January-February 2010 / Issue No. 53

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 gift-giving ideas. We’re proud of the fact that 39 of 51 collective reviews at Amazon.com 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 and healthy 2010!

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 www.amazon.com or www.galtpublishing.com.) 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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More Evidence that Terrorism is Fueled by Addiction to Psychotropic Substances: The Possible Role of Khat

In an article written in 2001 I suggested that Osama bin Laden might be addicted to opiates and hashish, and that many of the 9-11 attackers were likely alcoholics. In cases too numerous to mention, from Drunks, Drugs & Debits: How to Recognize Addicts and Avoid Financial Abuse to this Report, a far greater percentage of despots, mass murderers and cultists have been identified as alcohol or other-drug addicts than would be expected by mere chance or if we ignore the role that addiction plays in fueling megalomania. Evidence supports the idea that while not every terrorist is an addict, those who are not are likely either abstinent but not sober after having suffered obvious serious drug problems (the first female European Muslim convert to commit a suicide bombing in Iraq had “drug problems” in her youth) or have been heavily influenced by an addict (consider the effect that the amphetamine-addicted Hitler had on his henchmen, not all of whom were likely addicts). We might hypothesize that just as terrorism in the forms of street thuggery and in-home domestic abuse are almost always motivated by an addiction-driven need for domination and control, so is Islamic terrorism.

Evidence for this was uncovered by The Economist magazine, which found that a common thread among Muslim terrorists is “an unIslamic taste for alcohol and women,” and another is having been “rescued” from prisons filled with addicts, like would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid. While alcohol addiction or serious codependency doesn’t explain every terrorist, adding a drug or two other than alcohol might get us a lot closer to explaining the rest of them.

One of these drugs might be khat (for Scrabble ™ players, alternative spellings include Kat and Qat, which can work wonders when a “u” is unavailable). Khat (pronounced “cot”), abundant in Yemen, is a mild stimulant that is both chewed and smoked, which causes euphoria and, in some, abnormal behavior. The “abnormal behavior” is commonly described to include verbal outbursts, schizophrenic behavior and insomnia, which often results in the use of counteracting drugs like barbiturates (as Hitler used to counteract his amphetamines) and alcohol, even by Muslims. Since psychotropic drugs of all stripes potentiate each other, creating an effect far greater than the sum of their parts, there may be innumerable addicts who, because they seemingly use only a “little” of two or more drugs, go unidentified for decades and, even, for entire lives and beyond. Consider the countless books written about Adolf Hitler, none of which even considered the possibility of addiction until Heston’s 1978 book (The Medical Casebook of Adolf Hitler), or all-too-many biographies of screen stars (Bette Davis), politicians (Sen. Joseph McCarthy) and even musicians (the Supreme’s Diana Ross, before she entered rehab), in which the subject’s addiction isn’t identified. There may be innumerable khat addicts, for which a useful definition (one that explains the root of the behavior and does not simply describe its symptoms) is those afflicted with a genetic predisposition to process the drug khat in such a way as to cause that person to engage in observably destructive behaviors, at least some of the time.

Yet khat is downplayed as a potential psychotropic, capable of causing distortions of perception and memory, along with concomitant egomania. Perhaps this is because it is not viewed as physically addictive (although withdrawal is marked by “mild depression” and irritability). This may also be due to the fact that it plays a dominant role in the celebrations, marriages and religious and political meetings of Yemen, Ethiopia and East Africa, much as alcohol does in the West, but even more so. Its use is so common in Yemen that Yemenite homes are built with a reception room for khat chewing and non-use can result in social ostracism. The rooms include several large and hard pillows against which khat chewers lean, along with one or two communal pipes consisting of a tobacco bowl, a 3-4 foot high metal pipe, a water filter and a 20-foot long flexible tube, which is passed from person to person (it’s as if Americans had a lounge with a fully-stocked bar with stools in every home). In terms of varieties, khat is similar to the non-psychotropic drug coffee in that the demand and price of the plant vary with the soil and climate in which it is grown. Some khat produces more insomnia than others, and even occasional hallucinations. Different varieties vary in the euphoria, depression and aphrodisiac effect they elicit, which is perhaps not dissimilar to varying alcohol contents and resulting blood alcohol levels.

A typical khat “session” begins soon after lunch. An “extended” session is typically marked by about two hours of euphoria accompanied by a “friendly” atmosphere, followed by approximately two hours of “zeal” during which time current events and problems are often discussed, and then a period of serious mood, which may be accompanied by irritability. In some areas of Yemen, the chewing begins after breakfast and continues throughout the day, even by children.

