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Randy Cassingham

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bullet  The Drunk Zone

A reader has a very interesting point of view on True's stories -- from the perspective of a (recovering) alcoholic.

Dan from Massachusetts is a long-time (since 2004) Premium subscriber, and recognizes the behavior he sees in a lot of the stories. He writes:

I am a recovering alcoholic and have been sober almost 13 years now. I like reading your True stories about people who get themselves into what we in AA call "jackpots" due to their drinking. Your articles are a wonderful reminder as to why I stopped drinking in the first place. In AA we all tell stories of our various jackpots, often they are funny, sometimes they are sad, but we are all grateful we don't have to be like that anymore. Your articles help me "keep it green". They help keep the reason sobriety is a good idea always fresh and green in my mind.

Some day I really hope you are unable to find any Trues stories at all that involve alcohol or drugs. Our world would be such a nicer place if that were so. But until that day comes I hope you know how valuable they are to those of us who always need to remember what it was like out there making those True stories happen.

So thanks, man.

And from the old me, "you're welcome" ;-)

Heh! For a second there, I thought what he meant by "you're welcome" is that he was featured in True before he was sober. I checked, and no. Whew! He was simply "speaking in general terms about all of us alcoholics who have provided grist for your mill over the years," he said when I admitted to him that I checked my archives for his name.

Dan's 13 years of sobriety is a great accomplishment. And he's right: even though I don't call out the "alcohol was involved" aspects all that often in stories (especially compared to how many times the source story mentions it!), a lot of my stories do fall into, as Dan titled his message, "The Drunk Zone".

So much so, that when I see really stupid behavior in the news stories I use as fodder, I'm actually now looking for reference to alcohol or drug addiction. Very often I find it, but only as an aside -- like an after-thought reference to several previous arrests for DUI or drug crimes. It astounds me to realize how many cops, prosecutors, and judges don't seem to realize how much crime can be directly traced to addiction.

It's something that drives a friend of mine crazy. Doug Thorburn is a tax preparer (an Enrolled Agent, which is the highest level of tax preparer), and some years ago he realized that many of his clients were in financial messes because of alcoholic behavior -- the sort of things we all see in True so often.

Doug realized that even most professionals don't really understand why alcoholics act the way they do: alcohol (and many other drugs) grossly inflate their egos. That's why Alcoholics Anonymous works as well as it does, he thinks: the 12 steps work very well to deflate the pompous heads they develop -- like admitting there's a "higher power" than themselves. That's easy for most people; very difficult for drunks.

As far as those behaviors, Doug says addicts have a choice: admit they have a medical problem they need help with, or admit they're total jerks. The "disease" of alcoholism isn't a personality defect, he argues, but simply an inability in their bodies to process alcohol correctly. Isn't it better to admit a common medical problem and get help with it than continue to live with the alternative -- that they're total assholes who don't care that they're destroying their own lives (and, much more importantly, their family's lives)?

Doug has a free newsletter, the Thorburn Addiction Report, that discusses his ideas in more detail, at PrevenTragedy.com. Check out his books, too.

The Point

So the point that Dan brought up in my mind is, he conquered that medical problem. "I've done some spectacularly stupid things while drunk," Dan concluded after I admitted to him I wondered if he had been featured in True, "I've just never made it into the papers."

Dan said "Our world would be such a nicer place" if I couldn't find articles of people on alcohol and drugs doing spectacularly stupid things. It would indeed. I'd be out of business, but that would be OK with me. But I'm not holding my breath. Dan conquered it, though, and if you're in the same boat he was 13 years ago, you can conquer it too. It takes guts to stop; it's weak and stupid to keep going toward destruction.

But at least the addicts are making that choice for themselves. Their families don't get to make the choice. For them, there's Al-Anon and Alateen -- programs to help the parents, children, spouses, and friends that are affected by a loved one's addiction. Their site is al-anon.alateen.org, and like AA's site is available in English, Spanish and French.

There is also Narcotics Anonymous that's more centered on drug addiction.

