Stanton's Blog Archive 2007

December 30, 2007

Stanton quoted in re latest genetic “discovery”

Stanton is quoted in newspapers about a new finding that alcoholics inherit an impulsiveness gene:

Stanton Peele, a New Jersey-based social psychologist and author of the 2007 book, "Addiction Proof Your Child," among several other books on addiction, noted that researchers have long sought in vain for an effective treatment for alcoholism and have few tools in their arsenal. The paucity, he believes, is because value systems, not biological factors that lend themselves to medical treatment, largely determine why some people drink so heavily as to disrupt their lives.

"Values — both as taught to kids and as young people mature — are the main preventatives to and antidotes for addiction," Peele said.

He pointed to the fact that a 2006 survey on substance abuse from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that heavy alcohol use among U.S. adults decreases with age, from 15.6 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds to 1.6 percent aged 65 or older. Heavy drinking is defined as five or more drinks in one setting on at least five occasions during the past month.

Genetics can't explain that rate of decline, Peele said, but changing values can. As people leave behind the excesses of youth and settle down to raise families and launch careers, meeting those responsibilities takes precedence over succumbing to an urge to let loose, he said.

December 30, 2007

Addiction versus Redemption

Should you change some aspect of your personality or behavior, or should you honor it?  Can you really change basic things about yourself?  Although both fictional tales and documentaries often make fundamental change seem both readily achievable and instantaneously rewarding, there are few people and few aspects of life for which this is true.

Thus our society values affirmation equally with change, as expressed by those annoying little books sold near cash registers at book stores.  And then there is Stuart Smalley’s (aka Al Franken) mantra, “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!”  In other words, there is much about ourselves we should appreciate and be proud of.

Stuart – like many of us – is beset by deep anxiety and doubt.  His biography also reports that he is a member of several 12-step groups.  Like Stuart, we may often fight with ourselves about which aspects of ourselves we should reject and which need to be affirmed.  And it’s no laughing matter.

The same issues underlie people’s ability to overcome addiction.  Americans have always approached addiction spiritually.  That is, even as HBO and the National Institute on Drug Abuse trumpet a new age of addiction as brain disease, their narratives are of redemption – of people saved from the brink of hell by God, love, revelation, and personal commitment.

This is why the primary therapy for addiction in the United States is the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, with its submission to a higher power (which courts have ruled represents the Christian divinity) and the need to make amends.  If there were some medical cure for addiction, there would be no need for AA, despites its own view of addiction as a disease.

But the 12 steps will always be with us – as will addiction. The paradox of addiction is that it provides people with something they find essential, yet that harms them and that they wish to change.  And this is the time of year when we struggle most with this paradox.  Christmas and New Year’s are holidays that focus on the need for change, at the same time as they call forth addictions to alcohol, food, and medications for depression.

Scrooge is a man addicted to money in Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.” After being visited by the ghosts of Christmas, he turns over a new leaf on Christmas day, resolving forever to honor the holiday, to be charitable, and to love his family.

Scrooge made a commitment to change his life based on a revelation.  He has certain advantages in adhering to this change.  He has ample money, nearby relatives who lead their own substantial lives, even a business where he can implement humane employment policies.  And so we are confident he can maintain the resolve he manifests on Christmas day.

But most addicted people are getting something from their addiction that they find hard to relinquish.  It is increasingly cold gruel to be sure, but their addiction often provides flashes of warmth, comfort, and fun.  Only a sure promise of something better will make a person give these things up.  Think how hard it is to find something to offer a homeless alcoholic to supplant his drinking.

People’s existing habits provide them with rewards they often regard as the best they’re going to get, making quitting tough.  Every religion and spiritual system addresses people’s struggle to figure out what to let go and what to retain in their lives.  AA’s serenity prayer expresses it this way: “God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

But what needs changing and what you should instead accept and appreciate about yourself are sometimes hopelessly confounded.  What if being assertive gets you important benefits, but turns people off?  What if your emotional openness creates trust and intimacy, while often leaving you feeling violated and hurt?

Alas, the two sides of such habits – and our lives – are often beyond humans’ poor ability to disentangle.

Stanton Peele is a psychologist in New Jersey and author of Addiction-Proof Your Child.

December 24, 2007

Should Barack Obama have Admitted that He Used Drugs?

In his 1996 autobiography, "Dreams from My Father," presidential candidate Barack Obama admitted using alcohol and drugs in high school. Obama was unusually frank compared with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – to name just two politicians reputed to have used drugs.

Barack ObamaObama raised the issue again in November in Manchester, New Hampshire. In response to a request by Central High School’s principal that he reveal his “human side,” Obama discussed his high school years in Hawaii: “I was kind of a goof-off. . . . There were times when I got into drinking and experimented with drugs." He added that he had righted himself to become a “grind” by the end of college.

The issue reared its head again recently when an influential New Hampshire Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter, Bill Shaheen, said Obama’s drug use made him vulnerable to attacks from Republicans. Shaheen quickly retracted his remarks, then resigned, but voters' attention was directed to Obama’s teen behavior just weeks before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary.

Are there many prominent people who, like Obama, used drugs when young? Bush and Clinton are likely only the tip of the iceberg of public officials who have sampled illicit substances. According to the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future Survey, in 2007 about half of high school seniors had used an illegal drug. As the baseball steroid scandal indicates, drug use is widespread throughout America.

Of course, alcohol is always with us. In 2007 more than seven of ten seniors had consumed alcohol, and well over half (55%) had been drunk. In fact, 44 percent drank alcohol in the past month, and almost three in ten had been drunk in that time. These figures rise and fall over the years: In 1980, the spring of Obama’s eighteenth year, two-thirds of seniors had used an illicit drug and more than 70 percent had consumed alcohol in the last month.

One goal is to simply disguise the massive drug and underage alcohol use by Americans over the years. Presumably few of the more than 110 million Americans who, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, have used illicit drugs volunteer this information. And since the overwhelming majority of them – like Bush, Clinton, and Obama – have grown up to be productive citizens, there’s no need to know about their youthful misconduct.

This is the logic of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney: “It’s just not a good idea for people running for president of the United States, who potentially could be the role model for a lot of people, to talk about their personal failings while they were kids, because it opens the doorway to other kids thinking, ‘Well I can do that too,’” Romney said.

Subtracting the about 20 million current drug users from the 110+ million who have ever used, then almost 100 million Americans have left drugs behind. Neural research indicates that adolescent brains program kids to try risky behaviors. It is unlikely we will soon prevent large numbers of teens from drinking and using drugs. Can it be good for them to learn that as they mature they can, and will, straighten out and fly right?

This is the opposite of the approach of nearly all school drug education programs. Here the logic is to troop in people who have ruined their lives by their drug use and drinking as object lessons in the evils of sin. But there are reasons to believe that kids reject negative messages from figures like these, and that purely scare tactics don’t work.

Research on effective drug resistance programs finds that the best ways to prevent substance abuse are for kids to develop skills, feel good about themselves, have positive peers, and look forward to their futures.

From this perspective, Obama’s message that he briefly stumbled but then righted himself to achieve success may be just what the doctor ordered!

Stanton Peele, Ph.D., is a psychologist and addiction expert. He has written Addiction-Proof Your Child.

December 15, 2007

Thee, Hypocrites: Interview with the Christian Candidates

We have with us today three self-professed Christian candidates for president – Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and John Edwards.

Host: Gentlemen, welcome.

All: Good to be here.

Host: Let me start with you, Mr. Huckabee. In 1992, you said, “homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle.” Do you still believe this?

Huckabee: I might put it differently but, yes.

Host: So your God – by the way, do you feel He is the one true God? And is your God a “He?” Anyhow, is God equally concerned with people dying in Darfur and the sinfulness of homosexuality?

Huckabee: I can’t grade God’s concerns.

Host: You stated that God was behind your recent surge in the polls. Do you feel that God dissed Sam Brownback, and that’s why he dropped out of the race?

Huckabee: I can’t say whether God likes Sam – I can only say He really likes me.

Host:  Mr. Huckabee, what about all the gifts you accepted as governor, and registering at Target when you left office so people could furnish your house?

Huckabee: The Good Lord provides!

Host: No, I meant, you shop at Target?

Mr. Romney, both you and Mr. Huckabee support a constitutional amendment banning gay and lesbian marriage. Going this far indicates you feel very strongly that God dislikes gays. Didn’t Jesus love and protect the most despised among us?

Romney: The sanctity of marriage is a basic precept of Christianity!

Host: I know you had a change of heart about stem cell research and abortion rights, which you now oppose. Did you also have a revelation that made you turn against homosexuals, since you supported gay rights in Massachusetts?

Romney: I’m not against homosexuals. I just don’t think that God gives them the same rights as the rest of us.

Host: As for revelations, in 1978, Mormon leader Spencer Kimball announced God told him that blacks could now enter the priesthood. What made God so open-minded a century after He told Joseph Smith that black people descended from Cain?

Romney: I have supported several African Americans for the priesthood.

Host: What about women – why doesn’t God feel they deserve to become Mormon priests?

Romney: Why don’t you ask the Catholic candidates that question? They’ve diminished women a lot longer than we have.

Host: Mr. Edwards, you told beliefnet that, unlike John Kerry, Faith (they capitalize “Faith”) affects your decision-making.

Edwards: My faith informs everything I think and do. I believe Jesus would hate that we ignore the plight of those less fortunate than we are. At my Web site, I detail my “plan to build one America” so we aren’t separated by wealth and privilege.

Host: Your family recently moved into what tax officials say is the most valuable property in your county. Your house is 28,000 square feet, including a separate recreation building with a basketball court.

Edwards: What’s your point?

Host: It seems that you’re isolating yourself. Your house sits in the middle of a 102-acre estate posted with “No Trespassing” signs. Wasn’t Jesus all about being with common people?

Edwards: I earned my massive fortune by defending common people against powerful interests.

Host: Do you feel your kids need a recreational facility of their own so that they don’t have to go to public gyms?

Edwards: Unfortunately, we can’t be with regular people.

Host: I confess, I’m not a Christian. But I couldn’t devastate that much of the earth for my personal use no matter how much money I had.

Edwards: I don’t see it that way. My family and I deserve such a nice crib because I’ve helped so many people. Jesus wants that for me.

Host: Ohhh . . .I see time is up. Gentlemen – thank you for lifting the presidential debate to such a high spiritual plane!

Alan Keyes: You never called on me! I am the sword of God – may he strike you all down – like I smote my gay daughter!

Stanton Peele is a lawyer and psychologist with no pretense to understanding the minds of religious people.

December 12, 2007

Note to the MacArthur Foundation: Here’s What Addiction Is

The search for the source of addiction, illustrated by PET scans of cocaine users’ brains performed by Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and others is heating up. (Reminder: until the late 1980s, pharmacologists told us cocaine was not addictive.) Some neuroscientists claim we will cure addiction within 10 years. This has led to the emergency creation by the MacArthur Foundation of the "Law & Neuroscience Project" in which “groups of scholars and legal experts will address the topics of addiction and brain abnormalities and. . . criminal responsibility.”

A fundamental reason for our bizarre incomprehension, where addiction increases while we point to images of the brains of drug users, is the misunderstanding of addiction. This modern neurochemical basis for addiction is 30 years old or more. In 1977, Richard Restak (until recently president of the American Neuropsychiatric Association) announced: “it's hard to leave out the exclamation points when you are talking about a veritable philosopher's stone—a group of substances that hold out the promise of alleviating, or even eliminating, such age-old medical bugaboos as drug addiction.”

I explained why this was wrong then; I explained why it was wrong ten years ago. If I’m alive 30 years from now, I will be able to explain our failures to impact addiction at that time. But here’s the essence: to the extent that we accept and excuse addiction as a brain disease, we will have more addiction. To assist the MacArthur project, here is the experiential model of addiction, from The Meaning of Addiction.

People become addicted to experiences. The addictive experience is the totality of effect produced by an involvement; it stems from pharmacological and physiological sources but takes its ultimate form from cultural and individual constructions of experience. The most recognizable form of an addiction is an extreme, dysfunctional attachment to an experience that is acutely harmful to a person, but that is an essential part of the person’s ecology and that the person cannot relinquish. This state is the result of a dynamic social-learning process in which the person finds an experience rewarding because it remedies urgently felt needs, while in the long run it damages the person’s capacity to cope and ability to generate stable sources of environmental gratification.

Because addiction is finally a human phenomenon, it engages every aspect of a person’s functioning, starting with the rewards (as interpreted by the individual) that an involvement provides and the individual’s need for these rewards. The motivation to pursue the involvement, as compared with other involvements, is a function of an additional layer of social, situational, and personality variables. All of these elements are in flux as an individual grows up, changes environments, develops more mature coping mechanisms, loses and gains new opportunities for satisfaction, and is supported or undermined in forming new outlooks and self-conceptions.

It ain’t brain science. It’s about our humanity, consciousness, options, and beliefs.

December 8, 2007

To Live or Die in D.C.

Whenever science contradicts religion about how to care for human beings, you can be sure that the Bush Administration will favor religion. In most cases, so will Congress. This has been proven by Congress’ opposition to funding for programs that provide clean needles to heroin addicts.

Since needle exchange programs have been shown to reduce H.I.V. infection without increasing addictions rates, the Surgeon General, Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have supported them. They had to, if they were to be taken seriously as public health bodies.

Likewise, every major city in the United States today supports needle exchanges. In 2007, New Jersey became the last state to allow its cities to join the rest of the nation in this regard. One reason for the delay was the intransigent opposition to such programs of former Republican governor Christine Whitman. Despite her own AIDS advisory group’s recommendation, Whitman “didn’t want to send the wrong message.”

I do need to clarify: every American city supports needle exchanges except Washington D.C., which is barred from providing funding for clean needles by Congress. Oh, Washington is also the American city with the most new AIDS cases – 128 cases per 100,000 people in 2005, ten times the national average. In D.C., one in 20 people is H.I.V.-infected. D.C. has the highest rate of pediatric infection in the country.

Congress just doesn’t want people using drugs, because drugs are wrong. So they deny injecting addicts clean needles, which would prevent them from sharing syringes with H.I.V.-infected individuals. Many addicts pass the virus along to partners during sex, and children receive it from their mothers. Not to depress you, but they then get the horrible disease of AIDS, most often dying of it.

By the way, Congress is now controlled by Democrats. They seem no more anxious to support the distribution of clean needles. Congress, in forbidding federal funding of needle exchange programs, initially allowed the president to override the ban based on advice from DHHS or CDC (this option no longer exists). In 1998 secretary of DHHS Donna Shalala concluded, “A meticulous scientific review has now proven that needle exchange programs can reduce the transmission of H.I.V. and save lives without losing ground in the battle against illegal drugs.”

President Bill Clinton nonetheless declined to permit needle exchange funding. We can wonder how leading candidates like his wife Hillary, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Barack Obama, et al. would deal with this issue. It’s a good bet that they will never be asked during a debate, and that they would certainly never answer if asked.

In any case, we already know how two of them would respond. Rudy Giuliani, who disregards facts and science with the best of them, stridently opposed needle exchanges as New York City’s mayor. His reason: it defied his policy of “zero tolerance.” As a result, his staff suppressed his own AIDS Policy Coordination Committee’s 1998 report recommending expanded support for the programs.