Like alcohol, khat decreases the need for food (though for different reasons; alcohol supplies empty carbohydrates and khat acts like amphetamine, the users of which often go for days without eating). Like alcohol, serious abnormal behavior develops in an apparently small minority of users and is in part dose-related. Like alcohol, amphetamines and perhaps a cocktail of other psychotropic drugs, khat use can result in rambling speech with impressive-sounding words that do not fit the context, along with aggressive verbal outbursts. Like amphetamines, its chemistry includes a form of ephedrine and can result in behaviors that look like schizophrenia and paranoia. It clearly aggravates those in whom schizophrenia and paranoia have been diagnosed, but since its use so often begins in childhood, it may, like amphetamines, simply trigger these disorders. As is true of amphetamine addicts, counteracting drugs including tranquilizers and alcohol are often used. Like alcohol, withdrawal can result in agitated depression and abusive behaviors, but according to some authorities, not violent ones. However, as khat was enough of a problem to have been legally banned in Yemen for a year in 1957, the assertion that use of and withdrawal from khat provokes only verbal abuse is questionable at best and, at worst, may be designed to take our focus off the problem.

A World Health Organization report suggests the potential for violence. The WHO committee on drug dependence notes that khat chewing can induce grandiose delusions, fear, anxiety and amphetamine psychosis, the symptoms of which include euphoria, grandiosity, paranoid delusions, confusion, aggression and irritability. Hitler had these symptoms; so do some khat users, a few of whom are perhaps responsible for the fact that a very small percentage of Muslims become Jihadists. The idea that khat acts on some adversely just like alcohol could explain reports of “outbursts of irrational violence” in some khat users, who we should therefore refer to as addicts. Garrison Courtney, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, bluntly states: “It is definitely not like coffee. It is the same drug used by young kids who go out and shoot people in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is something that gives you a heightened sense of invincibility, and when you look at those effects, you could take out the word ‘khat’ and put in ‘heroin’ or ‘cocaine.’” I would subtract heroin and add, especially, alcohol and, perhaps, PCP and methamphetamine.

Many Yemenites spend a third and even one-half of their income on khat. These are not wealthy people. One might surmise this could cause familial problems and in fact, khat is cited as a factor in approximately half of divorces in Djibouti, Yemen’s capital. Domestic violence may be vastly understated in a society in which women do not feel safe to speak freely.

Would-be suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab showed signs of trouble only after graduating from a prominent London university in June 2008. Umar, the son of a prominent Nigerian banker, defied his family’s wishes only after a stopover in Dubai, going to Yemen with a vow to study Arabic and Shariah law. A year and a half later, he boarded a plane in Nigeria destined for Detroit planning to blow up the plane.

We don’t know what Abdulmutallab was using, if anything. However, while passengers were screaming, he was not. Michigan native Melinda Dennis was sitting in the first row of first class when the suspect was placed in a seat across the aisle from her. “He didn’t say anything,” said Dennis. “He was burned very severely on his leg … He was very calm and didn’t show any reaction to pain.” This is extraordinary considering he suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

Most khat users seem to use the drug “normally,” just like most users of alcohol. However, in some, it causes euphoria, an increased need to use other drugs, schizophrenic behaviors, paranoia and confusion (which could be similar to the confabulated thinking of alcoholics). It also seems to cause, in this minority of users, egomania, the evidence for which includes the use of impressive-sounding words, verbal outbursts, grandiosity, delusions (of grandeur when combined with grandiosity), aggression, irritability, irrational violence, an increased sense of invincibility and the use of far more of the family resources than is affordable. Resulting misbehaviors in which addicts engage are a function of, among other things, circumstances and environment. Where the environment and circumstances, including the particular religion one adheres to, is “just” right, the form that addiction could take might be terrorism. Addiction to khat could be a key to understanding its roots.

For more on terrorists and despotism, see “Tantalizing Clues to Addiction in Suicide Bombers” in the August 2005 TAR, the discussion of Cho and other mass murderers in “An Addict’s Rage” in the April-May 2007 TAR, “Terrorism and Addiction” (a particularly good read—note especially the discussion of Ivan the Terrible, one of history’s most horrific terrorists) in the September 2006 TAR, “Kim Jong Il, North Korea and Nuclear Weapons” in the October 2004 TAR and “Could Addiction Explain the Life of Yasir Arafat?” in the November 2004 TAR. For more on khat, see the August 1976 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine (available only by subscription or single article purchase), which includes many fascinating asides, including a number of physical aspects that somewhat mimic those of other drugs. Heavy khat use causes pupil dilation, as do amphetamines and, to a lesser degree, marijuana and alcohol. It acts deleteriously on diabetics, can aggravate hyperglycemia and may cause gastritis, all of which are common in alcoholics. It can act as an aphrodisiac, which mimics many of the (at least temporary and early-stage) other-drug addictions. For a non-subscription view of khat, visit Frontier Psychiatrist, which in turn includes a number of related links.


