Writing Inspection is sometimes a bit like stepping into the dog pen without a flashlight in the middle of the night. You absolutely know you’re going to step in something and smear it all over yourself, yet I love doing it. Perhaps I should stop and sing Masochism Tango at this time in the writing process?
OK, I’m back. God, I love Tom Lehrer.
Yup, I sure enjoy facing an angry mob of E-mails filled with curses and, “How the Hell can you even consider such a stupid…”
Premise: there is no such thing as an “alcoholic.”
Second premise: there is no such thing as a “drug addict.”
There are only “addicts” who respond negatively to addictive substances: some worse than others, depending on that person’s internal chemical make up; especially when it comes to the mind, genetics and socialization. And before you shoot off angry E-mails about your personal experiences, I have lived with people addicted to substances and had friends who were out of control. I have also seen how those addictions carry over into their other activities once they stop abusing the substance in very negative; even worse, ways.
My problem with the whole concept of a “dry drunk,” or an “alcoholic,” or a “drug addict,” is that the focus of the words, modifiers and phrases are wrong. You know how anti-gun control folks always claim it’s not the gun that commits the crime? Well, it’s not alcohol’s fault people abuse it or get addicted to it. Except for a few substances that are so addictive that they, by their nature, create addicts, no substance is even close to being at fault. The fault, my dear Doctor Frankenstein, is in our brains… and what genetics have delivered unto our bodily doorstep. Oh, and let’s add what our collective socialization has either done, or not, to each and every one us.
I’m not claiming over indulgence, especially on a regular basis, can’t be a problem, or even that regular indulgence can never be. That’s regarding almost any addictive substance. I am claiming there is an addictive personality that is to blame for all the aforementioned. Take the substance away without addressing that personality and the attitudes that follow addiction keep tagging along like some determined, nasty, mean; rabid wolverine… little to nothing is solved. If we banned any one substance, or regulated it more, those who have a problem with an addictive personality would still have that problem.
The problem is addiction. Alcohol is simply the weapon some choose. Some weapons are inherently more dangerous than others. Alcohol can be one of the worst.
I am in no way saying that that substance itself doesn’t help torment those who have addictive personalities. And of course the carnage surrounding this issue; especially including driving impaired, is a consideration. But blaming the substance and not focusing in on differing personalities has contributed at least one completely idiotic, and frequent, exchange when we discuss this issue as a society. For instance, I have often heard the following…
“If you drive drunk you will kill someone.”
Then often out of the same mouths who spew such nonsense comes a statement that completely negates that rather huge claim… some rather high percentage of people who drive late at night; and the percentage varies every time I hear it quoted, are always drunk.
Next time someone spout those two statements at you ask them to show proof that every one of those supposed drunks gets in an accident. In truth, the figures are inflated, and the case over stated, to scare the public. And the public does have a right; and needs, to be concerned. But overstating a case and then following it with a rather absurd, conclusion, only hurts the cause.
Secondary, but VIP observations…
I’ve also noticed that addicts I have known often drive as bad or worse than when they drive inebriated, and dry drunks drive the same way too; despite being “cured.” That last one goes to attitudes, and aggression, driven by their sobriety, I suppose. Then we have the drunk who gets nasty once the liquid hits the lips and heads downward. I’ve found them to be very repressed people who are doing what we most of us do when we tip one too many times: let out whatever we wanted to do anyway. Only in this case they’ve got a demon inside. Once again that kind of problem goes far beyond the substance itself and deep into the mental state of the addict.
So let’s stop using the substance, whatever it is, as an excuse to avoid addressing very personal problems that some people have. We have a problem with addiction in this culture: period, and all that entails. Alcohol laws and drug regulations, or any “war on drugs,” can’t address that very well because they are substance based. And banning should be saved for the worst of the worst. I know, that won’t solve much, and might be counter productive, but at least it will focus our efforts where any such efforts should be focused. If we’re going to waste tax dollars, let’s waste it on what nothing else will solve. At least that’s realistic feel good wastage.
I can’t believe I just typed that very absurd sentence. But nothing will ever cure, or even slightly pacify, those who are addicted to banning sources of very personal, and individual, problems that damage society. So, yes, I’m suggesting wasting tax dollars on a ridiculous proposal just to keep them a little happy… if that’s even possible.