Don't get me wrong: I don't think everyone who uses drugs or alcohol are addicts. Far from it. The key, to me, is behavior -- the more a user's friends and family think they're a jerk (or the more they're arrested for being stupid in public), the higher the odds they have a bigger problem than they think. I'm also totally against prohibition: the War on Drugs has caused more problems than it has solved, just like the 1930s attempts at alcohol prohibition did. We should look at the success Portugal has had with their drug policies. We owe it to our addicts to do better.

24 Comments on This Entry

All comments in this blog are reviewed prior to being published. Spammers: don't waste your time. The posting criteria are simple: if a comment is worth visitors' time to read, it's approved. If not, it's not.


Posted by John, East Texas on December 31, 2010:

I am sorry for being such a weak and stupid asshole jerk. I just wish they had a non-religious organization for us alcoholics who have no faith in an invisible "higher power" for which there is not a jot of evidence.

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An appropriate first comment -- thank you! I'm far from an expert on AA, but I do understand the complaint. As I understand it, AA has backed away from equating the "higher power" with "god", and the main point is to get the members to stop thinking the universe revolves around them. The "higher power" can simply be nature; are you more powerful than a hurricane, an earthquake, a tornado? No? Then you've taken the first step away from thinking of yourself as the supreme being. If the AA chapter you tried isn't liberal enough to let you use nature (or the sun, or the universe, or whatever floats your boat), then try another one. The important part is to find a group that you can feel comfortable in, and then find a sponsor there who will work with you, since that's when the real work begins. Just don't give up so easily. -rc

Posted by Gloria, Bradenton, Florida on December 31, 2010:

I'd like to state that alcoholic behavior is present at times when there is no drinking. Alcoholism is like a stone dropped in a pond which circles out to affect everyone in the family. My sweet grandfather innocently became drunk every Saturday night on his own homemade wine. (He was a coal miner and probably needed it.) However, his behavior severely affected his family and its repercussions are seen at every age level of my family.

Posted by Mike from Dallas on December 31, 2010:

I'm baffled over the way that different vices affect different people. I've done a lot of drinking and getting plastered through the years, but never experienced any addiction. When money was tight, there was no booze. When responsibilities demanded my attention, booze was not part of the package. Nowadays, I just don't even have the interest. Just lucky, really.

Because kicking the smoking habit was murder for me. Anyone who thinks I'm a stubborn pig-headed obstructionist doesn't know the half of it when I had to apply it to myself. And many years later, I still experience a rare, momentary urge to light up.

Only when society gets away from this stupid "Just Say No" crap will there be a chance to understand addiction in general and formulate a way of correcting it in specific.

I have the utmost respect for recovered alcoholics who've grabbed the monkey by the throat and continue to strangle it in order to keep control over their lives. And as others have said, it's not failure to not succeed; only failure when you quit trying.

Posted by Brendan Illinois on December 31, 2010:

When I read this, "It astounds me to realize how many cops, prosecutors, and judges don't seem to realize how much crime can be directly traced to addiction." I immediately thought of an article I read the other day about the success of Argentina's softer policy on drug use. (don't quote me on the country).

Basically the article said that drug use was decriminalized, though possession wasn't. That people who would have previously be sent to criminal court were immediately sent to rehab.

There was no spike in drug use and addiction rates seemed to stay the same, but the cost of sending these folks to rehab and other various health and safety measures was actually less than the cost of prosecuting and detaining people as criminals. While yes some people are undoubtedly taking advantage of the law in the end the problems caused by drug use are being reduced.

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The country is Portugal. See the last line of my essay for a link to the article. -rc

Posted by Felix, Dutch Flat on December 31, 2010:

Minor quibble -- prohibition started in 1919 or 1920, ended in 1934.

That comment about "alcohol (and many other drugs) grossly inflate their egos" ... not being much of a drinker myself, and never having been an alcoholic, I do have acquaintances who drink until they pass out, every day, all day long. My impression has been that they drink because they don't want to be conscious. I mean that literally -- they are afraid to be with their own thoughts I suppose, afraid to have to interact with people, and so they drink because they know it clobbers their brain, slows them down, and simplifies existence itself while they are drunk. There's probably a term for it. But I have never thought of them that they drink to inflate their egos. If anything, they drink to become dumber, because they hate being alone with their own thoughts.