Runners-up for top story of the month:

Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods, involved in a 2 a.m. accident that seemed inexplicable, until the world learned of: (1) his serial adultery with more than a dozen women (sexually compulsive; borrowing the methodology from Drunks, Drugs & Debits, 50% odds of alcoholism), (2) the fact that he seems to have met most of these women in nightclubs and that most if not all of the women appear to be “party” girls (addicts often hang out with addicts; by itself probably 20%, but add 20% of the remaining 50%, or 10%; see “enablers of the month” below for the luscious details), (3) that with at least two of the women he not only didn’t use condoms, but didn’t even ask if the women were using birth control (signs of a sense of invincibility and unnecessarily reckless behaviors; 50% by itself, but, sticking to the methodology, add 50% of the remaining 40%, or 20%), (4) reported tantrums on the golf course (rage; by itself, 50%, but we can’t go over 80% without proof of addictive use; so this simply provides more evidence that the odds of addiction are at least 80%), (5) a report that he “had been drinking alcohol” before the incident (evidence of addictive use when combined with a misbehavior such as possible DUI; we’ve now exceeded 80% odds), and (6) prescriptions to Ambien and Vicodin (which puts the odds of addiction at well over 90%). The fact that one of his mistresses reported he likes to have “Ambien sex” suggests he combines drugs, which with serial unethical behaviors ups the odds of psychotropic drug addiction and, therefore, an explanation (but emphatically not an excuse) for his extra-marital misbehaviors, to nearly 100%--or close enough to make runner-up for top story rather than merely “under watch” (whose denizens display behaviors suggesting 80% odds of addiction, but no greater due to the absence of proof of addictive use).

Businessman Terrance Watanabe, 52, filing a civil suit in Las Vegas’ Clark County District Court against Harrah’s casino in which he claimed the casino’s staff routinely plied him with liquor and pain medication to keep him gambling. He lost nearly $127 million during a year-long gambling binge in 2007 at the Caesars Palace and Rio casinos, $14.7 million of which was extended as credit and for which he was charged with four felony counts for non-payment in April. He says he shouldn’t have to pay because Harrah’s supposedly knew he had been barred from the Wynn casino due to “compulsive drinking and gambling.” Watanabe, a major Omaha, Nebraska philanthropist and Democratic Party donor, would stay at tables in the Harrah casinos for as long as 24 hours at a stretch, losing as much as $5 million playing three blackjack hands at a time, each with $50,000 limits. He also played low-odds games including roulette and slots. While acknowledging he drank to excess, his lawyer, Pierce O’Donnell, says Watanabe “takes full responsibility for his condition at the time.” Then I guess he’ll pay up.

Businessman Tom Petters, 52, found guilty of perpetrating a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme dating back at least a decade. His lavish lifestyle, which included mansions in several states, several Mercedes, a Bentley and a number of pricey boats, came crashing down only after longtime employee Deanna Coleman laid out the alleged fraud before the U.S. attorney in Minneapolis and agreed to wear a recording device. The tape recordings, one of which records Petters saying “This is one big [expletive] fraud,” were key to the prosecutors’ case. You can read more of the gritty details, including plenty of evidence for addiction as by far the best explanation for his horrific behaviors, in the May 2009 TAR Top Story entitled “White Collar Criminals, Like Other Crooks, are Usually Alcoholics.” Petters was a major Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota philanthropist and Republican Party donor who, at last report, blames his several “trusted associates and friends” for perpetrating the fraud. (“Look at me, I’m a big shot and can afford to donate millions,” is perhaps yet another clue to hidden alcoholism.)

Financier Danny Pang, who at the time of his death in September 2009 was battling allegations, first brought to light in a page-one Wall Street Journal article, of masterminding a massive international Ponzi scheme, ruled to have committed suicide with a cocktail of psychotropic drugs. These included oxycodone, hydrocodone and two “other” painkillers. The 30 additional undigested 10 mg. oxycodone pills found in his stomach were obvious overkill. His rather turbulent story is recounted in the May 2009 edition of TAR. The next time a suspected perpetrator is confined to his home under a bail agreement, authorities might want to check the medicine cabinet.

Former Birds (“Mr. Tambourine Man”) and now Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, 62, arrested on “suspicion of assault in connection with a domestic incident” (aka domestic violence). Woods was supposedly sober since the Rolling Stones’ 2002-03 tour, but entered rehab in June 2006, was seen drinking with 20-something year-old Ekaterina Ivanova in July 2008, checked into rehab again in July 2008, moved out of the family home in October 2008 and filed for divorce from his wife of 24 years, Jo Karslake Wood. He was given an “Outstanding Contribution” award at the “Classic Rock Roll of Honour” ceremony in London in November 2009. Such are the ups and downs in the lives of alcoholics.

Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson, 30, found dead from “natural causes,” but which we might assume will prove to be either a drug overdose or complications of diabetes due to consumption of psychoactive drugs (toxicology reports are pending). A familiar face on the Hollywood party scene, Johnson was charged with burglarizing a former girlfriend’s home, allegedly taking $22,000 in clothing, jewelry, handbags and other items a month before her death. Such is the convoluted thinking of addicts: even one as wealthy as Casey needed to inflate her ego by wielding power in ways the rest of us would never dream.

