Issue #58 - September/October 2010

On occasion, I’ve suggested you check out my client letter, which focuses on tax and financial matters. The latest issue, # 41, is a big picture view of the challenges we all face in planning for our financial futures given the gross political interventions we are experiencing. Every two to four years I have gotten overtly political and this issue, in that respect, shines. As you read it, consider the possibility that many of those to whom I refer as “arrogant” may be alcoholics, or children of addicts.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this issue of the Thorburn Addiction Report, with its occasional financial undertones.

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!

© 2010 Doug Thorburn. All rights reserved.

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

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Serial Murderer Elias Abuelazam: Alcoholic? (but of course)


Serial murderers are often charming and almost always alcoholic: the case of Elias Abuelazam, a classic Jekyll and Hyde alcoholic.

Elias Abuelazam, 34, was considered God-fearing by his mother, who told reporters he would always assist those needing help. A neighbor commented Abuelazam was “really quiet and real nice. You wouldn’t even know he was there.” The manager of a store next to a market he worked at said, “He was very nice to the ladies and walked them to their cars at night.” A former class-mate called him a “nice guy” and an ex-mother-in-law said he was “such a nice person as far as we knew.” A co-worker at a behavioral health center that dealt with unruly and sometimes violent teens called him a “gentle giant” who was patient, restrained and not too quick to react. At another job, he helped to care for special needs patients at a hospital; there are no reported complaints of his work. He sure sounds like a nice guy, doesn’t he?

Well, as this “nice guy” was ready to board a flight bound for Tel Aviv out of Atlanta on August 11, he was arrested and charged with one count of assault with intent to commit murder. Abuelazam is now a suspect in five murders and at least 15 additional stabbings across Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. Other than his victims, no one saw the horror of which he was capable, even if a few saw a somewhat darker side. An ex-father-in-law said he had gotten “rough” with his daughter and there was “a bit of abuse.” A neighbor said he abused his dogs when they didn’t follow his orders and, in a hint of how terrifying Abuelazam’s behaviors might become, commented that when he was mad his face would show a crazy and frightening rage.

Jekyll and Hyde characters, as Abuelazam appears to be, are almost always alcoholics. On a recent visit to his family in Israel, while “intoxicated” during a verbal altercation he stabbed a friend in the face with a screwdriver. Acquaintances said he could be a “frightening character, someone you don’t want to mess with,” and that he sometimes used drugs and got into fights. The former classmate told reporters, “He experienced something that changed him entirely. He started using drugs, so his family sent him abroad.” Cause and effect isn’t clear in the statement, which many if not most might interpret as something changed in him that caused him to use drugs. Those who have read Alcoholism Myths and Realities: Removing the Stigma of Society’s Most Destructive Disease know the reverse is true: the “something” he experienced “that changed him entirely” was addiction to psychotropic substances, which causes distorted perceptions, including euphoric recall, which made him view everything he said or did through self-favoring lenses. This in turn caused egomania—an inordinately large sense of self-importance, the behavioral indications of which include a sense of invincibility and a Supreme Being complex—which sometimes makes one play God in the ultimate sense.

Unfortunately, as is too often true in the lives of addicts, there were dozens if not hundreds of incidents for which close people or the law could have intervened but didn’t before multiple tragedies are alleged to have occurred. When Abuelazam began using drugs, the family arranged for him to pull what recovering alcoholics call “a geographic.” If they had kept him in Israel and tried instead an intervention and done all they could to force him into a program of recovery, Abuelazam the “nice guy” would perhaps have continued to walk ladies to their cars and he might have been described as “gentle giant” on his tombstone, rather than yet one more “Jack the Ripper.”


Runners-up for top story of the month:

Flight attendant Steven Slater, 38, who was described by his attorney, friends and family as a likeable sort who did his job well, until he didn’t and used a JetBlue plane’s emergency chute to leave his job—permanently, with two cans of beer in hand. Slater claimed a gash on his head occurred during the flight, but several passengers said the gash was there before the flight took off and told reporters he spoke rudely and used expletives during the flight. As clues 4 and 7 under "Supreme Being complex" ("regularly uses foul language" or, in this case, uses such language in an entirely inappropriate setting, and "has a 'rules don't apply to me' attitude") in How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics: Using Behavioral Clues to Recognize Addiction in its Early Stages suggest, odds are he had relapsed (he was a known alcoholic, reportedly in recovery) sometime before takeoff and may have been sloshed during the entire flight.