But Bill Richardson would likely allow such funding. Governor Richardson shows a remarkable pattern of accepting the best public health advice in devising his state’s drug policies. In 2007 he supported New Mexico’s passage of the nation’s first legislation protecting those who seek medical attention for drug overdose victims. This innovative law allows companions of those who overdose to immediately seek medical attention for them without fear of legal penalties.

The policy of reducing the risk of injury and illness for drug users – a sizable group after all – is called harm reduction. It can mean the difference between living and dying. Estimates of those infected with H.I.V. during the Whitman and subsequent New Jersey administrations run into the tens of thousands. We can reflect on why so many had to die in order to send the correct message about drugs.

[Added Dec. 27, 2007] On December 26, 2007, President George W. Bush signed a Congressional bill lifting this ban for the District of Columbia.

Stanton Peele is a senior fellow at the Drug Policy Alliance. His new book, in which he discusses harm reduction for adolescents, is Addiction-Proof Your Child.

December 5, 2007

Want Your Child to Be a Genius? Here’s How

Three men who sought to be literary or artistic giants coalesced in our consciousness in November of 2007. Norman Mailer died at age 84. The third volume of John Richardson’s biography A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, was published. And Todd Haynes’ offbeat biopic of Bob Dylan, “I’m Not There,” appeared. These men’s joint experiences tell us a lot about genius, and how parents may create it.

* * *

Mailer was the least successful in establishing artistic immortality, although he certainly was noticed. The author – who sought the mantle of literary supremacy like a boxer fighting for the heavyweight championship – produced wildly uneven books. Unfortunately, arguably his greatest work of fiction, The Naked and the Dead, was his first, published at age 25 in 1948. Nonetheless, Mailer went on to virtually invent a new kind of personal journalism which evolved into a series of idiosyncratic books combining fiction, reportage, history, biography – and, well, just Mailer’s crazy imagination.

When he wasn’t writing literary-journalistic works, Mailer wrote, directed, and starred in plays and movies, ran for mayor of New York, and married six times and produced eight children (and adopted another). But, as much as anything, Mailer is known for his pugilistic, combative ways, taking the form of both physical confrontations (when younger) and classic run-ins with the likes of Gore Vidal and Arthur Miller. Mailer’s attitude is captured in Miller’s description of their meeting, where a youthful Mailer claimed he could write better plays than Miller, already one of America’s premier playwrights.

* * *

Unlike Mailer, Picasso was anointed king of the art world by others, in all the dazzling variety his work took. In his review of Richardson’s third volume, Jed Perl notes, “The art of these years is a wild, glorious ride, encompassing the Cubist geometries of ‘Three Musicians,’ the neoclassical portraits of family and friends, the eerie beach paintings with their vaginal cabanas and bathers composed of piled-up bones, and the most daringly experimental of all Picasso’s sculpture, the welded iron constructions that bring an unprecedented calligraphic freedom to three-dimensional form.” Picasso’s name is the one most associated in the 20th century with “artistic genius.”

Like Mailer (although their names can hardly be put in the same sentence), Picasso was competitive, even combative (although this didn’t rise to the level of Mailer’s actual fist fights and assaults on women). Setting out to be king of the art world, Picasso never ceased producing work to justify this label for seven decades. Although he could be pathetically insecure in his relationships with women, he thought of himself as a creative force on a par with God. Less confrontational than Mailer, he instead connived and politicked to become king, courting backers like Gertrude Stein and innumerable art dealers and patrons. He also set up friends to become targets for criticism for stylistic innovations they shared with him.

But Picasso revolutionized modern art. As Richardson noted in the second volume of his biography, The Cubist Rebel, Picasso rejected the “art-for-art’s-sake shimmer of impressionistic light effects.” He also dismissed classical perspective in order “to take full possession of things” by being “able to represent an object from any number of viewpoints at the same time.” Thus, Picasso made possible “the Dadaists, the surrealists, even the pop artists. No question about it, cubism engendered every major modernist movement.”

* * *

Unlike Picasso and Mailer, Dylan avoided direct claims about himself and his work. The title “I’m Not There” bespeaks Dylan’s existential evasiveness, his refusal to be pinned down. This is in part due to Dylan’s chameleon-like mimicry and adaptability – as when he took on his Woody Guthrie persona, wrote political protest songs, and appeared with Joan Baez in coffee houses. The six actors who depict Dylan each assume some facet of this monumentally split personality, from fundamentalist Christian, to outlaw troubadour, to cowboy hero, to rock star, to Dadaist poet, to lost-soul druggie, and on and on. This leads to the question constantly thrown at Dylan: Was his early political activism in songs like “Blowing in the Wind” genuine, or was it a pose? Dylan’s answer is that he and his music exist beyond immediate political and social concerns – his songs are art immemorial, ubiquitous, eternal, without boundaries, personality, or ethnicity.

* * *

What do these three men have in common? All are incredibly ambitious, self-centered, self-mythologizing. All refused to be defined by others – indeed, to accept a fixed identity of any sort. All worked extremely hard to produce a never-ending stream of art work in different forms. Dylan was noteworthy for his musical evolution from folk, to rock and roll, to spirituals, to country, to arty and alternative, to music mixing and matching each of these genres.

The single formative event in Dylan’s career was his unveiling of himself as a rocker, “going electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, an appearance that shocked and outraged fans. According to Tom Piazza, “some of Dylan's own friends and mentors reacted as if his performance were a personal attack.”  His willingness at age 24 to reject his established musical identity and acknowledged primacy in one form of popular music is stunning, a testament to artistic self-assertion almost beyond comprehension. But Picasso and Mailer could understand it.

Picasso “invented” cubism in his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, depicting five prostitutes with cubist bodies and Iberian and African masks. It was a break with everything that went before it, introducing whores as subjects, integrating primitive and modern art, and radically reshaping traditional perspective and form. According to Richardson, “Work on Demoiselles condemned the twenty-five-year-old Picasso to a life of seclusion. Although friends sympathized with his aspirations, none of them was capable of understanding the pictorial form these aspirations took.” Begun in 1907, it was not exhibited until 1916, and wasn’t “recognized as a great revolutionary achievement” until the 1920s. “In 1907 the only person to realize its importance was the artist himself.”

* * *

What nerve, what hubris, what chutzpah. What excessive pride and ambition – and guts! On Mailer’s death, Christopher Hitchens (a man himself well beyond ordinary limits of confidence and ambition) wrote in Slate that Mailer “continually ran a great risk that very few are willing to run. I mean the danger of simply seeming ridiculous. . . . But without chutzpah, we would have had no Norman Mailer to appreciate in the first place. He would try everything at least once, from acting to directing to boxing . . ., and if it didn't work out, hey, it had been worth taking the chance.”

And then there was Mailer’s misogyny, represented by his stabbing his second wife, Adele, near the heart. Although Mailer stopped his serial marriages and affairs when he married the much younger Norris Church in his late fifties, his family life was convoluted, volatile, and dysfunctional. And that description works fairly well for Picasso and Dylan as well – as does the misogyny tag. Picasso’s portraits of women are a tour of bitterness, hatred, and subjugation. As a result, when Richardson met Picasso at the age of 72, the artist’s personal life was desolate (although he married yet again).

Dylan’s marriage is one core of “I’m Not There.” The movie depicts his wife as a caring woman who gave him two children and whom Dylan pushes away during his rock star phase. Their alienation culminates in a painful lunch with friends during which the Dylan character (portrayed by Heath Ledger as a movie star) denigrates women in front of his own wife and another appalled married couple. Dylan was already notorious for dumping Joan Baez after using her to launch his career. While the misogyny of these three men is repugnant, we can’t expect – or wish – them to be any other way. Richardson almost equates Picasso’s misogyny with his greatness – the artist no sooner established a stable relationship or form of artwork then he destroyed it.

* * *

Of course, it doesn’t matter what we think – Mailer, Picasso, and Dylan wouldn’t do what we wanted anyhow. That is, after, the heart of their genius (combined with their incredible gifts and incessant work). So, how did Mrs. Mailer, Picasso, and Zimmerman create such monoliths? And would a modern parent wish to recreate their (the mothers’) genius? Well, perhaps they would, with some qualifications.

Here are six rules for doing so, based on these cases:

  1. Encourage your kids to think, write, draw, and sing freely, wildly, and reward the results.  Don’t reject different ideas – “That’s very creative. I like that.”
  2. Make sure they have time, materials, place, and peace to produce. “Why don’t you work on your project now, darling? Let me see what you’ve done in an hour.”
  3. Guard them against criticism from less imaginative kids and adults – “Don’t worry about what others think or say. Just use your skill and imagination.”
  4. Don’t be afraid to tell them the sky’s the limit. “You can be an artist or writer or singer – maybe a great one.”
  5. But – and here’s where you can top Mrs. Mailer, Picasso, and Zimmerman – teach them to respect others. “Do what you do best – they’re doing what they can do.”
  6. And your daughters can succeed as well as your sons! Of course, don’t forget to tell your children: “I respect you – please respect me, and everyone else.”

Stanton Peele is a psychologist. His most recent book is “Addiction-Proof Your Child.”

December 1, 2007

Why I Like DSM-IV

DSM-IV (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), authored by expert panels for the American Psychiatric Association (I was a member of the Substance Use Disorder advisory group) is under attack from the left AND the right.

From the left, Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield have written The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder. The authors argue that DMS-IV misconstrues ordinary negative reactions to typical life events as endogenous depression. But, in the New York Review of Books, Frederick Crews adds: “The Loss of Sadness amounts to a relentless dismantling of the DSM – one that seems confined at first to a single inadequacy, only to blossom into an exposure of the manual's top-to-bottom arbitrariness.”

From the right, the directors of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have written a plea to return to the term “addiction” – which was replaced by “dependence” in DSM-IV – in DSM-5. The authors’ objection is that dependence is a normal consequence of relying on drugs prescribed to improve functioning – addiction is instead a pathological state of destructive drug use. (I also prefer the term “addiction.” But I believe many users of medications like antidepressants are addicted to them even if they use the drugs as prescribed.)

Yet I have come to rely on and utilize DSM-IV for assessing substance use disorders (which may not be too surprising given my participation in their formulation). I do this in several guises. In one case, I diagnose – formally or informally – people I treat or coach for substance abuse problems. In this role, the seven significant clinical symptoms – the presence of three of which qualify someone for a diagnosis of substance dependence – amount to adding up how many serious problems a person is having. I find it a helpful guide for patients – I often ask them to do their own diagnoses. Sometimes, my point is that they don’t actually qualify for one.

But where I most welcome DSM-IV is when I play a forensic role in evaluating assessments of people who have hired me to contest a diagnosis, usually by a treatment center, often after medical professionals have been forced into one under threat of losing their licenses. Of course, the programs themselves claim to be doing DSM-IV diagnoses. But, in actuality, they are mainly applying Alcoholics Anonymous criteria because so many of their key professionals are themselves in recovery through AA.

Thus, they identify symptoms which do not appear in DSM-IV. Inappropriate DSM-IV diagnoses are standard for treatment programs, which I am able to point out thanks to DSM-IV! For example, these assessments will often refer to a prior dependence diagnosis, then claim the person has relapsed since they are again drinking. But, per my role in that volume, there is no mention of use as a sign of relapse, but only use leading to “clinically significant impairment or distress.” DSM thus takes the radical position that use of any drug can be controlled, including even following a diagnosis of dependence.

There are issues in utilizing the document. For example, is it a problem when a spouse objects to a person’s use, even if the use is otherwise unproblematic? That is a fight many spouses have, but it seems unfair to call someone dependent (or a substance abuser) solely because they are spatting with their spouse! And it is typical for those using DSM-IV to rope people into treatment (or seeking custody of children, et al.) to escalate insignificant symptoms into being “clinically significant impairment or distress.”

Maybe they can fix that in DSM-5. Oh, I haven’t been invited to participate in the deliberations for that volume.

November 28, 2007

Top Five Reasons CBS News is Full of S

CBS ran a series on prescription drug abuse, especially focusing on young people, which it calls “Generation Rx.” I deal extensively with generation Rx in Addiction-Proof Your Child.

The November 27th show dealt with accessibility – “Right there in the family medicine cabinet.” The show ended with the remedy -- “Lock up your medicines. These are dangerous, tempting substances to inquisitive children,” she (Sgt. Lisa McElhaney of the Broward County Sheriff’s office) said. “Don’t leave them where they accessible to kids (sic).”

I wondered how many people watching this show actually put their medicine cabinet under lock and key. Did Katie Couric, who put this crap out on the air? I don’t think so – I wouldn’t guess as many as one in a hundred people with children would do so.

Talk about useless recommendations. In fact, if someone did follow this ridiculous advice, here are my top five thoughts (and perhaps Katie’s) about them:

  1. They sure don’t trust their kids.
  2. What the hell do they have in their medicine cabinet?
  3. You mean every time they go to the medicine cabinet, they have to find their keys?
  4. Can’t their kids find their keys, if they are that motivated?
  5. How about shackling the kids in bed at night instead, so they can’t sneak around?

November 23, 2007

The Mind of (Alleged) Wife Killers

When O.J. Simpson was on the lam from the police following the murder of his wife Nicole Simpson and her companion Ron Goldman, his friend and attorney Robert Kardashian read a public letter from Simpson.

Even – or especially – if Simpson’s claim of innocence was true, the letter was stunning for its total absence of regard for Nicole, whom he claimed he still loved. Instead, he argued that their fights and her calls to the police represented "no more than what every long-term relationship experiences." He even suggested that she caused him to assault her. Simpson displayed no concern that his children were now motherless.

We are reminded of Simpson’s baffling attitude by the television appearances of Illinois police sergeant (now resigned) Drew Peterson. Peterson is a suspect in two potential homicides involving the October 28th disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, and the earlier death, originally ruled accidental, of his then-estranged third wife Kathleen Savio.

Peterson continually denigrated his two former spouses in his November 14 interview, sans attorney, with Today co-host Matt Lauer. He described the two relationships almost identically. At first his marriages with two beautiful women were exciting and romantic, but then due to their circumstances – the death of Stacy’s sister, Kathleen giving birth – the women changed. According to Peterson, Stacy lost her religion and had a breakdown requiring medication.

Peterson surmised that Kathleen’s “hormones kicked in” following child birth. When Lauer reported that Stacy told relatives she wanted to divorce him, Peterson claimed this was due to “her menstrual cycle.” Both women, he said, were on “emotional roller coasters” because of their troubled and abusive childhoods. Peterson’s primary defense in the disappearance of Stacy was his assertion – without evidence – that she had deserted him for another man.

Asked why he didn’t enter Kathleen’s home when she was discovered dead, Peterson retorted he couldn’t because “Kathy was always accusing me of things” – baselessly of course. As for Stacy, Peterson reported their only physical altercation was when Stacy hit him with a frozen steak. On another occasion, she came out of a pool swinging after he jokingly threw her in.

Finally, when Lauer asked if he had anything to say to his absent wife if she were watching, the ex-cop looked into the camera and, with a sneering laugh, intoned, “Come home. Tell people where you are. And that’s all I can say.” “Stop abusing me” was the subtext.

Peterson’s affect throughout the interview was bizarrely cool and self-centered. Although Peterson – after being asked by Lauer – said that Stacy was a great mom to their two small children, he expressed no concern that they were without their mother. He could offer no explanation for why a loving mom would leave her toddlers behind without a word. He said he tells the two- and four-year-old that mom’s “gone on vacation.”