Broadcom’s former CEO Henry Nicholas lll, against whom narcotics trafficking charges have been dropped due to prosecutorial misconduct. The original grand jury indictment described Nicholas as a fast-living partyer who doled out “party favors” in the form of drugs to prostitutes and business associates. During a 2001 flight to Las Vegas on a private jet, Nicholas and his entourage were reported to have generated marijuana smoke in such quantity that it billowed into the cockpit, requiring the pilot to put on an oxygen mask. There was a series of tunnels and underground rooms at his Laguna Hills, California estate that allowed him to indulge in what the indictment termed his “manic obsession with prostitutes.” Imagine how entertaining the illuminating the trial would have been.

Charlie Sheen, whose alleged cocaine binge with his estranged wife, Brooke Mueller, led to his arrest for allegedly attacking her with a knife and threatening to kill her, telling her, “If you tell anybody, I’ll kill you.” Unfortunately, in one of those “you cannot predict what an addict might do or when” scenes right out of a Stephen King horror novel, he was visiting Brooke and his twin 10-month-old babies. They’ve had serious problems, including reportedly violent battles, ever since one of the twins was born with a hole in his heart—Charlie blames Brooke for having relapsed during her pregnancy (he found a load of empty vodka bottles in her car) and Brooke blames Charlie for insisting that she undergo a type of in vitro fertilization that increases the odds of a certain sex in the child, which she blames for the genetic defect. Charlie flew to Aspen with his “sober minder” (whose job is to keep him off the hooch) after a failed intervention by his father Martin Sheen and brothers Emilio Estevez and Ramon Estevez, who feared trouble if he saw his wife. Perhaps the odds of long-term sobriety might be increased if Martin and family focused on having the children taken away from both parents. For the sake of continuing to air the very funny “Two and a Half Men,” on which Charlie portrays an alcoholic, let’s hope his private life becomes more boring.

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.

Ivana Trump, 60, ex-wife of The Donald, forcibly removed from a Delta jet after throwing a tantrum. Dr. Keith Williams, his wife Melissa and their children, 2-year-old Hailey and 10-month-old Ethan, were in the row behind her four first-row first-class seats—all purchased for herself. When Hailey and a couple of other toddlers were given a quick tour of the cockpit by the pilot before takeoff, Ivana stood up and screamed, “What is going on with all these kids? I want to leave now. This is bull----!” After calling the Williams’ kids “little (bleepers)” and repeatedly telling them to “shut the (bleep) up,” the flight attendant gave her a warning. However, the attendant ended up in tears after Ivana told her she’d have her fired. The captain finally came out of the cockpit and told ivana, “You’re disrupting my crew and I’m done with you. Get off my plane.” As sheriff’s deputies escorted her off, fellow passengers broke into applause.

Ivana was not on my radar. However, according to the on-line Thorburn Substance Addiction Recognition Indicator (TSARI), a tirade such as this (“intense mood swings”), combined with an obvious “the rules don’t apply to me” attitude, instantly ups the odds of addiction to 70%. If we knew more about her personal life, we could probably respond positively to several more questions in the first part of the TSARI, which would increase the likelihood to 80%, capped without confirmation of at least one of the physical clues in Part ll of the TSARI. However, clues discussed in How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics allow us to easily increase the odds of addiction to 80%, including extraordinary impatience and the fact that her third husband is 24 years her junior (“look at the hot hunk I got a hold of!” can be very ego-inflating). The point is that whenever we witness such behaviors our antennae need to go up, if only to protect ourselves, since we cannot predict how destructive the behaviors of a practicing addict might become or when.

Florida lawyer Scott Rothstein, who is changing his not-guilty plea to guilty for running a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. Reportedly, the judge in the case might look to last year’s prosecution of New York lawyer Marc Dreier, who was sentenced to 20 years and whose case is “eerily similar,” in deciding how long to sentence Rothstein. Interestingly, so were their lifestyles: as reported in the January 2009 and November-December 2009 issues of TAR, Dreier owned three oceanfront homes in the Hamptons; Rothstein owns several mansions overlooking the canals of Fort Lauderdale. Dreier owned an Aston Martin and a 121-foot yacht; Rothstein owns a stable of very expensive cars, including a Bentley, a Rolls and a $1.5 million Bugatti Veyron. Perhaps a stretch, but just for the record, Dreier owned $39 million in art; Rothstein owns alligator shoes, hand-painted ties and dyed-orange Ostrich-skinned boots. We suspect they also were both known for heavy drinking, but as is too common in cases involving lawyers, politicians and CEOs, journalists aren’t telling.