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Thanks for the correction on Prohibition. I should have looked it up. -rc

Posted by Denise, Missouri on December 31, 2010:

I am not an addict, but I've been married to two of them. I have some experience with both AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous). Some groups are Christ centered, but most are not. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are non-religious organizations, and they always have been. If you want help, it is there. As far as I know (and according to all I have ever seen) the only groups that don't allow you to choose anything you like as your higher power are those that are specifically Christian -- and they will always tell you in advance if they are. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, there is a non-religious AA group available to you if you look around. Your best bet is to talk to recovering alcoholics in your local area to find out where the various groups are and when they meet.

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Thanks for reminding me about NA. I'll put a link to them in the essay too. -rc

Posted by Terry, Ill. on January 1, 2011:

Thank you for pointing out that there is help if you choose to look for it. My wife and I are both recovering members of both programs. She AA me NA. She stopped drinking after the birth of her daughter 32 years ago. She will be the first to tell you it was the hardest thing for her to do. But she did it.

Myself with NA was after a short term Vacation in a state run hotel. My point here is that reading the stories you provide are a reminder to NEVER go back to that life and enjoy the lives we now have. Thank you Randy.

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I'm very glad if TRUE has helped you in any way. -rc

Posted by Cal, New Jersey on January 1, 2011:

AA might give you a broad choice of higher powers, but the only higher power you can't choose is yourself, and the fact is that YOU are the only one with the power to stop your drinking. If somebody goes to AA and stops drinking, it wasn't because of AA; they made the choice when they sought help.

Only 5% of people going to an AA meeting for the first time will still be sober after 12 months. That's the same portion of people quitting on their own, without AA. It's as good as nothing, and my feeling is that a treatment program is worse than nothing when it is court-ordered religious nothing.

A drug called naltrexone is known to suppress cravings for alcohol, and certain psychedelic drugs have shown promise in a few trials. If addiction is a disease, it's time we treated it with modern scientific methods rather than trying to convince people that they are weak, diseased, and powerless people who need to surrender themselves to a higher power if they ever want to stop screwing up their lives with drugs and alcohol.

The only step an alcoholic needs to take is to take control of his own life. It's not easy, but drinking is not a disease, it is a behaviour, and the only person who can control it is yourself.

John -- you'll be happy to know you have a non-(quasi-)religious alternative in the Secular Organizations for Sobriety.

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Thanks for the alternative source for help. Naltrexone is far from perfect, either: the NIH notes it needs to be supported with counseling and a sponsor, and has the potential for liver damage. Advanced alcoholics have plenty of liver problems already. But I do agree that we could do much more to find a "cure" that would work for more people. -rc

Posted by Allan, Fontana CA on January 3, 2011:

Randy wrote: The "disease" of alcoholism isn't a personality defect, he argues, but simply an inability in their bodies to process alcohol correctly.

My wife works on a crisis team that helps to assess people who may be a danger to themselves or others. Many of these patients have been diagnosed with mental health issues and have received a prescription. The problem is that while they're taking their medicine, they start to feel "normal" - and so they think they don't need to take the medicine anymore. Either that, or they feel that the medicine is a "crutch" or somehow makes them abnormal.

My wife's response to this always starts out the same: "Even if you need to take medicine for the rest of your life, that does not mean you have a personality defect. You have a chemical imbalance in your brain, and some of these drugs might help to correct that."

Not exactly the same thing, but certainly quite similar.

I think that she usually does NOT tell patients is that she has MS, and takes medicine daily - probably for the rest of her life. (I take daily medication for life too, although my medical conditions aren't in the brain.)

It's amazing to me that the "stigma" of taking doctor-prescribed medication in the privacy of your own home (why? Is there a personality defect?), is worse than the "stigma" of getting drunk or stoned, or having hallucinations, or trying to kill someone (why? Is this person a jerk?)

Every person on Earth has to deal with hardships. For some people, the hardships are easy to see (a teen with abusive parents has to decide to sleep in an alley, or sleep in a bed but get beaten first). For others, it's hard to identify with (Imported caviar is so expensive, will I have to switch to domestic?) but no less real for that person. I think that how strangers might perceive your problems should be the LAST thing you worry about, when dealing with these issues. Get advice from people you love and respect, then make up your own mind and stick to it. That's the only way to make sure that the solutions will really last.