Actor Randy Quaid, 60, and his wife Evi Quaid, 47, facing burglary charges for squatting in a Santa Barbara, California, house they had sold years ago and causing $5,000 in damage to the guest house. In a separate case, they faced charges of defrauding the San Ysidro Ranch in nearby Montecito in September, 2009 of more than $10,000, along with conspiracy and burglary, after using an invalid credit card, for which Evi pleaded no contest. Despite being Dennis Quaid’s older brother and having won a Golden Globe Award, a nomination for an Emmy for his portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson in “LBJ: The Early Years,” becoming well-known for his roles in the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” movies and “Independence Day” and no doubt bringing in some pretty decent cash for his “Capital One” commercials, Randy has obviously been squandering enough of his funds to create some severe financial disarray. A clue as to its cause comes from a private detective, Becky Altringer, who was hired by Evi to investigate purported murder threats against them. Altringer claims Evi is hiding Demerol addiction from Randy and she “fears for Randy’s life,” believing Evi may kill him. The behavior so frightens the PI that she filed a restraining order against Evi, citing “drug abuse and mental instability.” Incredibly, we have found no proof of alcoholism (even if the evidence is overwhelming) in Randy, despite staying married to Evi for over two decades and claiming to have lost more than $10 million due to a purportedly “diabolical plot to steal his multi-million dollar fortune” by his “most-trusted financial advisers” and his bank. The couple, according to Quaid, is now in “big trouble with the I.R.S.”

Florida attorney Scott Rothstein, 48, who was sentenced to 50 years for selling stakes in phony employment-dispute settlements that ranks as South Florida’s likely largest-ever Ponzi scheme at an estimated $1.2 billion. Known for lavish spending, Rothstein owned several mansions and many toys, including a 20-foot ice bar, detailed in the November-December 2009 and January-February 2010 issues of TAR. Rothstein said in court, “I am truly and deeply sorry for what I have done. I don’t expect your forgiveness….I am ashamed and embarrassed.” He told the judge in a letter it was all a façade to feed his “ego and greed….I did all I could to increase my power, to keep the myth alive, to feed the beast I had created, and to try to keep myself above the law.” Just like any other likely alcoholic; but he was in a position to create far more damage to others than most.

Seattle attorney Anne Bremner, pleading guilty to DUI following an arrest after being pulled over while driving on three flat tires (not mentioned as a clue to DUI in Get Out of the Way! How to Identify and Avoid a Driver Under the Influence, but who’d a’thunk it?). Before the plea, her attorneys seemingly did all they could to created a news black-out, going so far as to identify Bremner only as “Jane Doe.” Incredibly they argued the records of the arrest, during which she called an officer a Nazi and threatened “I will sue your ass” and “it’ll be bad for you guys,” would damage her professional reputation and should be kept private. She claimed she was a victim of a hit-and-run crash (not mentioned until well after the arrest) that left her with a head injury, the effects from which could easily be confused with drunkenness. Not if you can find the 911 call on the Internet, it can’t. Since she refused a breathalyzer at the time of the arrest, her blood alcohol level could not be determined. However, based on admissions thus far, we can try. She said that everyone at the semi-monthly gathering of female judges and attorneys from which she was driving home “had one cocktail before dinner” and drank “under two glasses of wine each” with the meal. Let’s see…if she weighs 120 pounds and assuming “one” cocktail contains two shots of hard liquor, her BAL would have clocked in at (.03 per cent x four “drinks” = ) .12 per cent…minus .015% per hour, which (assuming the drinking began at 7pm) would have brought her BAL down to .045% at the time of her midnight arrest. Uh, that didn’t work. Message to Ms. Bremner: Most people think they’re legally bombed after three drinks and, well, you and I know it just ain’t so. Please do the world a favor and get honest about your consumption and the fact that the legal maneuverings you and your attorneys tried to pull, along with your confabulated stories, were the sort of manipulative tactics common to those having the disease of alcoholism.

Alcoholic victims of the month:

The thousands of passengers who were delayed while the JetBlue plane’s emergency chute was put back where it belongs, along with the likely extensive maintenance it had to go through due to flight attendant Steven Slater’s inconsiderate actions. (You might think “hundreds,” but consider how many planes are readying for take-off on the typical tarmac.)