Kathy Jordan and Dominique Sharpton, Al Sharpton’s ex-wife and daughter, who launched an obscenity-laced tirade at police officers when Dominique was stopped after tailgating a slow-moving unmarked police car, which she sped past over a double-yellow line, running a red light and causing another car to swerve out of her way. Dominique, who screamed, “You were driving too slow. I have a play to go to,” called her mother, who arrived on the scene and, with her daughter, cursed at the officers. After ignoring orders to return to their cars, officers apparently proceeded to arrest Dominique, at which point Jordan asked officers, “Why the f--- are you locking her up? Get your f------ hands off her.” The two were then charged with resisting arrest. Officers reportedly found no evidence of alcohol or other drugs. Oh? Did they test? In Get Out of the Way!: How to Identify and Avoid a Driver Under the Influence, I recounted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study finding that the odds of DUI are 60% in those making obscene gestures and suggested that since road rage is an even more extreme behavior, such rage probably justifies an estimate of at least an 80% likelihood of DUI. I also reported the landmark Fort Lauderdale, Florida study in which traffic violators cited by police but not suspected of DUI were about to get back on the road. Researchers then administered breath tests. For every 10 DUIs the original citing officers arrested, the researchers found 37 more that the police missed. Again, I ask, did they test?

Alcoholic victims of the month:

Jonathan and Susan Maloney, ages 45 and 42, along with their two children, victims of alcoholism while alive and dead. After they were killed when broadsided by Steven Culbertson, 19, their home was burglarized. Culbertson, who later died, already had at least one DUI on his record and was seen drinking at a Petaluma, California bar shortly before he ran a red light at 70 to 90 mph. A few days later, shortly after their home was ransacked, sheriff’s deputies arrested Amber Marie True, 29, after pulling her over for a routine traffic stop and finding a credit card belonging to Susan Maloney in her possession. After finding other items owned by the Maloney’s in her car, detectives tracked down True’s boyfriend, Michael Vincent Gutierrez, 26, who was found driving the Maloney family’s Nissan 350Z. After executing a search warrant, a slew of jewelry, electronics, financial records and other items were found. Note the financial records part: Gutierrez, no stranger to the law, has a pending case in which he was arrested as a felon in possession of a firearm, stolen property and—no surprise—methamphetamine. Some authorities estimate that upwards of 60% of identity theft is committed by meth addicts. There’s also no question they are responsible for many of the craziest and most horrific behaviors. Burglarizing the home of a family in which all have recently died should qualify.

Enablers of the month:

Golf reporters, who obviously didn’t want to risk losing what little access they had to Tiger Woods; Woods’ handlers, who didn’t want to risk losing their jobs; and Woods’ fellow players, who no doubt kept secrets because of Woods’ beneficial effect on their earnings from the increased public interest in golf, not to mention TV ratings.

Tiger Woods’ mistresses, including Rachel Uchitel, NYC club hostess; Jamie Grubbs, cocktail waitress;Kalika Moquin, club manager/promoter from Las Vegas (and least likely to be a co-addict based on her pictures; very cute and earthy); Jamie Jungers, “cute, but totally trashy lingerie model” from Vegas; Mindy Lawton, trailer park waitress; Cori Rist, aspiring model who met Woods at a Manhattan club last year and who was married (with a child) throughout her fling with Woods; Holly Sampson, former porn star; Joslyn James, current porn star; Loredana Jolie, Playboy model and hooker; Julie Postle, an Orlando cocktail waitress; Theresa Rogers, reportedly Tiger's first mistress and clearly the oldest at about 47, reportedly addicted to sex. See “runners-up” for reference.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, defending his decision to commute the sentence of Maurice Clemmons, who ambushed, shot and killed four Seattle-area police officers. “If I could have known nine years ago that this guy was capable of something of this magnitude, obviously I would never have granted the commutation.” While Clemmons pleaded for clemency by writing, “Where once stood a young…misguided fool who’s [sic] own life he was unable to rule…now stands a 27-year-old man who has learned through the ‘school of hard knocks’ to appreciate and respect the rights of others.” Very nice, but the problem, Mr. Huckabee, is that all we need is one relapse for Mr. Clemmons to forget everything he learned. As I wrote in the December 2007 issue of TAR, you misunderstand the underlying cause of most crime. That issue’s Myth of the Month (“I am born again. I will never again commit rape, or any other crime”) recounted the story of Wayne DuMond, to whom you granted clemency. He went on to murder the mother of three young girls less than a year after he was released. Like DuMond, Clemmons may have sincerely intended to keep his promise. However, only staying off the drug can all but guarantee this outcome. An ankle bracelet and regular and random testing is more effective in the long run at keeping an addict clean than religion or even AA, which makes it a far safer solution for the criminally-inclined addict.

Headlines of the month:

“Brittany Murphy Likely Died From Natural Causes.” So said the PopEater headline reporting LA County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter’s take on the 32-year-old’s untimely death from cardiac arrest. However, Murphy, whose claim to fame began with 1995’s “Clueless” and continued in films including “Girl, Interrupted,” reportedly suffered from diabetes and used a lot of cocaine over the years, which can cause sudden death. Her husband, Simon Monjack, 39, reportedly disrupted the set of “Shrinking Charlotte” by showing up inebriated. In a case of possible co-addict enabling, Murphy reportedly shelled out a lot of money over civil judgments against Monjack. Likely death from complications of diabetes and, despite having diabetes, psychotropic drug use should never be referred to as “natural,” especially from the coroner’s office. (Another headline read, “Brittany Murphy’s death stuns industry.” Why would the death of a suspected addict ever stun anyone?)