Posted by Bonnie, Florida on January 3, 2011:

I used to work in an alcohol and drug rehab clinic and we actually envied the low recidivism of the AA program. They were the gold standard in the days of limited drug support and in patient counseling for the rich and somewhat famous. I suspect they still are but have not checked recent stats.

When we came up with methadone for drug addicts we were hopeful but not wildly enthusiastic. We did not use narcan /naltrexone maintenance but to reverse immediate narcotic stupor. It is painful and very unkind.

The drug we used for alcoholics was antabuse and it had a habit of killing people if their disease drove them to drink with it in their system. Most of them just skipped the pills and then had a drink. We always made them take a small dose followed by a beer to show them what would happen. Most did not dare take antabuse and drink. Those that did had disastrous results.

So we thought methadone would turn up to have some really bad side effects too. And it did, they liked the stuff. Most were long past being able to get high on the drugs. They were just trying to keep from being "sick." So they changed their drug of choice to methadone until they got "well" enough to decrease their tolerances and develop the ability to get high again. Sighhhhhhhhhh.

It would be great if all you needed was "willpower" to get well. You need help from many different sources and a lot of patience. There are many paths to success and it sometimes takes many years to finally get it behind you.

To those of you who made the journey, I salute you. To those en route, I admire you and wish you well. And don't listen to jerks, if what you are doing is not working for you; find another program. One of them will work.

Posted by Jan, Raleigh NC on January 3, 2011:

Some AA groups help. Others harm. Shop around. Be aware that a considerable chunk of attendees are "captive", as in they are there under court/employer order. AA has no mechanism for removing self-appointed group leaders who get abusive. Do not buy into their bull that your identity must now be Alcoholic for life. Also be on guard when you start feeling pressure to renounce any and all non-AA friends, family members, etc.

When you catch yourself thinking this group is getting creepily cultish, go sample the cognitive-behavioral, non-religious, and scientifically-based Smart Recovery folks. For a year, I volunteered for them and was impressed at their rational and ever-evolving approach, in contrast to AA's approach which hasn't changed a bit in decades despite a ton of new findings on addiction neurology.

http://www.smartrecovery.org
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_Recovery

Hope this helps someone.

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I'm sure it will. The bottom line is, whether you want to stay in AA or go elsewhere, there are alternatives. "I tried it and it doesn't work" doesn't cut it. -rc

Posted by Dan, Massachusetts on January 3, 2011:

Here's the thing with AA. It works. But AA is not a magic bullet. What it is is a bunch of people who have had much the same experiences as you in addition to real experience in actually not drinking. Believe it or not, before I joined AA I didn't even know it was possible to stop drinking. I literally could not imagine a world that did not include alcohol. The folks who make up AA had the tools to stop drinking and were willing to share them with me.

Thirteen years ago I was a down and dirty rotten drunk, a liar, a thief, and an all around jerk. Today, thanks to the good people in church basements all over the country, I have the respect of my family back, a great job, and a lot less drama. Today I have a real life. A life second to none.

You can have it too. You have just got to want it -- and let go.

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If you wondered, yes: This is the same Dan who wrote the letter that led to this blog post. -rc

Posted by Jackie, Tacoma, WA on January 3, 2011:

Just wanted to point out that usually alcoholism (like other addictions) is not "just" about the physical desire for alcohol. That's obviously a large part of it, and can't be ignored, but the friends and family that I've seen be successful in actually turning their lives around are those who dealt with the underlying issues rather than just trying to stop drinking. Someone becomes an addict for a reason, and if you don't figure out what it is you're self-medicating for (with alcohol or anything else) then you'll either not succeed at ditching the alcohol or else you'll latch onto something else. I've seen good success with AA, which doesn't mean it's the only program out there (as others have pointed out), but it has helped a lot of people.

Posted by Tim, Oregon on January 6, 2011:

Sober 25 years, 180 in 90 the first few years, much less now (1/week), and in 19 states (including Mass.) but have never heard the term that Dan says are "what we in AA call 'jackpots' due to ... drinking." It just goes to show that although we share a lot we may not share the same terminology, just as my sponsor may suggest a different approach to the steps than your sponsor.