Alcoholic could-have-been serious-victims of the month:

The passengers aboard the JetBlue flight, starring flight attendant Steven Slater. As a number of observers pointed out, deploying the emergency chute could have caused a panic, ground personnel could have been seriously injured or killed had they been in the way and can you imagine how inappropriately he might have handled an emergency occurring during the flight?

Co-dependents of the month:

California taxpayers, who according to, are or will soon be supporting “Octo-Mom” Nadya Suleman by giving her welfare checks. Having become a tabloid sensation after giving birth to octuplets in January 2009 (and for which California taxpayers already paid an estimated $1.3 million plus), she pitched her story to publishers and television executives, who have apparently lost interest. In the February-April 2009 top story, she is quoted telling NBC’s Ann Curry she was “not seeking a public handout.” As I said then, she is the center of her universe, and of ours. While she was spending her money on lip and breast augmentation, she was spending ours having children—and now “raising” the octuplets, along with the six others to which she had already give birth.

Enablers of the month:

The 100,000 or so people who joined a Facebook page supporting the actions of flight attendant Steven Slater, who slid down the emergency chute of a JetBlue airplane after instigating at least one confrontation with a passenger. We’ve honored many famous addicts to their deaths, from Marilyn Monroe to actor Health Ledger; I suppose it’s only fitting an unknown becomes known for his alcoholic antic and that we honor and enable him. As pointed out in Drunks, Drugs & Debits: How to Recognize Addicts and Avoid Financial Abuse, we need to learn to “uncompromisingly disenable,” before tragedy happens.

Some 300 protestors at the LAPD’s Rampart Station, along with a similar number at a community meeting the next night, who were protesting the LAPD shooting of a very drunk Manuel Jamines after he refused to drop his switchblade, with which he had been threatening passersby and then police. Jamines’ family acknowledged that he had “a drinking problem” but that he was “not violent.” Until he could have been.

Quotes of the month:

Steven Slater’s boyfriend Kenneth Rochelle, who called Slater a “lovely, classy, beautiful person,” and Slater’s ex-wife, Cynthia Susanne, who called him a consummate flight attendant who would always act in the most appropriate manner. “I can’t believe he murdered someone!” is a common remark about a “nice guy” committing homicide. Yup, nice guy, until he isn’t, due to brain damage stemming from alcoholism. As pointed out in the chapter on "Beauty, Brains & Success" in Alcoholism Myths and Realities: Removing the Stigma of Society's Most Destructive Disease, being nice, successful, smart and charming are entirely consistent with alcoholism, except when Mr. Hyde rears his ugly head.

Fidel Castro, reported by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic as saying, “The Cuban model doesn’t work for us anymore.” Almost every despot in history whose personal life has been made public can be confirmed to be an alcohol or other-drug addict. Castro, who is known for being a light drinker, has been one of the few exceptions. However his daughter, Alina Fernandez in her book Castro’s Daughter: an Exile’s Memoir of Cuba, mentions the availability of amphetamines on the island as if it were candy (one of the few things apparently not in short supply—perhaps having something to do a surplus of sugar cane). Castro was known for giving seven-hour-long speeches. His brother Raul is a known alcoholic (and it hasn’t escaped me he could be Cuba’s Yeltsin—drunk but no longer interested in wielding totalitarian power). The addiction-aware might hypothesize that Castro’s long illness has forced him to get clean from amphetamine addiction. The clean and sober often gradually get honest, even without benefit of a 12-step program. Maybe, just maybe, longstanding amphetamine addiction explains Fidel Castro then—and now.

Sometimes, it takes an addict:

Richard “Scar” Lopez, a founding member of Cannibal & the Headhunters whose claim to fame was the mid-‘60s hit “Land of 1000 Dances,” dead from lung cancer at age 65. Although the band was a one-hit wonder (“na, na-na-na-na”), they were among the first popular Mexican-American musical groups, appeared on “American Bandstand,” “Hullabaloo,” “Shebang” and other popular TV shows in 1965 and opened for the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Righteous Brothers. However, Lopez didn’t appear with the Beatles because he quit the band after the late Eddie Davis, Cannibal’s producer and manager, found Lopez gambling with the Beatles and “started yelling at me in front of everyone. I’m from East L.A., and I don’t take that from nobody….I was so angry at him for embarrassing me in front of the Beatles that I made up my mind right then and there that I would not continue on the tour.” Lopez never returned to the group after the incident. Hector A. Gonzales, the current owner of Rampart Records, said that Lopez “later overcame a drug problem.” Which could explain the rocket ship to the moon and the flame-out after, fueled by an irrational resentment that cost him a pretty darned good job. (Former band-member Frankie “Cannibal” Garcia died in 1996 and Joe “Yo Yo” Jaramillo died in 2000 of “liver-related” illness. The fourth original band-member, Bobby Jaramillo, may be alive, but I can’t confirm it. When three of four close friends die at young ages, we can pretty much figure that alcoholism fueled both their successes and failures.)

