second time, the nurse asked what he was doing,’ Draper said. His girlfriend ‘responded he was just drunk.’ That's when the nurse called police. Manning has been charged with forcible sexual abuse, a felony which calls for 1-15 years in prison. ‘He says he doesn't remember any of it," said his public defender. "He still hasn't seen his child.’ (Ogden Standard-Examiner, Salt Lake Tribune) ...It might be better for the kid if he never does.”

Randy’s quip is clever, but not entirely accurate—but only because he had to take poetic license to get the point across in something as short as a quip. Many people, along with the justice system, discourage the “break-up” of families even when addiction rages all around them, thinking that children are better off; after all, an addicted parent is better than a broken-up family or no biological parent at all. Not true. Addicted parents care more about the drug than the children, they may pose a serious danger to the life of the child (drinking and driving, beatings, etc. are commonplace in the lives of children of alcoholics) and such children, even when they do not inherit addiction, can learn some very bad lessons.

(Story and tagline from “This is True,” copyright 2009 by Randy Cassingham, used with permission.)


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"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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