You say anniversary, I say birthday; you say baby or pigeon, I say sponsee. Etc.

It may be apocryphal but I've heard there's a sign on a club house wall in Florida that says, "We don't care how you do it in Ohio."

Posted by Bonnie Florida on January 6, 2011:

Tim,

I lived in Tampa, the signs everywhere said, we don't care how you did it in Michigan. In Ft Lauderdale it said, we don't care how you do it in NYC. Only 23% of the Tampa Bay area is local folks so there is a certain amount of rivalry. And it is sure not confined to AA.

I think it is mostly good humored.

Posted by Duncan (Thunder Bay, ON) on January 7, 2011:

Thanks Randy for starting and continuing a topic on the effects of alcohol and drug addiction and associated behaviours. I'm a psychologist from Alberta, currently working in addiction/recovery home. And thanks to your commenters for a healthy and open discussion on A.A. and other treatments. It was good reading.

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Glad you found it useful, Doc. -rc

Posted by Chris, Indiana on January 9, 2011:

It's taken me a long time to be able to put my thoughts about addictions into words. It's been three and a half years since I received a phone call from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office, telling me they'd found a body in my son's apartment and needed some more ID to be sure they'd found my son. The combination of heroin and lying 4 days in 90 degree heat while his dealer stole his money, passport, and whatever he could sell, had left us without a body that looked familiar to anyone. Eddie's death came 24 days after the last time we'd seen him, when he was proudly talking about being free from all substances, including nicotine.

I'm also a mental health counselor who works with the family members of addicts, not because I deliberately chose to do so, but because, in this community, there is a lot of addiction to alcohol and other substances, and therefore, there are a lot of people who have been affected by family members' use. I guess I have a much more serious attitude about the hold addictions have on people than those quoted above, because I work with the family's pain - and my own - as they watch how everyone they know reacts to their family-member/addict's behaviors.

The current research demonstrates that there are two kinds of addicts - those that have a biological tendency to become addicted, and who will always have the same response to their substance of choice - immediate desire for intoxication - and those who have learned a pattern of behavior and can unlearn it. The 12-Step folks don't agree that anyone can ever cut back, but the research shows that some people can, because they don't have the biological weakness. The literature is split between people who call it a medical problem and those who call it a behavioral problem, based on the perspectives listed above.

Whatever you call it, and however you picture it, it takes a lot of strength to fight the addiction, especially since the addict is usually surrounded by a group of people who don't believe that the addict has a problem. This is what killed my son: his friends did not perceive that the combination of Bipolar Disorder, alcohol, and marijuana to be as dangerous as it was, even as they were horrified to see him turning to more serious street drugs. Frankly, they still don't, not even after my son's death and the near death and loss of a leg of another person in their group. This makes me cautious about calling addiction solely a medical problem, because I've seen too many people use that as an excuse to continue their addictive behaviors. After all is said and done, even if there's a medical issue, it is still up to the individual to make choices to live a healthier life style.

And most importantly to this blog, thereby choosing to NOT get into "This is True" or any other email that survives by telling the world about someone's stupidity.

Posted by Denise, Missouri on January 10, 2011:

Chris in Indiana has a lot of good points to make. There is a lot of argument about whether addiction is a medical problem or a behavior problem. Why do the two have to be mutually exclusive? If someone ingests rat poison, is that a medical problem or a behavior problem? It is both. Sane people don't ingest poison on purpose. For alcoholics, a substance that many people can ingest safely is a poison for them. It is not important why that is, what is important is that it be understood that they are killing themselves.

I have been married to two addicts. The first was an alcoholic who had no desire whatsoever to stop drinking, and the second was addicted to pretty much everything. My second husband (who I still love very much) was completely clean and sober for 2 years. We were both very happy during that time. He told me that he had never been happier in his life. Then he told me that he was going to go back to the drugs. This is not sane behavior! Yes, it was completely voluntary (this man was addicted because of habit, not because of an inborn trait), but can it really have been purely a behavior problem? I have been alone for 14 years. I can't tell you how much it hurts.