So long too, to Richie Hayward, the drummer and a founding member of Little Feat, dead from liver cancer at 64. The band became known for an eclectic mix of rock, country, blues, folk, jazz and funk, which likely would not have been possible without Hayward’s inventive and unique drumming style—which may have been due to an alcoholic willingness to take risks many sober musicians wouldn’t consider.

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.

Public Policy Recommendation of the Month

Section 8 Housing

Section 8 is a government program that subsidizes rent for low-income households.

It also subsidizes a lot of drinking and drugging.

A recent report in The Wall Street Journal (“Real Estate Bust Opens New Doors for Subsidized Tenants,” August 8, 2010) reported that many neighbors “have long contended that government-subsidized tenants increase crime and depress property values,” even while admitting that having a house occupied is better than leaving it vacant. Still, in a lesser-of-the-evils attitude, with mixed emotions they ask, “Which poison do we choose?”

They shouldn’t have to choose. Section 8 tenants have brought big changes to many, including the now-depressed town of Antioch, California on the Sacramento Delta near Stockton. “Fights, loud parties and litter” are pervasive. While homes qualifying for subsidized housing must pass an inspection, the tenants do not—and the landlords typically don’t care because they are guaranteed the rent from the government. It’s time to require that tenants who feed at the public trough be, in some way, tested for alcoholism and other-drug addiction. The public has a right to spend its money more wisely than giving it to likely addicts. And by doing so, we may well help the Section 8 tenants to escape the clutches of government hand-outs that insure they stay poor and dramatically decrease the likelihood that they will become all they can be.

“Bernstein…suspects that she suffers from a psychiatric illness. For someone with such symptoms, antisocial personality disorder is a likely diagnosis.”

So wrote an anonymous journalist writing for citing the comments of Dr. Neil I. Bernstein, commenting on a woman, Ashley Anne Kirilow, 23, who shaved her head, plucked her eyebrows and starved herself to look like a cancer patient—when she wasn’t. Her father was even scammed, admitting on the show “Good Morning America” that it sickened him when he ‘found out she was taking people’s money and it wasn’t going to the University of Alberta” for cancer treatments, as she claimed. She took in more than $20,000 from her victims while accumulating more than $30,000 in credit card debt and declaring bankruptcy. This is one of countless examples of the general myth cited in Alcoholism Myths and Realities: Removing the Stigma of Society’s Most Destructive Disease (myth # 64), which states that “Personality disorders are more common than alcoholism.” No they’re not. Those with such disorders comprise about 1-2% of the population, while alcohol and other-drug addicts comprise roughly 10%. Therefore, the odds of addiction at least five to one, including someone as nutty as this. The truly appalling thing about the article is the possibility of alcoholism isn’t even mentioned. The trouble is, Dr. Bernstein, alcoholism mimics virtually all of the psychiatric illnesses. So it’s probably not any of the other disorders you suggest either, including antisocial personality disorder or bipolar disorder. You even go so far as to say “Prisons are filled with people like this.” Have you ever once spoken with an ex-con? One in recovery will confirm that 80-90% of felons are addicts. Of course, if I were a clinical psychologist like you I too would have had to unlearn the nonsensical idea that personality disorders explain most human foibles. Dr. Bernstein: it’s time to start, even if Ms. Kirilow may be the exception to the rule.

A brief bonus Myth-of-the-Month is appropriate this month due to the Abuelazam story:

“It is really not a matter of ‘Jekyll and Hyde.’ It is a matter of who the person is trying to charm and who they don’t care about charming.”