Don’t agree? Did I make you mad? Are you splattering spittle while you scream obscenities at your screen right now? Well… what are you going to do about it; write me an angry E? Slap me for even daring to make such a ludicrous suggestion?
Look, I’m putting on my hip boots right now and preparing to step into my own personal dog pen. So go ahead. Feel lucky? Make an aging columnist’s day.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved
Actually, Ken, I agree with you and applaud you for taking a realistic and sane approach to the subject. And the fact that we live in a society that treats such topics with off-the-deep-end hysteria, replacing misguided emotion for reason, I think is beyond argument.
Absolutely right. I’ve had enough friends with drug and alcohol problems to know that most of the popular regimens of treatment, based on an inaccurate diagnosis of the real illness, are doomed to fail. Every one of them had classic addictive personalities and two went from being bust-out drunks to AA addicts, which to my mind is equally scary. They turned into robots who seemed to exist solely NOT to drink and attend meetings. Both of them, incidentally, married their AA sponsors, although it was against the rules. You couldn’t have a coherent conversation with them when they had been drinking, and you still couldn’t have a coherent conversation with them after they joined AA — all they did was spout AA slogans. I guess the only thing you could say is that they were healthier not drinking, but they tended to be hollowed-eyed and humorless drones. Perhaps AA has helped some drinkers but, of the half-dozen I’ve taken to meetings, they either kept drinking on the sly, or else turned out like the aforementioned two.
Conversely, I have known several men who realized they were drinking too much and cut down on their own. Those men would have been classified by AA as alcoholics who can never touch another drink, but they did, and they’re fine. Again, it’s the addictive personality at work, and I don’t think organizations such as AA are the answer to solving that problem. In fact, a psychologist I know with more than 40 years experience agrees with me — after years of treating alcoholics and drug addicts, he thinks AA and other such groups, in the long run, do more harm than good, as they never address the root personality problems of the addict but focus on controlling the superficialities of addictive behavior — akin to curing the symptoms without eliminating the disease. The cult-like AA, et al, refuse to release any information on their success rates for independent review, so it’s impossible to gauge their effectiveness, but those who work in the field say the recidivism rates are very high. The worst part of this is that judges, courts and many doctors(and the general public) have bought into the self-created AA myth and often send people to AA and similar unclinical ‘amateur-run’ programs for treatment rather than into professional therapy. An ex-alcoholic or ex-junkie, however well-meaning, is not always the right person to get someone off drink or drugs — they often suffer with the same ‘dry drunk’ addictive personality traits as those they are trying to help, which include rigidity, overzealousness, lack of self-awareness, unrealistic expectations, delusional grandiosity, and incapability of emotional detachment. Most of all, even sober, they often exhibit the same ‘stinkin’ thinkin” they had when they were getting high.
Ken, you lost me here. I know of no substance so addictive that it creates addicts by its very nature. Cocaine, it’s derivative crack, heroin — I’ve known people who’ve taken them more than once without becoming addicted. That’s not to say that if you use them on a regular basis you won’t become physically addicted, of course you will eventually, but the notion of a drug so dangerous that it instantly addicts anyone who takes it is an overwrought movie-of-the-week fantasy perpetuated by those who want continue the wasteful and stupid ‘war on drugs.’
The real tragedy is that most of the information in the US on the effects of drug use and addiction comes from one man, Harry J. Anslinger, a Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner who, from 1930 to 1962, basically invented most of the erroneous drug propaganda we still see today, particularly with regard to the effects of marijuana. A man with no scientific or medical training (he even tried to block a joint ABA/AMA report on drugs), former prohibitionist Anslinger was a racist and a prig who abused his power to enforce his personal moral agenda on the nation.
The other misfortune in this regard is that most of the information concerning the treatment of alcoholics came from a businessman without a scientific background, Bill Wilson, who started Alcoholics Anonymous, and the infamous 12-step program, back in 1935 as the result of a religious epiphany. Even though I believe he had the best of intentions, the misinformation he spread on the nature of alcoholism that has been adopted as chapter-and-verse on the subject, even by many in the medical community, has been disastrous in the rational treatment of the underlying emotional problems that exhibit themselves as the symptom called alcoholism.