Lauer confronted Peterson with his strangely detached demeanor. Typically, Peterson shifted attention to how he was being abused. Peterson claimed he was “being hounded by the media” who are making him look guilty. He was “doing I all can, my God, to get the media off my back.” The thing he was most worried that the public needed to know about him, since he was being portrayed as so serious, was that: “I’ve been a jokester all my life – this isn’t me.”

Peterson was preoccupied throughout the Lauer interview with his needs, including acquiring legal help. He asked for lawyers to come forward to let him know “what you can do for me.” Lauer asked Peterson to look him in the eye “and tell me you had nothing to do” with the two cases. When Peterson readily complied, Lauer commented that, in Peterson’s situation, he “would be a little more rattled.”

Drew Peterson’s best defense is that people simply cannot imagine being as cool as he is, including attacking a dead woman and the missing mother of his children, if he were guilty. But this is because people can’t comprehend that such killers are able to justify any behavior because they feel they are the aggrieved party. Since they don’t accept any responsibility for their actions, they can look people in the eye and deny that they have done anything wrong.

November 19, 2007

ADHD – Altering Kids' Lives Without Addicting Them for Life

An article entitled “Bad Behavior Does Not Doom Pupils” in the New York Times (November 13) reviewed two major studies. One found that most kids diagnosed with ADHD overcome the problem and perform normally by late adolescence. The other agreed that ADHD was a maturational problem, and not a brain “deficit or flaw.”

Although the research found that most such children are medicated, this worked by enabling kids to progress normally, then to emerge from their problems. It also suggested that educators find novel ways to teach such children, considering that ADHD was not a permanent impairment but one that would be compensated for and overcome.

Noteworthy was this passage: “Doctors cannot diagnose attention deficit or any other psychiatric disorder with imaging technology, in part because brains vary so much that a single series of images can seldom reveal who has a disorder. The new findings suggest that searching for a clear abnormality or flaw is the wrong approach, at least for attention problems.”

In Addiction-Proof Your Child (Chapter 8), I address the issues of children and adolescents diagnosed with emotional disorders. I recommend addressing these problems, of course, while recognizing that “a number of therapeutic drugs, like antidepressants and Ritalin, canbe addictive, sometimes highly so.” Parents have to be aware of the danger that children can focus their entire identities around their disorders, along with the medications they come to feel make them “okay.”

Instead, I describe a case in which a mother navigated her son through early adolescence with the help of medication, following which he fully blossomed. “Ellen had done a remarkable thing, helping her son to progress from depression and an outsider’s position to become a well-adjusted and successful high school student. What remained to be seen was whether he needed continued medication – perhaps for his entire life – in order to maintain his new self, or whether he could now manage his life on his own.” I recommended otherwise – that he could handle life on its own terms from there on in.

I summarize:

Ignoring pain and trauma is not helpful. But neither is labeling temporary problems and misbehavior, no matter how disturbing, as lifelong diseases. Your first response should not always be to send children to a treatment center. As a parent, you should accept that children have different personalities and skills. Don’t rush to label such differences as disorders, even when they disadvantage children. If you do decide on therapy, you need to be aware that medication is not the only route. And in any course of therapy, you need to remain involved.

November 14, 2007

“Pettest of My Pets”
The Inner Worlds of Creative Art, Friendship, and Failed Recovery

Novelist Ann Patchett’s book, Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, is a tribute to her friendship with the poet, Lucy Grealy. It describes two brilliant women with very different personalities and approaches to life, yet who shared a remarkable intellectual and emotional sensibility that made them intimate friends for life. Both are beautiful writers.

Patchett labels herself as an ant to Grealy’s grasshopper. Grealy actually achieved renown first of the two with her memoir, Autobiography of a Face, describing a childhood cancer that removed part of her jaw, and which she strived to remedy through a series of operations. Patchett’s best seller, Bel Canto, her fourth novel, came years later.

But Grealy never settled into a writing career and wandered all over the lot deciding if she was a poet, novelist, memoirist, essayist, screen writer – even doodler. She was often at loose ends – leading to her partying, never-ending search for love, and ultimately a heroin habit. (Of course, we cannot judge the physical and emotional pain of her disfigurement.)

Patchett, meanwhile, approached writing as a workaday task, producing her novels on a schedule. She tried to help Grealy by getting her to focus on her work, avoid negative vocalizations (like “why doesn’t anybody love me”), and simply have good clean fun (Patchett drank regularly and moderately with Grealy – they danced, rode horses, ate donuts, and talked).

Grealy was a failure of the addiction treatment system – AA and the 12 steps were not for her:

Lucy had always wanted to be in AA. “It would be such a great way to meet people,” she said. “Plus I’d have someplace I had to go every day.” She had started going to meetings at several points in her life but without any imperative, like being an alcoholic, they always wound up boring her. Meetings bored her now that she was supposed to go to Narcotics Anonymous. . . . [And] she said there was no point in her going to AA because she wasn’t about to give up drinking if she had to give up drugs.

. . . .

Lucy stayed in rehab out in Connecticut for a while and then went back to Stephen’s to do the rest of the program as an outpatient. She was as sullen as a ninth-grader sent to summer school to repeat algebra. . . . “It’s complete bullshit, the whole twelve-step thing, ‘We believe in a higher power.’ I just said to them, ‘You can’t expect me to believe there’s a God just because you tell me there’s a God.’ I’m supposed to put aside a thousand years of philosophy just because some social worker tells me that there’s a God?”

As I said, Lucy Grealy was not a good 12-step candidate. But the only response those who loved her could make was: “So now you’re the smartest person in rehab?” What they – otherwise brilliant people like Patchett – meant was: “This is the only way to do it so you just have to believe that bullshit like everybody else.” Instead, Lucy Grealy needed an approach that respected her values and that accepted she could drink, and that she could use needed pain killers with monitoring.

Tragically, Grealy died soon after failing treatment. As is usually the case, “while she had heroin in her system, it was not a lethal dosage.” (She was recovering from the effects of another surgery and was on a host of pain killers.) So, of course, “her death was ruled an accidental overdose.”

“Pettest of my pets” was a loving salutation the women used in writing one another. And Lucy Grealy breaks your heart like she broke Patchett’s.

November 6, 2007

If you believe what you are told

that alcohol is bad for you, read no farther. Your worldview could be disturbed.

Five healthiest and least healthy states (America’s Health Rankings, by United Health Foundation, Partnership for Prevention, and American Public Health Association):


1. Vermont
2. Minnesota
3. Hawaii
4. New Hampshire
5. Connecticut


46. Tennessee
47. Oklahoma
48. Arkansas
49. Louisiana
50. Mississippi

States’ rankings for drinking (Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System):

Highest percentage of drinkers

1. Wisconsin (69% drinkers – 12th in health ranking)
2. Vermont (65%)
2. Rhode Island (65% – 11th health ranking)
4. Connecticut (63%)
5. New Hampshire (63%)
5. Massachusetts (63% – 9th health ranking)

Lowest percentage of drinkers

46. Mississippi (36%)
47. West Virginia (34% – 44th health ranking)
48. Kentucky (33% – 43rd health ranking)
49. Tennessee (30%)
50. Utah (26% – 6th health ranking)

In all of the healthiest five states, a majority drinks. In all the unhealthiest states, a minority drinks. The United Health Foundation’s health ranking of the states is subtitled, “A Call to Action for People & Their Communities.” Should they call for more people to drink? When the CDC created its behavioral risk surveillance system, did it mean to identify low drinking rates as a health risk for states?

November 5, 2007

The Only Free Person in America

Sometimes I feel like the only free person in America.

That is, although many question – and some virulently oppose – the disease theory of alcoholism and addiction, only I can speak my mind freely on this topic.

I was a forensic expert to an attorney for a successful physician in a major medical center. This physician was accused by his soon-to-be-ex-wife of alcoholism and was forced to enter a prominent treatment center. There, he refused to concede that he was an alcoholic or to accept the “spiritual,” 12-step program. Negative consequences ensued, and he sued. His lawyer – who was extremely dedicated and smart – moved for and was granted a summary judgment against the medical board. This attorney argued that it was a violation of the doctor’s right of privacy for a medical board to punish him for actions which – if true – occurred in his private life and never impacted his medical practice.

When I asked whether the physician wanted to sue the board or the treatment center to make this case public, he declined. Why endanger a highly successful – and lucrative and satisfying – medical career to make a point? This, from a man who felt so strongly that his rights were being violated that he refused to simply go along with the 12-step principles he was force fed in order to preserve his license.

I work with a prominent cleric, a man with connections reaching into the highest levels of government. His religious orientation of self-determination was threatened when he entered the intensive outpatient program (IOP) at Morristown Memorial Hospital, which was typically completely 12-step oriented and run by a recovering AA automaton. He described incredulously the insensitivity of this woman when a female group member reported having a glass of champagne at a wedding. The woman running the program sarcastically asked for reactions from the group, who took turns lambasting the female participant. She left crying and never returned. Another successful outcome!

I asked this man, a gentleman and a scholar who couldn’t be more opposed to the 12-steps and this IOP on fundamental ethical grounds, whether he could communicate his feelings to those he knew in political power. He demurred. “I have a very visible public position to maintain,” he reminded me.

I know a woman who has bravely moved from her own 12-step recovery to become a motivational interviewing (MI) and a harm reduction (HR) therapist and teacher. (These are non-12-step treatment approaches that respect personal determination and recognize continued use but seek to minimize potential dangers of this use.) She encountered a major actor who was wrestling with “recovery” issues. When I asked her if she mentioned her own journey and current views, she said, “No, it didn’t seem appropriate to force my experience on him.” Yet, this woman had previously told me she fantasized about some show business figure rejecting the standard treatment programs in favor of seeking MI or HR treatment!

This, of course, reminds me of the most prominent 12-step quisling of all – James Frey. When Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces was first published, he appeared with me in 2002 on a John Stossel special, “Help Me, I Can't Help Myself.” There he declared AA and the 12 steps bullshit – as he did throughout his book. But by the time he appeared on Oprah, and was selected for her book club, there was no trace of his anti-12-step views – people who saw him with Oprah thought he was a standard recovery story. Amazingly, despite the best sellerdome of his book, no one (except Amy McCarley and I) has ever noted this.

So I guess America will go on for a few more decades in its perfect ignorance that AA and the 12 steps are not the only – or even often the preferred – option.

Stanton’s new book, Addiction-Proof Your Child tackles these issues for young Americans.

November 4, 2007

Values Precede Addiction – Britney’s White Trash Budget

My argument in Addiction-Proof Your Child is that people’s values and quality of life determine their likelihood of becoming addicted. People who value their time, their money, their health, the world and people around them, themselves are unlikely to become addicts.

In her court proceedings for custody of her children, Britney Spears outlines her monthly budget. She spends about $100,000 monthly on entertainment and “vacations.” She spends $5000 monthly on dining out (although she reportedly loves fast food). She spends about $50,000 in mortgages on two houses she maintains. She reports no savings or investments. Oh yes – she donates $500 a month to charity.

This budget reflects the life of a mother of two children whose highest value is partying – a high risk occupation for people with a substance abuse problem.


October 30, 2007

I Didn’t Get Kicked Out of the AA General Services Board Dinner
(but I’m not sure I’ll be welcomed back)

I have a tendency to get kicked out of events.

Earlier this year I was kicked out of Ethan Nadelmann’s (the nation’s leading drug policy reformer) fiftieth birthday party for talking too loudly during the birthday speeches. (Ethan and I have since kissed and made up.)

The summer before, I got kicked out of a meditation session run by Tony Robbins, the big-time motivational speaker. Robbins and his wife crashed a conference in Vancouver where I was given a lifetime achievement award (along with George Vaillant!). Robbins commandeered a panel of speakers at the conference (including Alan Marlatt), telling us he had something great to show us. It turned out to be a meditation session with Robbins and his wife (a gorgeous woman) putting their hands on our heads. After about 40 minutes, I started looking around. “Some people don’t have the tolerance for this,” Robbins whispered in my ear. “You can leave,” he said decisively.

So I approached the AA Service Board dinner with some trepidation. Invited by a mildly renegade Board member, I was seated with some of the non-alcoholic AA Board people. But I had trouble with one of them. He said the court system in Albany (NY) referred people to other groups along with AA, “as long as they insist on powerlessness.” I said, “Buddy, SMART doesn’t insist on powerlessness.” Then he fed me one of those AA bible-talk bromides: “All of the groups insist people are powerless – people don’t need a group when they have their drinking under control.” What?

There WAS a somewhat (actually remarkably) open-minded Canadian adherent of harm reduction who backed me up when I said AA followers in the U.S. were the major impediment to harm reduction approaches here, since they insisted on abstinence as the only solution. The first fellow again came in with an extraplanetary comment: “Treatment in the U.S. isn’t dominated by A.A.” I said, “95 percent of treatment programs are based on the 12 steps – like Hazelden and Betty Ford.” He then insisted Hazelden was devoid of the 12 steps!

But then the going got really rough. I asked an editor of the AA Grapevine (the publication that clues members in and solicits donations) what the major impediment to progress in dealing with alcohol was in the United States. She told a story about a guy who didn’t go to AA and who died, and I said – “You know that most people overcome alcoholism in the U.S. without AA or treatment, don’t you?” She, an editor of perhaps the most influential alcoholism rag in the world, had never heard of one such person! I said, “What percentage of people stick with AA.” She said “25 per cent are successful” (sure). I said, “You have no hope to offer the remaining three quarters!?!”

Things were going downhill. But the AA part of the meeting was starting, so I was saved from offending anyone else. There were three AA speakers. And I thought the speeches at Ethan’s birthday party were boring – at least they were talking about someone other than themselves! In case you don’t have the chance to attend many AA meetings, let me summarize: three deeply troubled people from dysfunctional families starting boozing as soon as they could drink and incurred one horror after another. Then they found AA and God, and their lives were saved. Now their careers, friends and families, and overall lives are great, glory be to God and their fellow AA members. . .applause.

Afterwards, the Canadian guy agreed they could have pulled the trap door on the speakers sooner. He and the head of a prominent theological seminary both agreed when I noted that none of the speakers starting drinking at home – both of these nonalcoholics had learned to drink with their families. But neither would ever bring this up. Fair enough, this was a convocation of ex-drunkards, so talking about teaching drinking was out of place. But, as I point out in Addiction-Proof Your Child, it is the failure to hear from successful drinkers at parents’ evenings and school assemblies that means we learn about drinking from the failures – and then we congratulate them for their failures!

My host seemed pretty eager to see me on my way. Oh well.


October 24, 2007

AA Appropriates Sobriety

I had a coaching session with an extremely intelligent woman who couldn’t understand what I meant by the word sober. A middle-aged former member of AA who is now contemplating drinking again, she referred to friends of hers who were “sober.” It took me a while to realize that this highly aware, worldly woman was using AA’s definition of sobriety. It then took me a surprisingly long time to explain to her that sober means “not intoxicated,” rather than abstinent, and that most drinkers are sober.

Our discussion was important was because it reflected the issue she was consulting me on. As well as discussing how she might go about drinking – and how it would fit in with her life – she had to overcome the AA dogma that there was no such thing as a safe return to drinking. This woman’s life had changed immeasurably since the time more than a decade ago when she drank dangerously. She is now an established professional with a very positive life.

I couldn’t tell her there are no dangers associated with her drinking – indeed, I wouldn’t tell her to go ahead and drink at all. I could tell her that millions have done it – more than have been helped by AA – and that she had many of the factors that predicted well for developing positive drinking habits. I could also explore with her what were her danger zones in terms of her former drinking experiences and her current life space. But I could tell her that moderate drinking was certainly a possibility for human beings, including former members of AA like herself.