And a runner-up for headline of the month: “James Owen Sullivan, [heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold’s drummer], appeared to have died of natural causes,” according to Huntington Beach police Lt. John Domingo. Sullivan was 28. Yeah, Lt. Domingo, right. (The band won the Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2006.)

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.

Review: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson and The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

One of the greatest financial books (Ferguson’s) and one of the best books on philosophy and, indirectly, finance ever written (Taleb’s) would not be expected to be of interest to the addictionologist. However, I have long said that history cannot be understood without comprehending the idea of alcoholic egomania, which due to the resulting need to wield power over others has caused so many addicts to markedly affect history. This includes large chunks of financial history, as detailed in The Ascent of Money.

I’ve written elsewhere (see in particular the August 2007 issue of TAR) that financial manias are made more manic by the euphoric delusions of grandeur of the alcoholic and that much of the late, great real estate and financial mania was fueled by such addicts. I have hypothesized that this would prove true throughout history and, in addition, that it often “takes an addict” to create revolutionary change, for better or worse.

The brilliant historian Niall Ferguson details several such events in the history of money. On a positive note, it took two alcoholic 1700s clergymen, Robert Wallace and Alexander Webster, to turn the theory of life insurance and life annuities into practice. Wallace, a “hard drinker,” and Webster, whose nickname Bonum Magnum (about whom it was said to be “hardly in the power of liquor to affect Dr. Webster’s understanding or his limbs”), created the first fund into which premiums were contributed and out of which widows and orphans were paid on the death of the insured. Actuaries to this day “marvel at the precision with which Webster and Wallace did their calculations,” which required an accurate projection of the number of future beneficiaries and the funds needed for their support. Thus the first annuities were created by two alcoholics.

The first great modern property crash may have been exacerbated by the likes of the 2nd Duke of Buckingham in the 1840s. His ancestors had acquired a 67,000 acre empire over the preceding 125 years, which one would think have seemed adequate for an “extravagant” lifestyle spent on mistresses, illegitimate children and suing his father-in-law’s executors. One would have thought wrongly. His gross annual income of 72,000 pounds did not keep pace with his 109,000 pounds spent yearly and could no longer pay even the interest on the over 1 million pounds of debt. His “final folly” was something likely only an alcoholic would ever do: “In preparation for a much-sought-after visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in January 1845, the Duke refurbished Stowe House [the family home in Buckinghamshire] from top to bottom.” It was so luxurious that Queen Victoria remarked, “I have no such splendour in either of my two palaces.” His greeters, which he hired at his (and his creditors) expense, included four hundred tenants lined up on horseback, “several hundred smartly dressed labourers, three brass bands and a special detachment of police brought in from London for the day.” To avoid complete ruin, his son, the Marquis of Chandos, wrested control of his fathers estates barely after he came of age and, “in August 1848, to the Duke’s horror, the entire contents of Stowe House were auctioned off. Divorced by his long-suffering, much-betrayed Scottish wife…the Duke was forced to move out of Stowe House into rented lodgings. He eked out his days at his London club…and incorrigibly [chased] actresses and other men’s wives.”

There are several other likely alcoholics included in Ferguson’s beautifully written book who helped create financial history, but it took a convicted murderer, womanizer and compulsive gambler, John Law, to not only single-handedly create “the first true boom and bust in asset prices. He may also be said to have caused, indirectly, the French Revolution by comprehensively blowing the best chance” for France to fix its finances. Law talked and charmed his way into the position of controller of the entire French financial system after one of his (as Doug French puts it in Early Speculative Bubbles) “partying” friends, the Duke of Orleans, assumed control of the French government after Louis XIV died. The nub of the story is his use of what is now euphemistically called “quantitative easing,” but more accurately called “printing money,” to reinflate the economy and, especially, the shares of the Mississippi Company of his creation. Unfortunately, the earnings from exploiting the mosquito-infested swamp of the Mississippi delta in which 80% of the early colonists died from starvation or disease couldn’t possibly equal the promised dividends. As The Economist magazine put it, “a vicious circle was created, in which a growing money supply was needed to bolster the share price of the Mississippi company and a rising share price was needed to maintain confidence in the system of paper [fiat] money.” When the scheme faltered, Law, resorted to a number of “rescue” packages echoed by those today in which governments purchase assets at greater than market prices. It was essentially a Ponzi scheme (not at all unlike that of today), which ultimately collapsed as all such schemes must. Before it collapsed, the almost assuredly alcoholic John Law had become the chief of all of France’s tax collections and the controller of the entire French national debt, the twenty-six mints that produced France’s coins, the colony of Louisiana, the Mississippi Company, the French fur trade with Canada and all of France’s trade with Africa, Asia and the East Indies. Among his vast holdings, he owned more than twelve country estates, several Louisiana plantations, a hotel, and a palace. The resulting inflation and imploding of the bubble he created, according to Ferguson, “set back France’s financial development, putting Frenchmen off paper money and stock markets for generations” and led to the royal bankruptcy that finally precipitated the French Revolution.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan is important to the addictionologist for a different reason: Taleb provides magnificent support for the idea that we can’t predict events, because models don’t match reality, much of life is driven by luck and we cannot know which of the countless initial conditions is important and relevant to determining future events. Therefore, we can’t predict rare events that have a severe impact, or negative Black Swans, and should instead focus on protecting ourselves from and minimizing the negative effects of such events. This has enormous ramifications when dealing with addicts.