I can say that those who wish to have help can get it. It is there -- they cannot claim that it is impossible. But nobody in the world can help an addict that doesn't want help. It is just that simple. There is a behavioral element involved, and we have no control over behavioral elements without taking the extreme step of severely restricting the person's freedom. Even then, all we would accomplish is to make the person angry.

But those who claim that addiction is "just" a choice do not have any idea what they are talking about. It is not just a choice. Even if a person is not keeping company with people who reinforce the bad behavior, they still have extreme difficulty maintaining control. If they are friends with a group of people who excuse the behavior, control is all but impossible. It is not sane behavior -- it is distinctly abnormal and self-destructive. I cannot stress that enough. There is definitely a physical element involved -- a medical element. We need to continue to search for the exact mechanism so that we can have more weapons at our disposal to fight this horrible problem, and to rescue people who would otherwise die a slow, miserable death.

Posted by Bonnie, Florida on January 10, 2011:

As a parent of an alcoholic and drug using son I sympathize tremendously with your feelings. As a nurse I would spend a good portion of my weekend duty wondering if my son would be the next doa thru the doors. It is a terrible fear.

He is still alive, nearly 40 now and still self medicating for his Asperger's syndrome and or his inherited alcoholism. Hard to say what drives his behavior. My maternal Great Grandparents were non abusers, non drinkers. They had two children, one did not abuse but left no descendants to screen. The other never met a drug or drink she did not like. She married an alcoholic who rarely used drugs. She had one child, female, also an etoh abuser as well as drugs. She married an alcoholic who rarely used drugs and they had two, my sister and I. While I did drink with the family when young I stopped without incidence when I married away from them. My sister also married away but took the habits with her. She preferred drugs to etoh but used both.

My sister killed herself when she turned 53. Broke my heart. She was a heavy drug user and etoh abuser but always worked harder than anyone else as did every member of the family.

I had one quirk that probably saved me from following the tragedy of the family (all dead by 53 in spite of longevity among non drinkers), I have no tolerance to drugs. None. I broke 8 vertebrae and 4 ribs and made it on aspirin for six weeks as the one vicodin they gave me had me talking to my ancestors in short order and so scared the family they flushed the pills.

Is that why I rarely drink and never used drugs? Can't say. I am very grateful that I am me and not them. They suffered all the days of their lives once they discovered mind altering drugs.

But nobody knew how to make jokes about their habits better than they did. I thought it was more macabre than anything else but they well knew their flaws and figured it was better to laugh than to cry. So they did. They would have all laughed at Randy's blogs. Perhaps wryly, but they would have laughed.

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For those wondering, etoh = ethyl alcohol = booze, and is commonly used in the medical field to avoid calling a patient "drunk". -rc

Posted by Mike in Dallas on January 17, 2011:

I enjoy drinking immensely; however in a moment of sobriety, it occurred to me. I don't know why, but when I start, I lose the judgment to quit. My grandmother and my mother were both heavy drinkers, so this leads me to the conclusion it may be a medical thing, as has been said.

However when you realize once you start, you lose mental control to say, I have had enough; you also have a personality disorder. You always have a choice, in every aspect of your life, be it yes or now, stop or go.

So when you go to the doctor and say, "Doc, it hurts when I do this", and he replies "Well don't do that", maybe you should take his advice. I may drink again, I may not. However I do know that self destructive behavior is when you should take the doctors advice, "Well, don't do that."

For now, I will take his advice.

Posted by Mike from Dallas on January 17, 2011:

Interesting. We have a Mike FROM Dallas, as well as a Mike IN Dallas. But he is correct. When I go out drinking, I do recognize the point of no return. After a half dozen or so, there comes a point where I have to decide, quit now or go ahead and get plastered. Fortunately, I recognize that point AND I have a choice at that point. Many others are not so lucky. Once they've taken a drink, or maybe just a few, their addiction has already taken over. Simple answer, you think? Just don't take that first drink? Easy for me, I don't enjoy alcohol that much. I just like getting drunk. For many others, though, they do like that drink, and it's hard to resist something that you enjoy so much.

Like cigarettes, the addiction is not the alcohol, or nicotine, itself, as those can be detoxed within a month. It's the habits associated with the vice that have been developed for years, and takes years to undevelop.