October 22, 2007

Stanton on the Gerry Ryan Show

Stanton appeared on the Gerry Ryan show, the most widely-listened-to show in Ireland, who provided the most sympathetic and well-informed interview Stanton has ever had. Among the topics Gerry touched on were his almost being arrested for giving his daughter a sip of wine in Disney World, the shared moralism towards alcohol and drugs in Ireland and the U.S., the “plot” by WHO epidemiologists to claim that kids are equally likely to binge drink around the world (which their own data shows to be definitively untrue), and whether Louis Armstrong could be called addicted despite his daily marijuana habit. Click to this link,, then to the show for September 27, and then move the show marker to 1:14:50.

October 10, 2007

Stanton and Anna in Europe

As my CNN clip on teaching children to drink at home hit American TV screens last week, including an interview with my 19-year-old daughter Anna, I was with Anna in Florence, Italy.

I am still in Europe — I am writing this from Dublin, where I have been training counselors and lecturing. I am not used to seeing drunken men throw up in the street, a sight I have regularly witnessed in Ireland. This was certainly not the case in Florence.

WHO epidemiologists insist that cross-cultural differences in drinking and alcoholism are exaggerated. Ironically, it is their own research that has shown how significant these differences are. "The Irish drinking culture - a European comparison" found that Irish men had the lowest daily drinking rate in Europe — 1.6%. Italian men had the highest — 42%. Sound like a distinct advantage for the Irish? Think again — Irish men had the highest rate of bingeing at least once weekly — 48% (versus 11% for Italians). The binge rate for Irish women of 16% was also the highest in the study.

There is an inverse relationship between regular drinking and bingeing – cultures where drinking is less frequent are highly likely to binge when they do drink.

These differences are reflected in teens' drinking in these two countries. According to the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, 26% of Irish 15-16 year olds, both male and female, had been drunk three or more times in the last 30 days, compared with 7% of Italian teens.

There is a strong movement afoot to raise the Irish drinking age to 21 from 18 (currently, the United States is the only Western nation that restricts drinking to 21-year-olds). The Italians have no plan to raise their drinking age from 16. Moreover, Irish parents may not serve children under 18 alcohol publicly, while in Italy parents may offer alcohol to children of any age. Anna was asked if she wanted wine everywhere we went in Italy — including on the Alitalia flight over from the U.S., on which she flew alone. How can you keep them down on the farm after they've seen Italy?

There are different views of alcohol around the world. In those countries which view alcohol as a threat and a danger, people frequently become drunk. It seems such cultures, like Ireland, accept — almost encourage — drunken misbehavior. Italians do not promote this type of alcohol use. We in the United States, with our diversity of cultures, experience both views of alcohol. But our official policy is seemingly to encourage the Irish "forbidden fruit" approach by insisting that no person should consume alcohol before the age of 21.

Stanton Peele

September 30, 2007

Anna Peele on CNNAnna and Stanton Discuss Learning to Drink on CNN

Over dinner recently, Anna Peele recalls one of the first times she drank alcohol. "I was like 14 or 15," Peele says. "I ordered a beer and they served me."

She had just finished her freshman year of high school and was traveling in Greece with family friends. "We would just have wine with dinner," Peele says. "In Greece it's so not a big deal."

Anna Peele's parents allowed her to drink at family functions and social events when she was in high school.

While that experience would cause some American parents to worry, Peele's parents weren't upset.

September 22, 2007

God Damn, Americans Are Uptight!

Commentators have been focusing on the denial of basic freedoms of political discussion in the U.S. after the tasering of an obnoxious University of Florida questioner of Senator John Kerry and the censoring by the Fox Network of Emmy Award winner Sally Field’s statement condemning war.

Here is Field’s comment, as described at the MSNBC website.

Sally Field praised mothers when she won an Emmy for lead actress in a drama series but also let her anti-war sentiments surface with a God-related swear word.

“And, let’s face it, if the mothers ruled the world, there would be no (expletive) wars in the first place,” Field said.

In other words, not only were viewers of the Emmys considered incapable of tolerating “goddamn” (or was it “goddamned”), but the phrase was too incendiary to print on the MSNBC Internet site. We’re worried about naughty language when people are being killed and maimed hourly in Iraq!

Unlike most of the commentators I heard, who criticized Americans’ intolerance for dissonant views, I’m stunned by how damn uptight we are. Canadian broadcasting just let viewers hear what Field said – those Candians are rugged! If we’re afraid kids (or maybe we ourselves) might hear some cuss words, how then can we expect to have frank discussions about youthful drug use and underage drinking (note to Canadians and others around the world: that means 20-year-olds here)? Obviously, I confront this issue in my new book, Addiction-Proof Your Child.

And while I’m at it, for those of you overseas, do you know that three of the nine Republican candidates for president don’t believe in evolution (and most of the rest are pretty gingerly in accepting it)? In this vein, Sherri Shepherd, co-host of “The View” (a popular TV chat show) announced that she didn't "believe in evolution, period." Prompted by a question from another host, Whoopie Godberg, Shepherd then said she had no opinion on whether the earth was flat or not: “I never thought about it. I’ll tell you what I have thought about – how to feed my child.”

God bless America!

September 16, 2007

Will American Youth Soon Be Drug Free?

Every year, the United States – through several national surveys – reports on the status of drug taking by American youth. Since all are government-funded and of course decry drug use, the announcement accompanying the release of each survey paints a positive picture.

Thus the last (2006) “Monitoring the Future” study of high school students trumpeted, “Teen drug use continues downwards.” This is a reassuring message indeed; perhaps we are nearing our goal of eradicating youthful illicit drug use! This is the mission for Drug Czar John Walters, who seriously claims it will be realized.

But then comes the rest of the title: “particularly among older teens; but use of prescription-type drugs remains high.” Heavens, what does this all mean?!

The current group of seniors was notable for its reduced drug use as eight graders, a wave of relatively “prohibitionist” teens – although that roughly one in two still has used illicit drugs is hardly reassuring. Furthermore, this reduction has halted with current middle schoolers, and the researchers expect a possible resurgence – or at least leveling off – in drug use trends.

There has been a shift in drugs favored by teens. Marijuana use declined -- about a third of seniors have used it in the last year. But other drug use has been increasing, including drugs far more dangerous than marijuana. Most notably, use of painkillers, tranquilizers, and sedatives has risen. About ten percent of seniors have used Vicodin, for instance. Use of OxyContin – along with barbiturates and sedatives – has also increased steadily across age groups for the last ten years.
What does the rise in prescription misuse – particularly of so-called depressant drugs – mean? These drugs do not produce pleasure, but instead dull feelings and awareness. Their growing use is certainly not a good statement about American youth. Moreover, government statistics on overdose deaths and addiction lump painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin, Methadone, and heroin together. These are all potent mood-modifying substances.

Of course, recreational use of prescription meds, including also stimulant drugs such as Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin used to treat ADHD, reflects the pervasiveness of these drugs in our culture. Use of every class of therapeutic drugs for children and adolescents has risen by several multiples in recent decades. These include anti-ADHD stimulants, antidepressants, antipsychotics (used to treat conduct disorders), lithium and anti-seizure drugs (for bipolar disorder), et al. A recent study found that the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder among young people jumped 40-fold between 1994 and 2003! Despite this tremendous surge, bipolar diagnoses and treatment continue to rise.

Why so many children require psychiatric medication is a topic for another day. Let’s just say that these amazing increases across the board of therapeutic drugs cannot simply be dismissed as a recognition of maladies that previously went undetected. Something appears to be wrong with our kids. More importantly, if so many children are prescribed drugs, we can hardly expect American youth to be drug-free.

And, finally, we come to alcohol. The goal repeatedly reiterated by local and national governmental officials is the elimination of underage drinking. How far we are from this goal is indicated by another survey – this one the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The 2006 results indicate that by the time they reach the age of 21, almost 9 in 10 youths have consumed alcohol. Moreover, they regularly drinking abusively – a third of 18-year-olds, about 40% of 20-year-olds, and about half of 21-year-olds binge drink at least monthly!

These data make clear that the idea of substance-free youth in America is a pipe dream. And it is a dangerous pipe dream. Since we can’t recognize – let alone accept – that psychoactive substance use is now a rite of passage, we cannot hope to prevent its most dangerous consequences. These include drunk-driving, reckless sex, and addiction. While we are praying kids aren’t using drugs and drinking, we are unable to help our young protect themselves.


Stanton Peele is an internationally recognized expert who has been investigating addiction since he published Love and Addiction in 1975. He is the father of three children and is about to become a grandfather, while his youngest daughter is a sophomore at NYU. His latest book is Addiction-Proof Your Child.

September 12, 2007

Violation of a 20-Year-Old in Rehab

In reference to my last blog on the firm legal principle that you can’t force people into 12-step programs, but that this nonetheless occurs, I frequently receive mail like the following.

Dear Stanton Peele,

First off, thank you very much for writing Addiction-Proof Your Child. It describes exactly my experience with rehab and AA. I am sick and tired of being told in AA what a worthless "dry drunk" I am. Reading your book helped me see that I am not alone in my AA experience.

I am not an alcoholic, but a 20 year old college student who drank occasionally. My problems were not drinking, but rather depression and anxiety. When I started college, I was very depressed after a boyfriend broke up with me and belittled me. My father's five-year battle with cancer also contributed to my problems.

A year ago, I had not drank or gone to a party in over six months. When a friend of mine had a party, I went and drank 5 beers. I then made a mistake and drove home. I was stopped for a DUI.

After this happened I realized I needed to change my life. I started setting goals for myself and I got nearly all A's in my courses. I was so proud of myself for making changes and finally feeling happy and like I could achieve anything. My family commented about how dramatically my attitude had changed for the better.

My big problems started when I was sentenced, 6 months after my arrest. I had moved on from the incident and had not been to a party since. But I was diagnosed as a "category 4 out of 5 alcoholic." I was sentenced to a 12-step rehab program and to attend AA 3 times a week.

The 12-step rehab program was a complete shock to me! On the first day the counselor told me that he thought I was "not an alcoholic but just a serious bitch" because I told him that I didn't think I needed to be at AA. He also called me stupid several times and laughed at me. He would say to the rest of the group "This bitch is so ridiculous. She is so in denial." Then everyone would agree and laugh along with him. I told him about how my dad had cancer and he told me that I was a horrible daughter for going out and getting a DUI when my dad was having such a hard time. That really depressed me.

AA has been no better. For the first month I just "passed" in meetings. Several women would wave and sit by me at meetings and ask me about my life. Finally, in a meeting I confessed that I did not do the steps and that I wasn't really an alcoholic. I explained how positive thinking has changed my life and that I think AA's tenants are too negative. Afterwards, several people came up to me and said I was egotistical, stupid, and a dry drunk. They said I was in denial and I would end up in jail, an institution, or dead. I explained that I had not drunk in 6 months and they said that only when I do all 12 steps will I be in recovery. They said I was born with the alcoholism gene so I would always be an alcoholic. When I told them about other things I had read (like your book) they told me all self-help books were junk.

Since, then, people in the group talk and laugh about me. One man in particular at first step meetings always tells the new member not to be like me! “See that girl over there. She is a dry drunk in denial. She's gonna be in jail soon." At many meetings they single me out and ask sarcastically if I would like a 24-hour chip. They don't believe me when I say haven't drank in a year.

I always talk about things other than alcohol. At one meeting in particular I talked about how proud I was I just got a 4.0. At the end of the meeting, a women took me aside and said I am not allowed to speak about things other than AA. I was kicked out of one meeting because I wouldn't say I was an alcoholic. One women screamed "F*** YOU" to me. A typical comment to me is, "Oh you were me 20 years ago. I used to think I didn't have a disease. You need to realize that you are in denial."

I am trying so hard to be happy, think positive, and get good grades in school so I can have a good career but AA seems to drag me down. I will be having a great day and feel happy, then I go to AA and become depressed and cry when I come home. I just want to be normal. I feel like I am being branded an alcoholic for life, but I’m not really one. Because I was labeled one by a judge the only way to redeem myself is to go to AA. When I had interviews in order to volunteer I had to disclose that I was treated for substance abuse. When they ask me if it helped I have to lie and say it has – otherwise they’ll believe I’m an alcoholic and drinking.

I am sick of them telling me I have character defects and how worthless I am. What can I do to survive the next 5 months in AA?


I responded to Beth (apropos of my earlier blog) that the law forbad her being forced to attend AA, strictly on religious grounds – which doesn’t count the badgering and denigration that comes along with it. But, like many people coerced to attend AA, Beth was nervous about asserting her rights.

I have considered taking legal action to be placed in another treatment program other than AA but I am worried it would look like I am just an alcoholic refusing to undergo treatment. My dream is to go to law school and I am worried AA is my only ticket to look like I have changed. I have a DUI on my record and have read some "How to Get into Law School" books that say things like "you can show you have changed by going to AA."

And, of course, who can blame her? She WILL be penalized for claiming not to be an alcoholic and despising AA.

September 11, 2007

Anyone Violating the Establishment Clause Out There?

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision of interest on September 7th.

What is most interesting almost is what was NOT contested. In Hawaii, Ricky Inouye was required to attend AA/NA as a condition of his parole. Inouye, a Buddhist, objected strenuously. Eventually, he sued the city and county of Honolulu and Mark Nanamori, his parole officer, for violating his First Amendment right against government compunction to participate in religious meetings or ceremonies (the so-called Establishment Clause, or separation of church and state).

Nanamori did not have the temerity to defend himself on the fatuous grounds that AA/NA does not comprise religious observance. Apparently, his attorneys did not want to chance this one, since every appeals court (including the Second and Seventh Circuits) has decided compulsory attendance at AA by a government agency does violate the Constitution. Requiring a person to avow a belief in a higher power comprises religion, as I made clear (with Charles Bufe and Archie Brodsky) in Resisting 12-Step Coercion.

Everybody was actually on the same page here:

Hence, we agree with the district court that Nanamori’s actions were unconstitutional. While we in no way denigrate the fine work of AA/NA, attendance in their programs may not be coerced by the state. The Hobson’s choice Nanamori offered Inouye – to be imprisoned or renounce his own religious beliefs – offends the core of Establishment Clause jurisprudence.

Instead, Nanamori defended on the grounds that he had qualified immunity as a government employee, since the issue was not clearly resolved in 2001, when the events in question occurred. His basis for this claim was that the Ninth Circuit had not decided the issue. Nanamori was granted a summary judgment against the suit by the U.S. District Court of Hawaii. Inouye’s son appealed (Inouye had died). The Ninth Circuit denied that the issue was not clearly decided as of 2001, and so Nanamori did not qualify for immunity, since public officials can’t refuse to provide people clearly established constitutional rights.

Now, where does that leave most of the United States, where – since only a few courts have decided the matter – people are regularly forced to attend AA by various courts and state agencies? Indeed, this is still usually the case even in most jurisdictions where coercion into 12-step programs has been outlawed. Overall, compulsory 12-step participation is still standard practice around the country.

In my next blog entry, I will present such a case, which has caused a 20-year-old college student much suffering. Of course, it is not only the religious practice which causes her pain, but standard treatment practices in 12-step programs.