Taleb’s key points are that history (and life) is driven by unpredictable and rare events having huge consequences, and that almost nothing of significance in finance and economics (and life) has been predicted, including wars, stock market collapses and inventions. The bell curve, which most statisticians worship, dramatically understates the likelihood and impact of severe socio-political-economic-human events due to the fact that probability in real life can’t be modeled in this way. If a turkey looks at the past to predict the future, it thinks that being fed by the nice farmer for 1,000 days means that life is good and safe, when in fact a Black Swan event—one that is rare, unpredictable (from the standpoint of the turkey) and carries a big impact—is just about to strike. We can’t protect ourselves from everything, but Taleb gives us an out: we can sometimes predict when risks of a Black Swan are inordinately high and do what we can to protect ourselves from these “Grey” Swans. While Taleb isn’t likely aware of what I have often called the tornado-like effect of practicing alcohol and other-drug addicts, the idea can be easily extrapolated and provides further evidence for the idea that because we can’t predict how destructive a practicing addict may become, or when, we should instead do everything possible to reduce the risks such addicts create. If they are responsible for 80% of criminal and unethical behaviors, we can, by identifying the alcoholics nearby, arguably reduce the odds of a Black Swan blindsiding us by as much as 80%. We will never spot every one, but at least we can do a lot to protect ourselves from becoming yet another victim. His work by inference supports the idea that should take the focus off trying to predict what the addict might do and instead focus on protecting ourselves.

The Black Swan, which meshes together philosophy, finance, statistics, economics, psychology, chaos theory and sociology, is at times a tough read. Taleb is often sarcastic and the reader may often wonder where he’s heading. However, it’s a magnificent book, which will likely change the way you view the world. As one reviewer put it, it’s a positive Black Swan.

Image Should I tell my 13-year-old granddaughter that her six-times divorced grandfather abused me?

Dear Doug:

I divorced my husband over 20 years ago because he mentally and physically abused me. He and his seventh wife attend family gatherings which, when too intimate, I refuse to attend. I have not and will not discuss this with my 40-year-old son, but wonder if I should tell my 13-year-old granddaughter the truth if she should ask.


Single at 65

. . . . .

Dear Codependent,

Other columnists might rightly chastise you for refusing to discuss with your son the abuse at his father’s hands while showing a willingness to discuss it with a 13-year-old. However, they’d tell you the reason for not discussing it is that it’s not your grandchild’s business and it would put her in the awkward position of possibly having to choose between grandparents. They also would tell you that if you want to punish your ex-, tell his next wife about the abuse.

(I’d like to scream, “7th wife?! 7th wife?! How many other victims have there been over the decades?!!!” but I'll be gentle.)

You need to go much further than this, as the underlying problem is potentially lethal to everyone around him, including your granddaughter.

As pointed out in Drunks, Drugs & Debits, which discusses a system of ratcheting up or down the odds of alcoholism based on behavior patterns, the likelihood is increased with each divorce. While the odds are 40% that one or the other party to any one divorce is alcohol or other-drug addicted, the chances that a person who has been married and divorced four times are about 85%. Further, Drunks reports studies showing that 80-90% of domestic violence is committed by alcoholics. Between the violence and his seven marriages, everyone around him is almost certainly suffering from his having the disease of alcoholism.

Addicts experience distortions of perception and memory and develop a need to inflate the ego, which requires the capricious wielding of power over others. We cannot predict over whom such power will be exercised, under what circumstances, or when. Because of the possibility that any addict could become a negative “black swan” (a high-impact hard-to-predict event) at any time, you, your son and, especially, your granddaughter are all at risk.

You need to come completely clean with your son about his father’s almost-certain alcoholism. He needs to understand that we cannot predict how destructive a practicing alcoholic might become or when and that addicts are capable of anything. He needs, also, to know that addiction runs in families and the 13-year-old is at risk of inheriting this horrific malady. Your granddaughter’s behaviors must be closely monitored and, if she shows indications of having inherited the disease, early intervention is a must if you hope to nip it in the bud before she repeatedly ruins relationships as her grandfather has clearly done.