So spoke Dr. Park Dietz, who has given court testimony or consulted on numerous serial killer cases, including Jeffrey Dahmer, regarding Abuelazam’s classic style. Dietz got it partly right: it is about who the person is trying to charm and who they don’t care about charming. He’s also correct in stating it’s a huge red flag and that this is one “of the least misunderstood signs” that the person might have ulterior motives. He explains that “charm is not a good thing. It is a misleading thing.” However, Dietz, according to reports, didn’t link addictive drinking or drugging to the egomania that makes one want to charm another, even if he implicitly knows it’s about controlling the other person. Instead, he explains that such charm is “exactly what one expects from someone who has an aggressive personality disorder.” Missing the link to addiction is tragic, since we will occasionally see the drinking, which when linked to charm is an almost certain warning that tragedy will ultimately occur.

Losing my home and my mind

Dear Doug:

Due to the weak economy, we are being forced from our home of 22 years. Our grown children have no idea about our financial travails. I’m angry and disappointed with my husband, who I blame for this circumstance. I think we need counseling, but all the local therapists are friends or acquaintances of ours. What should I do?


Financially and mentally disabled

Dear Codependent,

Other columnists would tell you the obvious: you took on too much debt to support your lifestyle, implying you used your home as an ATM without explicitly saying so. It needs to be said.

Other columnists might also mention the fact that because you didn’t say it, you must not have lost your jobs. They’d suggest you tell family and friends you got caught up in the housing bubble and must now downsize. You can hope your children and others learn from your experience as you admit to your mistakes.

They wouldn’t tell you the less obvious: at 22 years you should have had your home nearly paid for and that your apparent continuous borrowing is often (even if not always) indicative of an alcoholism-fueled sense of financial invincibility in one or the other if not both of you. One or both of you figured the debt load was affordable when it wasn’t. One or both of you wanted to spend wantonly when you didn’t have the funds without increasing your debt. This is, considering you purchased your home in the pre-bubble days of 1988, an indication of impaired judgment usually rooted in alcoholism.

It sounds as if you are embarrassed by your husband’s financial behaviors. You should look at other behaviors as well. If there are other misbehaviors and he drinks heavily or uses other drugs in conjunction with even a little drinking, there is likely alcoholism as I have redefined it in How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics. You should also look at yourself: you benefited from the spending and gave at least tacit approval for over two decades. You may or may not also have the disease of alcoholism, but there is little question about serious co-dependency.

(Source for story idea: Ask Amy, September 6, 2010.)

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

“SURE-FIRE OUTCOME: Sheriff's deputies in Dona Ana County, N.M., found a man along a highway wearing no clothing trying to hitchhike a ride to a hospital -- he was suffering from severe burns. When deputies asked for his story, the 47-year-old man said he had lost a bet with buddies, and had to honor it by letting his friends set him on fire. They started with his prosthetic leg, he explained, which then set his clothes on fire so he took them off. The bet, he said, was over who could drink the most beers. He lost when he drank the fewest -- six -- and confirmed to deputies that he allowed the mayhem. He was taken to a burn center. (Las Cruces Sun-News) ...OK, now consider this: he was more sober than that when he made the bet.”

One week later Randy included this shocking update:

“THE EVERCHANGING STORY: A man who told sheriff's deputies in Dona Ana County, N.M., that he had lost a drinking bet and thus allowed friends to set him on fire (This is True, last week) has had his story unravel. When the tale hit newspapers, a ‘credible witness’ came forth to tell investigators what really happened to the man, who is now identified as Randy Malone, 47. The witness said he gave Malone a ride, and Malone was fine. During the ride, the witness says, Malone lit a crack pipe. The upset witness told Malone to get out of his car, and says Malone put the lit crack pipe into his pants pocket, and that's apparently what set him on fire. Malone has been charged with making false statements to investigators. There is a warrant out for his arrest, but so far, detectives say, Malone is ‘in hiding’. (Las Cruces Sun-News) ...Remember, detectives: where there's fire, there's smoke.”

First conclusion: Sheriff’s deputies apparently wouldn’t know an alcoholic if it hit them in the face. Who else would make such a wager? Second conclusion: If it’s a really stupid antic, it’s usually crack or meth. Third conclusion: Never believe an addict. Even if his rendition of the story paints him in a bad light, the true story is probably much worse.


(Story and tagline from “This is True,” copyright 2010 by Randy Cassingham, used with permission. If you haven't already subscribed to his newsletter—the free one at least, or the paid one I get, with twice the stories—I highly recommend it:


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