September 3, 2007

Elvis, Godfather of Prescription Drug Abuse

Thirty years ago this month Elvis Presley died at the age of 42. At his death, he was a massive user of pain killers and other prescription drugs. Use of similar drugs is now rampant, as Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) figures indicate that oxycodone (OxyContin) sales increased nearly six-fold between 1997 and 2005. Yet many abusers of such pharmaceuticals, like Elvis, have opposed illicit drug use.

Elvis himself was militantly anti-drug. This was most memorably illustrated by the 1970 photo of him shaking hands with Richard Nixon at the White House. Elvis decried hippies and the drug culture and proudly accepted Nixon’s appointing him an “agent-at-large” of the DEA.

For Elvis, a prescription meant a drug couldn’t be abused. Following his death, a toxicology analysis conducted at the University of Utah revealed the presence of 11 medications in his body. The highest concentrations were ethinamate (Valamin), methaqualone (Quaaludes), barbiturates, and codeine -- the first three are sedatives, while codeine is an analgesic pain killer.

Also present were meperidine (Demerol) and morphine, two more painkillers (although morphine could have been a byproduct of the codeine), and Valium, a tranquilizer. In addition, Presley had been drinking before his death. The Shelby County, Tennessee, medical examiner concluded that drugs played no role in his death. But deaths by drug overdose are usually the result of combining multiple depressant drugs (such as pain killers, sedatives, and tranquilizers), often with alcohol.

Sedative-analgesic abuse has been a hallmark for many prominent political figures. In 1971, Nixon appointed conservative William H. Rehnquist to the Supreme Court. In 1986, Ronald Reagan made Rehnquist chief justice. Rehnquist began an addiction to a sedative-sleeping agent, Placidyl, following back surgery in 1971. The Washington Post revealed in 2007 how severe this addiction was – in 1981, when withdrawing from the drug, Rehnquist was convinced the CIA was plotting against him and attempted to escape from the hospital.

In 1978, the wife of Nixon’s successor Gerald Ford, Betty Ford, famously announced she was dependent on Valium and alcohol. Ms. Ford’s contribution to the history of drug addiction treatment is immortalized in her namesake center, where Hollywood figures have trooped to treat their addictions for decades. To their credit, the Fords did not demonize illicit drug users.

The Bush family, in addition to President George W. Bush’s reported former drinking problem, is not immune from prescription abuse. Noelle Bush – daughter of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the president’s brother – was in and out of treatment in her early twenties for prescription drug addiction. In 2002, Ms. Bush was charged with using a fake prescription for the anti-anxiety drug, Xanax, for which she later entered treatment.

Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio commentator, has publicly declared his contempt for illicit drug users. But in 2003, following rumors that he was being investigated for black market purchases of the powerful painkiller OxyContin, Limbaugh announced he was addicted and entered treatment.

Among Republicans currently running for president, John McCain is a strong drug war advocate. But in 1994, his wife Cindy McCain, who headed an international charity, was discovered to have been rifling drugs from the organization, as well as falsifying prescriptions. Investigated by the DEA, the Senator’s wife declared she was addicted and avoided charges, although she never completed drug treatment.

The abuse of such drugs, often obtained without prescriptions, has now reached mainstream America. In 2007, drug czar John Walters announced that pharmaceuticals were the fastest growing illicit drugs used by American teens, and might some day pass marijuana as the primary form of drug abuse. The Partnership for a Drug Free America revealed in 2005 that one in five teens has used Vicodin, OxyContin, or another pain killer to get high.

As I detail in my new book, Addiction-Proof Your Child, it is hardly surprising that kids use prescription drugs illegally – since so many are prescribed these drugs by physicians. The psychiatric medication of children and adolescents continues to rise astronomically. It tripled between 1987 and 1996, then tripled again from the early 1990s to the mid 2000s! Yet, it shows no sigh of slackening.

College and even high school students trade prescriptions for painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs, and stimulants like Concerta and Adderall prescribed for ADD. They use the drugs to sleep, to concentrate when studying, and to party. The Partnership has a name for this phenomenon -- labeling young Americans Generation Rx.

And to think, like modern rock & roll, the movement from street to prescription drug abuse started with the fifties teen idol, Elvis, encouraged by the same hypocrisy among many politicians embraced by the king himself.


Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D., is a psychologist, therapist and attorney in New Jersey. He has written nine books on addiction, the latest of which is Addiction-Proof Your Child. Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and Stanton Peele were all born on January 8.

August 13, 2007

A Tribute to Andrew Sarris

Pauline Kael was a major voice in introducing serious film criticism into the United States. In 1965, Kael published a collection of her reviews, I Lost It at the Movies, which became a mini bestseller. In 1967, “Kael, already a contentious and influential figure in the world of movie criticism, joined the staff of The New Yorker, where for the next quarter-century she would reign as the most imitated and argued-about film reviewer in the English-speaking world” (New York Times, August 12, 2007).

In 1968, Andrew Sarris published The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968. Sarris’ approach was two-fold. He was the American exponent of the “auteur theory,” the view that a film’s content could be attributed to a single auteur (French for author), who was the director. Sarris also advocated for the greatness of American cinema, including 14 directors (a majority of whom happened to be foreign-born and trained) in his pantheon, along with detailing the work of many other rawly American filmmakers.

Kael was a brilliant and idiosyncratic critic – almost a social critic – who discussed films as individual entities. She took an immediate dislike to Sarris’ approach, contrary as it was to her own. Kael attacked Sarris personally, for example, insulting his living at home in Queens with his mother, which many took to be an insinuation against Sarris’ homosexuality (Sarris has been married for many years to the film critic Molly Haskell). A battle ensued, and “Kael and Sarris feuded in the pages of The New Yorker and various film magazines”.

Kael took the extraordinary step in 1971 of publishing an essay entitled “Raising Kane,” on Orson Welles’ classic film, Citizen Kane. Kane, which was released in 1941, was regarded by both Kael and Sarris as one of the seminal films in American cinema (Welles is in Sarris’ pantheon). The strange purpose of the essay was to establish the impact on the film of Welles’ co-writer, Herman Mankiewicz, and the film’s cinematographer, Gregg Toland. This was Kael’s way of making the argument that a film cannot be attributed to a single individual.

It isn’t enough in countering Kael’s position to note that, in addition to directing the film, Welles starred in and co-wrote it. Although Welles was trained in theater and had never made a movie before, the entire look of the film – with its haunting angles, flashbacks, and close-ups – was unique to Welles’ vision. More important, originally regarded as an attack by Welles on the media magnate William Randolph Hearst as the archetypical overreaching genius, Kane now appears to be an expression of Welles’ soul and a presaging of his own life.

In retrospect, Kael (who died in 2001) is known as a personality and writer, and not for any particular ideas she had about film. Sarris, on the other hand, has been a unique and formative influence on American criticism – indeed, on how people in the United States view films. His book is a staple in American film classes. And, as Kent Jones puts it in a tribute-review of Sarris’ career in Film Comment: “If you received The American Cinema at the right moment in your life, and many people including myself did, it came with the force of a divination, a cinematic Great Awakening.”


July 29, 2007

In Defense of Sally Satel

Michael Lemonick’s ill-tempered, contemptuous comments at Time’s Web site about a Slate article by Sally Satel are not characteristic of science, but of polemic. They are especially inappropriate coming from a magazine writer and directed at a physician who has worked for many years with heroin addicts. They are even more mystifying since the "offending” article appeared in another publication and did not specifically address his own cover story about addiction in Time. His comments seem like an attempt at intimidation and to stifle debate. Their certitude reflects the intolerance of thought police, rather than the good faith of a knowledgeable professional capable of debating the issues.

MRIs tell us what, exactly, about cocaine and heroin addiction, in addition to measuring use of these substances? How do they explain why, according to NIDA data, of all lifetime users, fewer than 10 percent use these substances currently, and likely fewer than 10 percent of current users are addicts. They certainly do not clarify how the majority of addicts remit without treatment. Consider, for example, the MRIs of two groups of American smokers, the ones who continue to smoke, and the 50,000,000 or so who have quit, overwhelmingly without treatment of any sort.

The disease notion of addiction has actually been dominant in the U.S. for some time, which Mr. Lemonick seems not to know (it was invented by Declaration of Independence signer, Colonial physician Benjamin Rush). It became received wisdom circa 1950, with the ascendance of Alcoholics Anonymous. The fatuous argument that addiction is a purely physical malady like diabetes, because both require changes in behavior, is epistomologic legerdemain. Moreover, it has been forwarded by AA adherents for decades.

Mr. Lemonick lays the failure to stem addiction in America at the feet of Satel, likening her views to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” program. He should first be aware that the primary government-supported therapies for addiction – brief interventions, motivational interviewing, and community reinforcement – all eschew disease notions and rely on environmental modification, development of life coping skills, and focusing addicts on their own countervailing values. These approaches view addictions as involvements which overwhelm people’s lives, but which people are capable of gaining control over. Moreover, claiming that drugs inevitably create an irresistible and irreversible sickness expresses the strong roots “addiction as brain disease” thinking has in American temperance traditions and American fear of and ambivalence towards intoxicants.

The increase in addiction of all sorts since 1980 is not due to the moral model he accuses Satel of espousing. In fact, this period marks the ascendance of modern neurosciences in the U.S. Mr. Lemonick might reflect that, exactly 30 years ago, Richard Restak, a prominent neurologist, wrote about early neurochemical discoveries: “it's hard to leave out the exclamation points when you are talking about a veritable philosopher's stone—a group of substances that hold out the promise of alleviating, or even eliminating, such age-old medical bugaboos as pain, drug addiction, and, among other mental illnesses, schizophrenia.” Dr. Restak continues to enthusiastically make such claims, although he has extended his time horizon.

All indicators are that, indeed, addiction is persisting and expanding. Here’s a wrench in Mr. Lemonick’s works – societies which reify the concept of addiction (for example those which view alcohol as inevitably addictive) in fact increase the incidence and prevalence of the disease. I wait in fear for the reactions of Mr. Lemonick to my outlandish ideas, despite having presented them in leading psychology and addiction journals over four decades, since having written a ground-breaking book, Love and Addiction, in 1975. That book presented a phenomenon which American psychiatry and neuroscience continue to debate – how can non-drug experiences be addictive? Perhaps he can stamp my views out as benighted and counterrevolutionary. But here’s my challenge to him – in 30 years, tell us whether the scientific discoveries he presages have eliminated, or even reduced, addiction.

Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D.
Adjunct Clinical Professor, New School University Psychology Department

Disclosure : Dr. Satel has written praise for my forthcoming book, Addiction-Proof Your Child

July 28, 2007

I Bet Archie $50 We Wouldn’t Get Out of Iraq – I’m Going to Win!

After last year’s Republican election losses, many people were convinced we’d begin exiting Iraq immediately. I bet Archie we would still have 100,000 troops there by the time Bush left office. Only I was confused, and I thought Bush left office at the end of this year!

So I now have $50 on America’s retaining 100,000 or more troops in Iraq through 2008. But I’m going to win! In the first place, who knew that Bush’s immediate response to the election results would be to send more troops? Meanwhile, Republicans defeated the Democratic effort in Congress to withdraw most U.S. troops by next April. We are now waiting for General Petraeus’ September report – which will say significant problems persist (that’s code for the entire collapse of society in Baghdad and Iraq), but we have made some progress – let’s stay in Iraq longer than the five years we’ve been there!

I’m convinced that supporters of the war (which include all leading Republican presidential candidates) welcome the deaths of Americans in Iraq (so long as it’s nobody they know, or – heaven forbid – someone they care about). They figure, “This will show Al-Qaeda we’re serious about fighting them. It’s a sacrifice, but someone has to make it.” So, even though a majority of Republican Senators now know our efforts in Iraq are doomed, they just putter on letting young Americans be killed.

Of course, $50 is a small consolation for watching Americans die in an effort that actual fuels the likelihood of terrorist attacks in the U.S. (No more can be said about Iraqi society, which has already disintegrated to nothingness. Times headline: Strife and Ice, Staples of Life, Overlap in Iraq. “With electricity reaching most homes for just a couple of hours each day, the poor hand over soiled brown dinars for what has become a symbol of Iraq’s steady descent into a more primitive era. . . . In a capital that was once the seat of the Islamic Caliphate and a center of Arab worldliness, ice is now a currency of last resort for the poor, subject to sectarian horrors and gangland rules.”) It’s like betting on the Phillies’ or Eagles’ opponent as a kid, gaining some solace while watching the home team go down to ignoble defeat.

July 25, 2006

Oh God! – AA2

I was excited to see a new show, TNT’s Saving Grace, starring Holly Hunter (a fabulous actress not much seen lately). Hunter plays a renegade detective in Oklahoma City. In the much ballyhooed opening scene, Hunter appears nude riding her partner – when he tries to pull away (because he’s married) she insists they finish screwing.

But who knew that the title of the show is literal? Within fifteen minutes, Hunter is confronting her personal angel, Earl, who wants her to quit drinking, sex, and – get this – cursing! The show’s action is continually interrupted by Earl and Grace checking her spiritual well-being (to make Earl hip, he has a sin – he chews!). Grace is specifically Catholic – the opening episode also takes time for her to consult with her brother, a priest.

Grace isn’t even imaginative enough to have an internal spiritual crisis – Earl has to be real. Grace’s best friend, a forensics specialist, checks the sand from Grace’s boots after Earl spirits her away to the dessert – it doesn’t come from Oklahoma! In fact, Grace encounters Earl after killing a man when she drives home drunk (sent out that way by her supposedly ethically superior buddy). But, lo – the event is erased by Earl!

You would think the whole God-as-personal-inspiration thing would have been discredited by George W. Bush. George quit drinking without AA by going directly to God without a go-between. Due to his conversion experience, he has decided – through his “faith-based initiative” – to cure America’s spiritual, behavioral, and addictive problems by returning people to Christ. Of course, it turns out – disillusioned insiders have revealed – every decision made in re “faith-based” programs was political, to further the power of Bush and cronies.

Bush is apparently completely unmoved by the deaths of 3500+ Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis as he vows to continue this war – God told him he’s right. You’d think if God wants Hunter to stop the cussing, he’d want Bush to stop the killing. But God works in mysterious ways – as indicated by Bush’s behavior, everyone gets to decide what it is God really wants them to do. I prefer the drinking, screwing, cursing of Hunter.

July 19, 2007

Governors Gone Wild

The governorship of a major state is arguably the second most powerful position in the United States. By the time someone becomes governor, that person would seem to have weathered many storms and developed a seasoned, sustainable public persona. Not so, to judge from experiences of three recently elected governors representing both parties.

In his first months in office, Nevada’s Republican governor Jim Gibbons faces an FBI investigation of gifts he took from a military contractor while serving in Congress. Gibbons also has had a tin ear politically. Mispronouncing the name of his energy adviser, he explained that she was Indian – although in fact she was Turkish. He proposed selling water rights to raise revenues – water rights Nevada didn’t hold. Gibbons’ approval ratings quickly dropped below 30 percent.

In Massachusetts, Democrat Deval Patrick became the state’s first African-American governor and the second black governor nationwide since Reconstruction. But Patrick committed a series of miscues in the first months of his administration. Elected via a deft grass-roots campaign, Patrick seemed seduced by the spoils of victory. He was chauffeured around in a $1,100-a-month Cadillac, traveled frequently by helicopter, and redecorated the governor’s office with expensive drapery and other accoutrements.

Patrick further verged on unethical behavior by lobbying for a subprime mortgage company on whose board he had served, a company that did substantial business with the state. Patrick’s wife created another set of issues, beginning with the special assistant Patrick hired for her. The assistant was subsequently forced to resign, and Diane Patrick was hospitalized for depression.