(Source for story idea: Ask Amy, January 8, 2010.)

“You can cut back on alcohol.”

So found a survey by the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, reported by Shari Roan in the L.A. Times, regarding the reported 30% of Americans who had experienced an alcohol “disorder.” The study reportedly found that about 70% quit drinking or cut back to “safe consumption patterns” without treatment after four years or less and that only 1% fit the “stereotypical image” of someone with severe, recurring alcoholism who has “hit the skids.”

Unfortunately, such statistical “findings” can seriously mislead and are, in fact, downright dangerous.

Only 10% of Americans are estimated to have the disease of alcoholism. Of the 30% of Americans experiencing a “disorder” in the study, 20% are, therefore, non-addicts. Many young people “abuse” the drug—get stinking drunk—during periods of their lives, but do not abuse others. Since alcoholism, by the far more useful definition (than the commonly accepted one) presented in How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics, requires that one act badly at least some of the time, this 20% contingent is not addicted. This 20% is roughly 70% of the 30% of those experiencing “disorders.” It is this 70% that can quit drinking or cut back to safe consumption patterns because they are, simply, not addicts.

Statistics like this are dangerous. They can lead addict and non-addict alike to think they are among the 20%--in fact, it reinforces the idea since alcoholics do not typically self-diagnose and most spend at least part of their drinking careers “proving” to themselves and others that they are not alcoholics by abstaining for periods of time.

The 1% who fit the stereotypical skid-row image consists of the rare late-stage alcoholic, not the other 9% of the population who spend most of their drinking lives as “functional” alcoholics.

It’s amazing that this nonsense is repeated, well, repeatedly. The idea that addicts can learn to drink safely indefinitely is thoroughly debunked on pp. 53-55 of Alcoholism Myths and Realities, where the Mark and Linda Sobell study is cited (which resulted in seeming success after two years and utter failure after ten). Another study tried, according to the great alcoholism authority George E. Vaillant, “every technique known to behavior modification” to keep addicts off the hooch, which resulted in such bad outcomes that the researchers called off the experiment, announcing it would be unethical to continue. Another found that after seven years only 1.6% of 1,289 diagnosed and treated alcoholics had become successful moderate drinkers. Most of the 1.6% contingent showed few of the obvious symptoms of true alcoholism. While there may be 1% who might be an exception, it’s impossible to know who they are—and, therefore, it is immoral to suggest that a person identified as having the disease try this failed approach.

Audrey Kishline developed a group, “Moderation Management,” that espoused and taught the idea that alcoholics can control their drinking. It worked for her, as it can, for several years, before she got into her car one day with a blood alcohol level of .28 per cent and killed two innocents. She now admits that her group was “nothing but alcoholics covering up their problem.”

Every alcoholic reading this headline thinks it’s directed at him. It’s like starting little fires in the brush here and there on a windy day. This myth is perhaps the most destructive of the all-too-numerous myths of alcoholism.

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

“EASILY RECOGNIZABLE: Police say Mark Weinberger, a plastic surgeon from Merrillville, Ind., talked patients into expensive surgical procedures and either did a bad job or just took the money and did nothing. The 46-year-old doctor then ran, even taking survival gear so he could hide in the wild, leaving behind hundreds of patients and insurance companies claiming fraud or malpractice, more than $5 million in debts, and his wife. Now, five years later, police in Italy found him hiding in a tent at 6,000' on Mont Blanc. After his arrest, Weinberger took out a hidden box cutter and slit his own throat, but missed all critical structures and survived. He is awaiting extradition to the U.S. (Northwest Indiana Times, AP) ...A surgeon and he missed his own carotid and jugular? Yeah, I'm pretty sure he's guilty in every case of malpractice.”

No doubt. And the numerous cases of alleged malpractice were probably exacerbated by the use of alcohol and other drugs, including perhaps the anesthetic drugs he gives (or is supposed to give) to patients.

In my early research, Dr. Doug Talbott, who ended up writing the forward to Drunks, Drugs & Debits, told me his specialty as an addiction doctor was treating doctors. He also told me a scary statistic: that approximately 20% of all U.S. doctors have the disease of alcohol and other-drug addiction, double that of the overall population.

The medical field is a terrific one for budding young addicts. The reverence that most hold for their title allows them to easily wield power over others. The money they often earn serves to increase that power. And, of course, they have extraordinary access to drugs.

It’s interesting to note, as well, the effect that this one addict had over others. To emphasize: there were hundreds of alleged victims. Consider, too, how many opportunities there must have been for close persons and the law to have intervened and put a stop to the insanity in Mark Weinberger’s life. That they didn’t stop him serves as testimony for the idea that addicts are brilliant at conniving others. It also supports the idea that we can do so much more to address the issue of addiction earlier, rather than after so many have lost so much.

(Story and tagline from “This is True,” copyright 2010 by Randy Cassingham, used with permission.)


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