Posted by Jenna in Michigan on January 25, 2011:

As this post is mainly about addiction, I'd like to bring up another one. I am a new member to OA - Overeaters Anonymous.

In many ways, it's harder than drug or alcohol addition because those are accepted as condition whereas with overeaters, we're told "It's just because you're lazy/weak/other" and has the added insult that we usually have extra weight on our frame and are therefore teased/ridiculed for that as well.

I only went to my first meeting on a whim and was shocked at how much I had in common with others there. For one, an overeater often finds they have hidden food everywhere, much like an alcoholic will hide liquor. We feel compelled to eat to the point of pain. Eating almost anything brings with it feelings of guilt and self-hate.

Not just "fat" people fall into this group either. There are also bulimics who, as a way to fight their irresistible urge to overeat will then purge the contents of their stomach, resulting in malnourishment and dental issues.

You can find info about OA at http://www.oa.org but I know that many will still say that it is just a bunch of fat losers who are lazy and have no will-power. But just remember, an alcoholic can make sure that they have no alcohol around them no matter how weak they get, but an overeater can't give up all food and it's just as bad to eat celery to the point of a painfully overfull stomach as any other food (maybe not calorically, but behaviorally).

Anyway, I know that over-eating issues aren't usually fodder for things that end up in This is True, but I just wanted to mention it as far as addictions are concerned.

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You are correct that addiction is the main topic here; that was getting lost. Congrats on taking that first step in conquering yours. -rc

Posted by Bonnie, Florida on January 25, 2011:

You are so right, Jenna, avoiding your addiction is easier when you can avoid bars, users and abusers and other triggers. Food is necessary and must be obtained and ingested daily on multiple occasions and just when it is feeling perfectly safe... the binging starts.

That is one reason that people lose so much on highly specific diets where others prepare the meal package and no additions are allowed. No need to go into grocery stores or cheese or chocolate shoppes. Discipline is surprisingly common among over eaters. If you give them a list they will follow it most of the time. The problem is when too many choices fall on the eater. 50 years ago we did not eat pizza or french fries nor a lot of the "staples" today. We had fried chicken on Sunday, we had meatloaf and mashed pots and peas on Monday. Etc. Most of us had some sort of two week cycle of mostly bland food. Sunday being the highlight as it usually involved a dessert, a simple cake with homemade icing of course or an apple or cherry pie. Sweet potato pie was a treat.

There was no such thing as fast food. It was all slow and tedious and there were no dishwashers, if you cooked, it took a lot of dishes and they had to be cleaned up by hand. It tended to make cooking-eating-washing up a chore that you did not wish to do more than 3 times a day.

Now there is very fast food, no dishes, lots of stress and fast food is a perfect match for stress. We did have stress in the 50's, the Cold War was in progress but we also had chores to do, setting the table, calling in the brothers and sisters, washing up for dinner, waiting for Dad to say grace. It was a ritual, not a paper bag and "Thank You, Come Again." Then when you ate you had conversation and relaxation and you were sated; perhaps it was not the food, it was the family. But not all the food in the world will fill the hole that is left by the lack of true family values.

I hope you do well with OA and will remind you of what a weight loss counselor taught us nurses; "If this program does not work for the client we recommend others. The important fact is that they need a program that works for them." You can do it, you just keep working at it until you do.

Posted by Barry, Seattle on January 31, 2011:

I am glad to see this discussion is continuing. I read the comments early in the month, but Chris in Indiana (1/10) triggered a need to contribute.

In my younger years I had a definite drinking problem. Like Mike in Dallas, I might stop at one or two, but once I passed that point, I kept going. There were many mornings I awoke and crawled to the window to see if my car had made it home with me - and to see if there was any damage. My humor about the situation was "I am not an alcoholic. I'm just a drunk because those alcoholic meetings interfere with drinking."

Fortunately, I was able to get control. I have several friends who are "recovering alcoholics" through AA or other programs, who will not have even one drink. I can have beer or wine with a meal; a drink or two or three with friends after work; or several drinks over the course of an evening, but I haven't been drunk for over 30 years.

Having a drink does not worry me because I know I am in control. However, I am afraid to smoke a cigar because I am sure if I did, I would be back on cigarettes within a week -- and I finally stopped smoking over 26 years ago.

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