When the reputations of elected officials plummet so quickly, we are forced to wonder how voters had missed signs of the candidates’ vulnerability. Gibbons’ five terms in Congress were lackluster. Patrick was an assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration, but had never held elective office. Nonetheless, he was an impressive candidate. Like his friend Barack Obama, he grew up poor in Chicago, graduated Harvard Law School, then achieved success in corporate America.

The most spectacular case of a rapid fall from electoral grace is that of Democrat Eliot Spitzer, governor of New York. Spitzer made his reputation as a crusading state attorney general who left no stone unturned in pursuing corporate criminals. Last year he outpolled Sen. Hillary Clinton, gaining nearly 70 percent of the vote – the largest margin in state history.

Spitzer immediately set out to reform the state’s dysfunctional government – including the annual budget impasse and the dominance of senate majority leader Joseph Bruno and assembly speaker Sheldon Silver. Instead, Spitzer has proved incapable of working with Bruno, a Republican, bringing the state government to a standstill.

The struggle between Spitzer and Bruno almost immediately took on personal dimensions. The two men have mocked and insulted each other, and each has demanded an investigation of the other’s actions – Spitzer of Bruno’s use of state travel, Bruno of Spitzer’s use of state police to monitor his travel. The question is whether Spitzer, obviously a shrewd man, can regain his momentum.

The contrasts among these newly elected governors are intriguing. For his part, Gibbons may simply have risen above his competence level. Patrick has regained much of the approval of the public and press that he nearly squandered in his first weeks in office. He recently maneuvered skillfully to defeat an amendment to the Massachusetts constitution banning gay marriages. Patrick has none of Spitzer’s abrasiveness and divisiveness – he resembles Obama in his ability to connect with people.

By contrast, Spitzer’s aggressive, prosecutorial – some call it bullying – style has offended many others besides Bruno. His current situation epitomizes the electoral paradox whereby the very trait that enables a person to succeed in one position trips him up in the next – a kind of electoral Peter Principle.

Ironically, Spitzer’s earlier success and accomplishments may actually make it harder for him to change his behavior. Whereas Patrick has avoided major new problems, Spitzer has escalated his belligerence. Even his wife, Silda Spitzer, has complained. As Spitzer put it, “I don’t challenge my judgment about getting in [to the governorship], but that’s Silda’s view.”

Thus far, Patrick appears more likely to succeed than Spitzer, although that remains hard to predict given New York’s volatility and Spitzer’s intelligence and skills. But it is difficult to go against the judgment of a man’s wife.

Stanton Peele and Archie Brodsky

Stanton Peele is an adjunct professor of psychology at New School University. Archie Brodsky is a research associate in the Department of Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School. They are authors of Love and Addiction and The Truth About Addiction and Recovery.

July 10, 2007

Wait a Second – You Mean Most People Overcome Alcoholism Without Treatment?

Perhaps you’ve seen one of the news articles based on a massive study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) – “Nearly One in Three Americans Has History of Alcohol Problems.”

The study – the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). – was based on interviews with over 43,000 Americans in 2001-2002. An article analyzing the study appears in the current issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. It found that, over their lifetimes, 12.5 percent of Americans had incurred the most serious alcohol disorder, called alcohol dependence. In addition, 18 percent had a less serious drinking problem, termed alcohol abuse.

Overall, for those with alcohol dependence, the Archives article revealed, 3.8 percent were alcoholic in the year prior to the study.

The study also found that only a quarter of alcoholics were treated for their alcoholism. But this means that, although three-quarters of the most serious alcoholics are not treated, only 30 percent of those (3.8 divided by 12.5) are still alcoholic!

Obviously we believe that those who are treated succeed well, while those who don’t continue to suffer. Not actually. There have already been a number of articles devoted to the NESARC results. One published in 2005 revealed that people treated for their alcohol dependence succeeded no better in overcoming their alcoholism than those who remained untreated.

The 2005 article examined the current status of people who succumbed to alcohol dependence prior to the past year. Among this group, a higher percentage of those who were treated were still alcoholic in the past year (28 percent) than those who were untreated (24 percent).

Government publicity accompanying the study calls for greater and more rapid treatment, “Today’s report signals the need for intensive efforts to educate professionals and the public to identify and address AUDs early in their course,” according to NIAAA director Dr. Ting-Kai Li. But the study results showing treatment isn’t especially effective – or at least any more effective than going untreated – certainly would make us cautious about this conclusion. Indeed, the press release acknowledges this equivalence: “Although AUDs can recur, recovery is possible with or without treatment.”

The overall NESARC data convey an impression different than the message promulgated by the NIAAA, the AMA, and treatment programs that alcoholism is a progressive, irreversible, fatal disease.

Consider these two facts from the current NIAAA press release: “Risk for incurring AUDs is greatest at age 19 and diminishes thereafter. About 72 percent of persons with lifetime AUD experience a single episode.” In other words, alcohol use disorders are a youthful phenomenon in the large majority of cases, and alcoholism dwindles with age – and maturity.

According to Dr. Li, “NESARC data can be used by researchers and health professionals to target preventive and treatment interventions for populations at greatest risk.” But given that the vast majority recover without treatment, there can be dangers from Ti’s prescription to rush teenagers into alcoholism treatment.

One person who believes this is Koren Zailckas, author of the book, Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood. Zailckas seems like the target case for Ti’s admonishments – she began a decade-long bout of alcoholism early in adolescence, the gory results of which she describes in her book.
Yet she never sought treatment, graduated college and began writing and formed a serious relationship, and ceased her dependence on alcohol. Moreover, she continues – to the objections of alcoholism counselors – to reject the alcoholic label: “I don’t identify myself as an alcoholic. . . . In my mind, the whole point of Smashed is to say, you don’t have to be a quote-unquote alcoholic in order to examine the underlying reasons why you're drinking.”

She even thinks that by “branding” themselves alcoholics, young people can hinder their outgrowing abusive, even alcoholic, drinking. And the NESARC data back her up.

Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele is an addiction therapist who writes and lectures internationally about alcoholism and addiction. His newest book, to be published this August, is Addiction-Proof Your Child.

July 6, 2007

You Know That Gene for Alcoholism?

Nearly two decades ago, Ken Blum said he had found the gene for alcoholism. His claim to have discovered the source of all addiction proved to be premature. But people have been hoping there is a gene for alcoholism and/or addiction ever since.

There isn’t. In Addiction-Proof Your Child, I note: “One surprising result of studying the genome is the discovery of just how little we can tell based on particular genes. Most of the DNA on human chromosomes is not organized into specific genes. Much of this DNA directs the pace at which other genes express themselves. . . . For these reasons and others, simple relationships between individual genes – or even groups of genes – and specific traits are rare.”

The Sunday New York Times wrote: “Last month, a consortium of scientists . . . .found that the human genome might not be a ‘tidy collection of independent genes’ after all, with each sequence of DNA linked to a single function. . . . Instead, genes appear to operate in a complex network, and interact and overlap with one another and with other components in ways not yet fully understood. . . . [T]hese findings will challenge scientists ‘to rethink some long-held views about what genes are and what they do.’”

Stanton Peele

June 30, 2007

Two Ways in Which Life Has Changed

Recent books describe two fundamental ways in which our lives differ from those people previously experienced.

One is in the nature of childhood. The world once did not carve out exemptions for children. In Mildred Kalish’s memoir, Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression – “Childhood was generally considered to be a disease or, at the very least, a disability, to be ignored for the most part, and remedied as quickly as possible. . . . When one of us kids received a scratch, cut or puncture, we didn’t run to the house to be taken care of.” But Kalish, who grew up without a father, absolutely loved her childhood, which few children seem able to say today. Somehow, all the care and attention we lavish on our children has not made them happier. As I describe in Addiction-Proof Your Child, this cultural change is critical in the sharp rise in youthful addictions.

The other way in which our lives differ so much from people’s throughout history, or at least middle-class or well-off people, is in the complete loyalty required of a spouse or partner today, and the dire consequences for infidelity. In other places, Pamela Druckerman details in Lust in Translation, people do not believe that love requires that you tell all: “Only in America is absolute truth considered the highest of all marital virtues.” [1] The book Uncommon Arrangements, by Katie Roiphe, about seven romantic partnerships among English literary couples early in the last century, reveals a fair amount of hanky-panky and extramarital longing. Reviewer Tina Brown noted that our modern sanctimony “has made grown-up romantic life, marital and extramarital alike, at once more boring and more hazardous.” [2] We demand total and lifelong love, and yet we have more divorce and marital alienation and more often end up alone than ever before.

A man I knew in a long and prosperous marriage, now a grandfather, told me how, in premarital counseling, the minister told him and his wife, “Somewhere along the way you’ll fall in love with another person.” I was shocked to hear a man of the cloth convey this message. When I asked the friend, “And did you?” he answered, “Yes” (although he did not have sex with the woman). As I reflected on this tidbit, I realized that sharing this with his wife would serve little purpose. It would not have made their lives happier – and they were very happy. Actually, many people realize this. That’s why partners don’t tell their lovers all about their former lives, and kids don’t tell their parents everything.

Stanton Peele

  1. B. Fisher, “Short Takes: Review of Lust in Translation,” Boston Globe, April 15, 2007.
  2. T. Brown, “Couples,” New York Times Book Review, June 24, 2007.

June 25, 2007

Video Games Are Addictive – Now What?

News Item: AMA may identify excessive video game play as addiction

My comment: Roll out the MRIs

When people contact me about such developments, they often mean to point out how ridiculous is the labeling of addictions.

But my reaction is different, more complex. Of course video games are addictive, as are any other powerful, encompassing experiences. Kids (and adults) can become completely absorbed in these experiences in ways that profoundly hinder their development.

It is typical that, when TV news programs discuss the issue, they produce a researcher who says, “You can see the pleasure parts of the brain light up when kids are playing these games.” Right, and that makes them addictive to the person? What about the kids whose pleasure centers light up but who also go out to play ball, have friends, and do their homework?

Of course, the fact that video games (and the Internet in general) can be addictive should cause us to re-evaluate the nature of addiction. It’s not which part of the brain becomes “lit up” – it’s the life in which the lights are embedded that make the difference. What the AMA and other addiction specialists are afraid to do is to generalize this lesson from video games to drugs. But if they don’t, they’ll never make sense of addiction.

Stanton Peele

June 19, 2007

“I’m Looking for a Woman with Low Self-Esteem”: The Dirty Life and Times of Crystal Zevon

Crystal Zevon has written I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, a biography of her ex-husband and father of her daughter, Ariel.

Warren Zevon was a serious alcoholic who sobered up for the last 17 years of his life, until some months before his death of lung cancer at the age of 56 (he was a lifetime smoker). Crystal likewise determined she was an alcoholic. At the end of the book, she describes herself as a writer and an alcohol and drug counselor, and declares: “I owe the life I have today to Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob and my Teacher, S.N. Goenka.”

The Zevons broke up when Ariel turned 3. (They married when Crystal was pregnant.) Shortly after, at his daughter’s third birthday party at his in-laws, Warren knocked Ariel down as she tried to hug him, then made her wait for three hours when he picked her up late the next day.

This was fairly typical behavior for Zevon towards his daughter, who struggled with her relationship with her father throughout Warren’s life. Her mother frequently returned to Warren during their time together after alcoholic outbursts in which he beat her. The worst attack occurred after they separated permanently when Crystal came to rescue Ariel from her drunken father’s house. That time, Warren strangled Crystal until she couldn’t breathe.

Crystal forgave Warren because she figured he was in a black-out whenever he beat her. It’s hard to understand Crystal’s behavior in returning to Warren so many times, though, especially since it endangered her daughter. She was even planning to nurture Warren through his death, until his relapse ruled that out (apparently, he loved his booze more than Crystal). Crystal never escaped her relationship with Warren. In writing this book, she “fell in and out of love hundreds of times. There were weeks when I was sure I’d hate him forever; [and] nights when I’d cry myself to sleep missing the sound of his voice. . .” There was no 12-step group for love to tell Crystal to abstain from Warren.

Warren Zevon had a host of overlapping girlfriends, many of whom entered recovery themselves. One told Warren about her financial worries after giving up work to prepare his visit. He upbraided the woman that he only wanted to know if she had had any problems in her preparations for his needs during the visit. The kind of woman Warren preferred is described in the title of this blog – a woman with low self-esteem – detailed in his song, “My Life and Hard Times.”

During his last drunk, Warren fell into total infantilism, requiring his son to clean up the feces in his apartment. If it weren’t for his various assistants and musical colleagues, he could never have completed his final critically acclaimed and commercially successful DVD, The Wind. Yet, throughout his career, Warren unceremoniously dumped the men and women who helped him through his worst travails – although keeping in touch with the famous writers and musicians whose praise he craved. The further down the prestige ladder a person was, the more dismissive and abusive Warren was towards them.

Warren’s two children both entered recovery. Crystal and Warren regarded the kids’ alcoholism as their natural inheritance, although neither of Crystal’s or of Warren’s parents were alcoholics!

The last drunk was the final affront to those who loved Warren. Ariel described one of her last visits: “I was four months pregnant and Dad was smoking in the apartment, so I had to go outside. . . . He didn’t even notice.” Warren’s best writer friend, Carl Hiasson, wrote: “I got very angry with him during this period, and I never told him [Warren responded poorly to criticism]. . . . I could understand the depression, but this was extraordinarily selfish behavior for someone when you have kids, and their hearts are already breaking, and then they have to see their father like this.”

But, Crystal’s book details all these facts and stories. My hat may not be off to her as an alcohol and drug counselor whose therapy is informed by her own confused family life, but I admire her for this well-written book. I admire Warren for supporting the book, and for the honesty of his music – including the lyric that comprises the title of this blog.

Stanton Peele

June 16, 2007

Non-Disease Treatment Programs Now Available!

The New York Times ran an article questioning the success of standard addiction treatment programs (“Stars Check In, Stars Check Out”) “experts in the field seem to agree that the success rate for rehab programs, most of which are based on the 12-step therapy created by Alcoholics Anonymous, hovers somewhere between 30 percent at best, and below 10 percent at worst.”

Several centers in Southern California now offer alternatives to the 12-step model of treatment, and some even question whether addiction should be regarded as a disease. At Passages, in Malibu, they regard the disease theory as “a dirty trick.” Instead, they “reinforce a person’s ability to completely cure themselves of dependency. The first thing we give them is hope: ‘You’re going to be fine.’ ”

These centers, all in Southern California, have developed to cope with more demanding clients, often Hollywood stars. Many people objected when Promises (also in Malibu) allowed Lindsay Lohan to leave the campus to work out. The Web site for Wonderland, in Beverly Hills, claims: “Recovery does not need to isolate you from your friends, family or career.” According to its director, Howard Samuels, “If you spend your whole time at a treatment center, when you leave you’re not prepared for the stresses and anxieties on the outside.”

It’s good to see such sensible principles invade the cloistered treatment centers of America. The Domus Retreat in Anaheim even questions the need – or the possibility – of absolute abstinence: According to director Clare Waismann, “You can’t tell Lindsay Lohan she can never have a beer again or she’s failed. She will fail.”

It’s a little early to sound the death knell for the disease approach and 12 steps. But we are beginning to see fissures in America’s gigantic treatment monolith, which has ruled the country for the last half century. Of course, it’s possible to get non-disease treatment for less than the $40,000 monthly fee charged by Wonderland. You can call me, for instance.

I talked to my long-time Los Angeles associate, Marc Kern, about these treatment centers. He is not impressed with the prowess and familiarity with alternative treatment approaches of any of them. I suggest, in addition to contacting me, that you also contact Marc at

Stanton Peele is the author of Love and Addiction and 7 Tools to Beat Addiction.

June 14, 2007

The Story of One Intervention – Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon was a legendary song writer and musician, best known for his hit Werewolves of London, who died of lung cancer at the age of 56. Zevon had an intervention for alcoholism with his wife, family, and a host of friends in 1979, at age 32. It is described in his biography, I’ll Sleep when I’m Dead, written by his ex-wife, Crystal Zevon, based on interviews with some of those present.

Jimmy Wachtel: I remember Warren’s startled face when they escorted him into this room where his wife, his in-laws, and every friend that he had was there. Everybody told him what an ass he’d been to them, and how embarrassing he’d been to them on so many occasions, hoping that he would realize he had a problem.

An article by one participant, Paul Nelson, described the process in Rolling Stone:

Warren looked dazed and pale like a small animal who’d been struck on the head...[from Warren] I felt resentment and mostly terror at first. After that, utter despair. Then I realized how much all of these people must genuinely care for me. . . .

[everyone hugged at the end] Everyone was crying. The secrets were gone. We were a room full of defenseless three-year-olds, members of a primal tribe that had ritually cleansed not Zevon but ourselves.

Zevon had a couple of quick relapses, and Crystal left him. It was another six years before he eventually stopped drinking and drugging, lasting for 17 years (until shortly before his death). But Warren did not become a happy guy. He himself was brought up by negligent, rejective parents – and he was the same to his two children (as well as causing his wife to reject two children she fostered as a young woman).

Zevon’s life was dogged by his guilt and feelings of inadequacy, at the same time that he continued to act out compulsively after he quit drinking. He had many remarkable friends – most of whom he alienated. Worse, his two earliest albums, made before he became sober, are considered his best. Stephen King, one of a group of literary figures Zevon played with, noted: “I don’t think his fires were out, but I think he’d banked his fires.”

As Jimmy Wachtel noted following the intervention: “It worked, but I think it alienated him from us for quite a while. But eventually he stopped drinking. To be honest, he was the same asshole, drunk or sober, so there wasn’t that much difference except he didn’t repeat himself as much.” The subtitle to his biography – The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon – are Zevon’s own words.

Stanton Peele

June 7, 2007

Bruce Willis Is an Idiot

News Item: Bruce Willis and Demi Moore have warned their children they are predisposed to becoming an alcoholic. Die Hard star Willis and Moore divorced in 2000 and have three teenage daughters together. Willis tells Playboy magazine, "We have an ongoing conversation. They have the gene, and we warn them: 'You have a predisposition to be an alcoholic.' It's on her side of the family and mine. It's something to be aware of. My kids are strongly anti-drug."

This reminds of us of other great stories in parenting (stories I relate in Addiction-Proof Your Child). There was the baseball player-evangelist, Billy Sunday. Billy was a moderate drinker (like Bruce Willis), whose two sons died before him due to their alcoholism – after Billy became America’s main spokesperson for prohibition and railed against alcohol.

Then there’s that great role model, rocker Ozzie Osbourne, who frequently warned his children to avoid drugs and alcohol on their family reality show, since they were predisposed to be addicts like he was. Sure enough, daughter Kelly and son Jack entered rehab programs as teenagers. Father Ozzie was tremendously proud of his children, since they got into rehab much earlier in life than he did.

Willis is betting, I suppose, that none of his teen daughters will ever drink – a long shot. If they do drink, since he has loaded them up with the idea that they will become alcoholics, they are well on the road to fulfilling his goals for them. My book tells him how to avoid this fate, the idea of which seems to titillate him.

Stanton Peele

June 4, 2007

The New Synthesis between Disease Theory and CBT = BS

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'no, no, no'
Yes I've been black but when I come back you'll know know know
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab but I won't go go go

I'd rather be at home with Ray
I ain't got seventeen days
Coz there's nothing
There's nothing you can teach me
That I can't learn from Mr. Hathaway

— Amy Winehouse

The HBO series Addiction features a segment on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as the best treatment for addiction. CBT teaches people to plan their environments and to rehearse new ways of thinking. Likewise, nearly all treatment centers claim to utilize motivational interviewing (MI). MI assists people in sorting out their own values and thinking about their addictions.

But this new synthesis is less than meets the eye. The HBO CBT segment depicts a group session where people are directed to make sure they think they are diseased. As for MI, its key ingredient is that people choose their own paths and goals – something which is not permitted in addiction treatment programs.

Although the disease industry is clearly making an effort to co-opt treatment techniques that make sense and work, unlike standard 12-step proselytizing and abuse, this new synthesis is nonsensical.

  1. The primary goal of CBT and MI is to empower individuals, to teach them self-efficacy, to support their ability to control their own fates. Convincing them that they have an out-of-control disease is the opposite of this approach.
  2. Group sessions like those shown at the Matrix program on the HBO special are simply standard 12-step messaging groups led by an alcoholism counselor who is incapable of allowing people to express complex feelings and to counteract disease groupthink.
  3. The entire model of inpatient or other group lectures and discussions of shared feelings is the opposite of the environmental shaping and individual rehearsal and practice required to cure addictions.

Stanton Peele

June 1, 2007

Comebacks and Failures: Friedkin and Judd in Bug

You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard,
Some that you recognise, some that you’ve hardly even heard of,
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame,
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.
— “Celluloid Heroes,” the Kinks (Ray Davies)

The excruciating psychological drama, Bug, is directed by William Friedkin and stars the remarkable Ashley Judd.

Thirty-five years ago, William Friedkin was the hottest director in the world. In 1971 he won an Academy Award for The French Connection. He followed this in 1973 with the blockbuster, The Exorcist. Since then, he has had little Hollywood success (although his 1985 film, To Live and Die in L.A., is better than either of his famous pictures). To show how far back in film history he goes, Friedkin was married to Jeanne Moreau and he directed a sixties episode of Alfred Hitchcock’s TV show.

Ashley Judd, the daughter and half-sister, respectively, of buxom country singers Naomi and Wynonna Judd, seemed destined for academia when she studied French and cultural anthropology at the University of Kentucky. But she soon headed for Hollywood, where she made a sparkling debut in the 1993 indie film Ruby in Paradise. Although she subsequently starred in several large-budget movies, Judd never became the Hollywood star some thought she might be.

Bug will not restore either figure to the top of the Hollywood pantheon, partly because it is one of the most penetrating, excruciating movies in years. Based on an off-Broadway play, the film traces the relationship between a forlorn bar-maid and an escapee from an asylum. Initially, the bug-man (played by Michael Shannon, who starred in the play) seems like a hero who will rescue Judd from her husband (played by Harry Connick Jr.). But Connick, who is merely a psychopathic wife-beater, turns out to be the lesser of two evils.

The film depicts an addictive relationship in which Judd learns verse for verse Shannon’s paranoia until she can outdo her tutor. Her motivation is succinctly described in a scene where, noting their lack of sex or any conversation that doesn’t concern bugs, she decides it’s better than confronting her problematic life, including her son’s mysterious disappearance a decade earlier.

In the movie, two troubled people shut themselves off from a world that they view as more dangerous than their shared delusions. Since Judd begins the film as troubled, but not crazy, her descent is difficult to watch – almost unbearable. While The Exorcist is funny squeamish – what with Linda Blair’s head turning completely around and her projectile vomiting – there is no humor in Judd’s on-screen deterioration in Bug.

As she leaves no emotional stone unturned in revealing her character’s emotions, she also completely exposes her body. Judd is now nearly forty, and while still beautiful, she can no longer present herself as a sexual fantasy. Of course, in Bug she seems intent on doing the opposite, showing the least glamorous parts of her body with apparent abandon.

We hope this lack of self-consciousness grows from Judd’s dedication to the role. But, for a woman who was voted one of People magazine’s most beautiful people three times (most recently in 2002), she is no longer endangering her chances of becoming a Hollywood goddess by revealing her physical imperfections. The irony is that she refused to play a nude role in the 1992 movie, Kuffs: “My mother worked too hard for me to take my clothes off in my first movie.”

As for Friedkin, he is aware that his chances for Hollywood stardom are long behind him. In an interview, he makes clear that the author of the play, Tracy Letts, who wrote the film script, is the film’s auteur.  Friedkin has merely given Lett’s vision big-screen expression. In doing so, he has shown a horror inside us far greater than that in The Exorcist, more than an audience can tolerate.

Note: Bug’s total box office for the four-day (May 25th-28th) Memorial weekend opening in 1600+ U.S. theaters was $4 million. This averages to about 250 paying customers per theater – about 20 viewers per showing. Ashley Judd, however, didn’t seem to notice. She was ecstatically rooting her husband, Scottish race car driver Dario Franchitti, to victory in the 2007 Indianapolis 500.

Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele is a psychologist and addiction expert. His next book (August) is Addiction-Proof Your Child (Three Rivers).

May 31, 2007

American Psychiatric Association Endorses Psychics!

Dr. Keith Ablow, daytime TV’s most prominent psychiatrist (on the Fox Network), features the psychic twins – two women, who because they share a “bifurcated soul,” are able to predict the future, speak to spirits, and discern the truths in people lives, like the nature of their relationships, based on 30 seconds of self-description by audience members.

When Dr. Keith told the twins he had tested their predictions, they became visibly concerned, and one said, “We don’t necessarily test well.” No worry. Dr. Keith said that their prediction that Cameron Diaz would not marry Justin Timberlake had proved correct, and reiterated the twins’ claim that they were the only people to predict 9/11. (Note to twins – 3,000 people died on 9/11, not 5,000, so apparently their vision was slightly off.)

On the May 31 show, the twins interpreted what hauntings are telling people, whether to continue in relationships, how their careers will turn out, and to make other life decisions. Their predictions of the future are somewhat tempered by the twins’ announcement that people have free will, so that they can change their destinies – how can they tell the future now, then?! Dr. Keith cautions the twins not to tell people everything they see, lest it impair the listeners’ lives. The twins assert of course they are sensitive to giving people more than they can bear – based on their clinical psychic training?

When a young man spoke about fearing he had not been close enough to his grandmother before her death, the twins quickly claimed to see her spirit around him. “She died of heart disease.” “She died of cancer.” “Oh, there maybe was a heart thing near the end.” The other twin quickly switched to generalities about the grandmother’s great personality, and they said the spirit said she forgave her grandson.

Of course, Dr. Keith is not alone – Montel Williams has been featuring the psychic Sylvia Browne for years. Sylvia tells people whether their disappeared family members are dead, diagnoses their illnesses, and communicates with spirits and angels. Of course, Montel is not a licensed physician, like Dr. Keith. But he has been enlisted by drug policy reformers for his support of medical marijuana (Montel has MS). Beware, the psychic bullshit his show peddles fosters the kind of irrationality that supports American drug policies!

Stanton Peele

May 30, 2007

I Would Treat Lindsay Lohan Differently

Columnists, fans, even family members bemoan the failure of Lindsay Lohan’s rehabilitation stint. Forced to attend a 30-day drug program under protest, she left denying she’s an alcoholic and quickly resumed her all-night drinking and drug use. She was quickly rearrested for a DUI accident.

Reacting with contempt and pity, observers say Lohan should be forced back into treatment until she acknowledges her addictions – like the Salem witches were dunked until they admitted cohabitating with the devil.

But I have a different approach. I don’t begin by telling people they’re addicted, then work backwards towards abstinence. I ask them how they see their lives, including their drug use and drinking.

An interaction might go like this:

“Tell me about your substance use.”

“What do you mean?”

“How much do you drink and do other things. Describe the circumstances.”

“When night comes, I just feel an urge to go out and party. I know that’s what my friends are doing, and I feel like being with them.”

“I see. How is that working for you?

“Fine. . . . I’ve had some problems.”

“Tell me about these.”

“Well, I sometimes get foggy about what I’m doing and where I’m going.”

Notice that I avoid condemning the person. I find that this encourages honesty and trust.

In addition to exploring problems, I am equally concerned to examine the positive, strong parts of my clients’ lives – including activities, people, and values that counteract their negative behavior. Questions that tap into these things include:

“What else do you enjoy doing aside from partying?”

“Do you have friends who don’t party?”

“What is most important in your life? What would you like to achieve?” (In Lindsay’s case, she has had a successful acting career and has indicated that she wants to be taken seriously as an actress.)

My goal is to elicit and emphasize the forces already in people’s lives that have the potential to outweigh and overcome the addiction.

Note that I don’t assume that a young person (Lohan is 20) is saddled with a lifetime disease. For one thing, I don’t believe it. Perhaps you recall that People ran a cover story on 13-year-old Drew Barrymore calling her “America’s youngest addict.” In 2007, the magazine selected the 32-year-old Barrymore as the world’s most beautiful person! Her interview was devoid of any reference to her “disease.”

Barrymore, after her stint at drug treatment at age 15, became emancipated so that she could work as an adult. Her career was soon on track Through work, positive friends, and a changed self-image, Barrymore transformed herself.

Yet this is not the aim of drug and alcohol treatment, whose goal instead is to force young people to see themselves as a lifetime alcoholics or addicts.

One person who refused to do this was Koren Zailckas, whose book Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood describes her decade-long dependence on alcohol from the age of 14. After graduating college, Zailckas finally found meaningful work and companionship that ruled out constant drinking and intoxication.

Zailckas was criticized for defying the standard approach to drug and alcohol treatment, even though she was a success story! Her response to such criticism is indicative: “the brand 'alcoholic' prevents a lot of young people from reevaluating their relationship with alcohol.”

The point of my approach – which is often called motivational interviewing – is to allow people to confront their problems in terms that they find meaningful. This makes their problems more manageable, and they can tackle them from their own perspective based on their strengths and values. For, as we see with Lindsay Lohan, simply putting a person away for 30 days is not a lifetime solution.

Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele is a psychologist who teaches about addiction at New School University. His most recent book is 7 Tools to Beat Addiction. His next, Addiction-Proof Your Child, appears in August (Three Rivers Press).

29 May, 2007

They’re Just Not That into Us

American leaders are seething that Iraq’s parliament is planning on adjourning for the summer while our soldiers continue to fight and die. They see it as a sign that the Iraqis are not putting out the effort they should for their country.

Actually, Iraqi leaders are making a positive statement. As Greg Behrendt explains in his book, He's Just Not That into You, a man’s excuses to a woman who is seeking commitment are not a sign that he’s indecisive or confused. They are a clear indication that he’s just not that interested in her.

Consider the same thing from the position of a man. You call a woman to invite her to a hot concert, and she begs off because she has to wash her hair. What do you deduce from her demurral, “I’d love to go but I can’t – my hair’s dirty.” Buddy, she’s just not that into you.

The Iraqis are trying to tell us in every way they can that they’re not that into us and our plans to unify and democratize their country. In the same way that Behrendt’s book title applies to all the questions women ask about men’s puzzling behavior, “They’re just not that into us” is the answer to all of the following questions:

Why is the Iraqi parliament planning on taking off the summer months?

They’re just not that into us and our plans for them.

Why has the parliament failed to pass legislation distributing oil revenues fairly among the regions of the country?

They’re just not that into us and our plans.

At a more basic level, why have the Iraqi people not melded into a single national identity?

They’re just not that into us and our plans.

Likewise, why do many Iraqi leaders – including those in Parliament – appear to support sectarian violence among the competing ethnic and religious groups?

They’re just not that into us and our plans.

Looking at average Iraqis, why do they commit (or tolerate) violence against neighbors whose religion differs from their own?

They’re just not that into us and our plans.

More tellingly, why do they plant roadside bombs (or not report others who do so) aimed at killing American troops?

They’re just not that into us and our plans.

Here’s a real no-brainer: What does it say that a majority of the members of Iraq's parliament support a bill that would require the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq?

They’re just not. . . oh, come on.

Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele is a psychologist and attorney who teaches about addiction at New School University. His next book is “Addiction-Proof Your Child.”

27 May, 2007

Lucinda Williams’ Love Life

As appealing to men as Lucinda Williams is, she has had little success in sustaining intimate relationships – to the great benefit of her songbook. The romances Lucinda has contemplated, longed for, embarked on, or failed at and the men she’s rejected or who have rejected her fill seven albums of original songs (leaving out her 1979 collection of covers, Ramblin’, and two live recordings).

This has given Lucinda little room to create a family life and has often left her depressed. Now, at 54, she is engaged to be married. She dedicates her latest album, West, to “Tom, my love, who has changed my life for the better” for whom “there aren’t enough words to thank,” and to whom she is “eternally grateful.” Will her newfound romantic bliss elevate her mood and chase her muse? Not so’s you’d notice.

There are no requited, satisfied love relationships on West. The lead song, “Are You Alright,” is about a lover who has suddenly and confusingly disappeared. But Lucinda is surprisingly tolerant of his departure – her main concern seems to be for his well-being, and whether he has someone to “hug and kiss.” Okay, she hopes he will “come back around some day.”

Then there’s the guy who’s left her “Learning How to Live” without him, a man she “can’t forget and won’t even try.” She had no trouble, on the other hand, unloading the cad who couldn’t make her “Come On.” He wasn’t “even worth it,” couldn’t “light her fire,” and so he could “fuck off!”  And there’s that other idiot – who told her he loved her, saying “I’m not like the other guys,” but who was twisting her mind around his words while she tried to “Wrap My Head Around That.”

But Lucinda may have had her biggest battle with the guy with whom she was engaged in the battle of “Words.”  He used his “filthy sounds” that stumbled “ugly and crude between the lips” of his “beautiful mouth” to suppress the words “deep down within” her. Her words remain her “only companion, loyal and true to the end.” (Tom, don’t count on Lucinda staying home tending house.)

We know from her first alternative album, titled Lucinda Williams, released two decades earlier, that Lucinda has a thing for good talkers. Perhaps that accounts for her ambivalent diaspora from – and longing for – the South. There’s the guy with whom conversation “was like a drug” in “Something about What Happens When We Talk.” But she wasn’t ready to “stick around” for that relationship because she was “going back South.”

At the same time, she struggles on that early CD to maintain her individuality in a relationship. In “Side of the Road” she looks for some time away from a lover to “see what it feels like to be without you.” She stares at a farm house, and wonders longingly if within there were “happy and content. . .children and a man and a wife.” Still, Lucinda takes breaking up badly. It can make her kind of psychotic. She not only “Changed the Locks” to keep one lover at bay, she “changed the name of this town.” She takes these drastic steps so this man won’t make her “fall down on my knees” or “knock me off my feet.”

Lucinda hasn’t forgotten former lovers in West, as she wonders “Where is My Love?”  There are the old lovers in Helena, in Tupelo, and in Gainesville. I’m especially intrigued by the one in Birmingham, who was “overjoyed” to be her man – an uncharacteristically self-satisfied sentiment from Lucinda.

The closest thing to a love song on West is “Unsuffer Me” which describes a man who fills her up “with ecstasy.” To do this, he must “unbruise, unbloody” her and “wash away the stain.” Yet, the same CD warns – in a third person bit of advice – that no one can “Rescue” another person. “He can’t save you” or “fix you.” Lucinda is at war with herself about the curative power of love.

Indeed, the title song for the album is not about a man she is with – he’s elsewhere and she wants him “to come out west and see the best that it could be.” (Lucinda returned to LA to write and record the songs on West.) Not that she’s very confident about where the relationship is headed – “who knows what the future holds, or where the cards may fall.”

Lucinda may not be as likely to ask “Am I Too Blue” for a lover “when I cry like the sky,” as she did on Lucinda Williams. But she’s not exactly cheery on West, where “Everything has Changed” so that she “can’t feel my love anymore” or “find my joy anywhere.”

You don’t find the unabashed, youthful sexuality, joy, and openness (intermixed with the deep depressions) she felt in her youth. On Lucinda Williams, she was so charged for an assignation that she drove her car “in the middle of the night” because, she shouted, “I Just Wanted to See You So Bad.” And, of course, she longed for “Passionate Kisses.” As that youth, Lucinda could still “open myself to you” on “Like a Rose.”

Now, in her fifties, Lucinda just wants her love to “surround my heartbeat with your fingertips” in “Unsuffer Me.” That is, after he unbinds her feet and unties her wrists. But we can’t deny Lucinda anything she desires, or that will make her happy, or that at least tempers her suffering. She has given – and continues to give – so much of herself.

Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele is a psychologist. His next book is Addiction-Proof Your Child.

May 24, 2007

Stanton, Your Ads Are for 12-Step Programs!

I received the following email:

Mr. Peele:

As a recovering addict, I have become extremely interested in the debate over the "disease concept" of addiction. In the process of gathering information from all sides, I came across your web site. I eagerly read your 1990 article in the Los Angeles Times where you so vigorously claim that substance abuse treatment centers, especially those based on the 12-step and disease concepts, are a huge waste of time and resources. Yet, I couldn't help noticing the ads lining the left column of your web page. As I am sure you aware, you're hosting advertisements to your readers for exactly those programs that you argue against. Now, I understand the need for funding, but c'mon! I mean, I clicked on one of them and the link was to a 12-step-based program that relies solely on the disease concept! How do you explain this?!?



I sense you dislike the 12 steps, like I do. Yet they continue to dominate treatment, and the discourse, on addiction in the U.S. It’s not an understatement to say that my life’s work is their replacement, and I appreciate your help. I’ve come quite a long way, don’t you think, when people get to them through my Web site! (There are certainly many other ways they can find them, including through many other Web sites). What if oodles of participants in these programs starting questioning the process and introducing my ideas during their sessions? It will represent such a broadening of their approach, and impact for my ideas.

Of course, if readers who go to treatment don’t do that, then my Web site hasn’t had the impact I’m searching for, and I need to keep working (which I am doing anyway). Do me a favor and pre-order my book, Addiction-Proof Your Child, from Amazon, then spread it like wildfire. My idea is to attack the disease model by examining it’s application to children and young people, where it’s contradictions are most obvious – and harmful.


May 21, 2007

The Future of Addiction – “The Drug Dealer is Us!”

John Walters, America’s drug czar, recently declared, “the drug dealer is us.” He was responding to national drug survey data showing that the fasting growing illicit drug use by teens involves pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals are now second only to marijuana in popularity among teens.

The most popular pharmaceuticals for teens are pain killers, like OxyContin, drugs that eradicate consciousness and are highly addictive. Where do these drugs come from? Walters and others emphasize that teens get such drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets. But much illicit drug use stems from drugs teens are prescribed and which they trade or give to others.

Of course, we cannot separate the illicit use of pharmaceuticals by teens from the massive legal prescription of psychiatric drugs in the United States. Such prescriptions have increased exponentially for children and adolescents and, rather than showing any signs of slowing, continue to grow. In middle-class schools districts and summer camps, about one in four kids is receiving a prescription.

The most popular condition for which kids are treated with drugs is depression. According to a 2004 study published in Psychiatric Services, each year antidepressant use among children and adolescents grows by 10 percent. Along with antidepressants, speed-type drugs (such as Adderall and Concerta) are prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Such drugs are highly controlled because, frankly, people like them. Yet, in the 1990s, there was a 700% increase in psychostimulant prescription among the young.

In addition, powerful antipsychotic medications are now regularly prescribed for kids. According to an article in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the number of prescriptions for antipsychotic medications given to people under 20 jumped from an average of 200,000 annually in 1993 to 1,225,000 in 2002. Their use has increased since.

Antipsychotics are prescribed for a wide variety of conditions – including depression, anorexia, behavioral and conduct disorders, and bipolar disorder. Bipolar, which was once called manic-depression, is a popular diagnosis now among upper-middle-class young women.

The illicit and prescribed use of psychiatric medications is particularly fascinating in light of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) campaign to explain and cure drug addiction as a disease. The recent HBO series sponsored by the NIDA, Addiction, promotes the view that “addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease.” The NIDA argues that brain and drug research will remedy this disease.

But no one believes this. When I ask addiction researchers, counselors, and public health specialists what they anticipate the addiction rate will be in the next 10-20 years, 90 percent answer that it will increase.

Along with the prescription of drugs for emotional disorders, we read frequently about drug use by sports stars. The entire sport of bicycle racing is now endangered as the American winner of the 2006 Tour de France, Floyd Landis, undergoes hearings to determine whether his victory should be rescinded due to human hormone use. A similar concern trails Barry Bonds as he approaches Hank Aaron’s lifetime home run record.

Beyond all of this, alcohol is legal for young people at the age of 21. Of course, according to the NIDA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 85 percent of twenty-year-olds have drunk alcohol. When they reach 21, according to the survey, 50 percent binge drink regularly, and a quarter have a diagnosable substance abuse disorder.

By now, it should be clear that your kids will encounter addictive drugs. “Just Say No” just won’t cut it – children and young people can avoid addiction only if they are resistant to it. In my forthcoming book, Addiction-Proof Your Child, I show that they accomplish this by learning to respect themselves, having a purpose in life, and valuing their health and consciousness. In a world where psychoactive chemical substances are ubiquitous, this is your children’s best hope.

Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele is a psychologist, lawyer, and expert on addiction, about which he teaches at New School University. His book, Addiction-Proof Your Child (Three Rivers Press) appears this August.

May 17, 2007

There’s Something Easy that People Like to do that Makes Them Live Longer, but the Government and Medicine are Hiding it from Us

Over a half century, a large number of studies have found that moderate drinking prolongs life. These studies have accumulated to the point where meta-analyses – in which many results of many studies are combined – are possible. In 2006, the Archives of Internal Medicine published an analysis based on 34 well-designed prospective studies – that is, research in which subjects are followed for many years, even decades.

This meta-analysis incorporated a million subjects. It found that “1-2 drinks per day for women and 2-4 drinks per day for men are inversely associated with total mortality.” Translation: drinking up to four drinks a day for men and two drinks for women lowers your risk of death.

When I mentioned the study to my physician he denied its validity, saying, “I attended a conference where they showed why the study made no sense.” Like many of us, my doctor suffers from mild delusions of omniscience – that somehow, his thinking is superior to the combined efforts of leading researchers in a field. He imagined that epidemiologists working around the world have not been clever enough to anticipate the standard objections to such results that he made.

For example, my doctor pointed out, abstainers may not drink because they are already ill. The ways in which this possibility has been countered in the studies combined in the meta-analysis include eliminating subjects who say they are abstaining due to illness and contrasting drinkers to lifetime abstainers.

My good doctor asserted that drinkers have other advantages – wealth and other healthy habits – that account for their superior longevity. This is not true. Another study published in the Archives in 2006 as part of the prestigious Harvard Health Professionals research project found that even men with four healthy life factors (diet, weight, smoking, exercise) had one-third to one-half the risk of suffering a heart attack if they had 1-2 drinks daily.

What makes these results so convincing in that the investigators who uncover them are not eager to highlight the benefits of drinking. On the contrary, they seem sometimes embarrassed – and certainly cautious – in retailing their findings. A typical warning that accompanies the studies is that physicians should not encourage patients to drink because of the dangers of excessive drinking and alcoholism.

These concerns have dogged the field from the start. The first prospective study of heart disease, the legendary Framingham Heart Study, was the first to find that drinkers had fewer heart attacks. In 1972, Harvard researcher Carl Seltzer attempted to publish the finding but the National Institutes of Health refused him the permission to do so.

In 2007, PBS produced a two-hour special, The Hidden Epidemic: Heart Disease in America, devoted to the risk factors for heart disease discovered in Framingham. That abstinence from alcohol is among the major risk factors for heart disease seemingly could not be discussed. An excellent panel of five experts led by Larry King dealt with diet, sex, exercise, smoking – just about everything that people do that impacts the health of their hearts. But alcohol was never mentioned.

Why isn’t it possible to tell adult Americans that drinking is good for them? The NIH issued a memorandum in 1972 explaining why Seltzer couldn’t publish this finding: “the encouragement of undertaking drinking with the implication of prevention of coronary heart disease would be scientifically misleading and socially undesirable in view of the major health problem of alcoholism that already exists in the country.''

Among the most startling expressions of America’s national ambivalence toward alcohol is the belief that telling adults that regular moderate drinking is good for them will prompt many to become alcoholics. As a result, American public health officials and researchers feel they need to keep the remarkable finding that something people can easily do – and like to do – to live longer should be kept under wraps.

Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele is a psychologist and attorney in New Jersey. He has written about the benefits of drinking in the American Journal of Public Health and other scientific journals. He is the author of the forthcoming Addiction-Proof Your Child.

May 16, 2007

Get on Message, Bushes!

Questioned about how George Bush quit smoking, wife Laura said: “I think, one of the easier ways to quit is the way the president did. . . . he took up running” (Laura also quit smoking on her own).

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and its director, Nora Volkow, insist that people can’t quit addictions on their own. This message was driven home on the HBO series the NIDA sponsored, Addiction, even though 50 million Americans have quit the toughest drug – nicotine – and ninety percent have done so without nicotine patches etc.

George’s home cure for nicotine addiction combines with his having quit drinking when he got religion, without entering Betty Ford or joining AA.

How come everything this country does has to get the White House’s approval, except addiction policy? Clearly, the only thing bigger than Republicanism, the Presidency, and God, is addiction mythology!

Oh, by the way, for you Democrats.  According to Michelle Obama’s brother, Craig Robinson (coach of Brown’s men’s basketball team): “Everyone in the family is afraid of her” . . . . Asked if Mr. Obama used a nicotine patch to quit smoking, Mr. Robinson cracked up. “Michelle Obama!” he said. “That’s one hell of a patch right there!”

Stanton Peele

May 14, 2007

I Guess He Missed the HBO Series

News Item: HBO chief executive Chris Albrecht was forced out by Time Warner following his arrest for assaulting his girlfriend in Las Vegas.

Chris Albrecht was forced to resign as CEO of HBO after beating his girlfriend. But he had a good excuse – a relapse in his alcoholism. Of course, this makes us wonder about the effectiveness of HBO’s recent series, Addiction, “part of the Addiction Project, a multi-platform campaign aimed at helping Americans understand addiction as a chronic relapsing brain disease.” The program is supported by the government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

I recently spoke with high school students in New Providence (NJ) high school. Their instructor invited me after completing the Neurobiology of Addiction produced by the NIDA. The 50 or so kids seemed eager to reject the NIDA’s message. They recognized addiction was not a side effect of drug use, but a pattern that appeared in many areas of kids’ lives, and that most outgrew. They spoke about reminding friends who misused drugs and alcohol about responsibility and respect, for themselves and others, rather than that they were suffering from an irremediable lifetime disease.

Of course, we know this approach works best since the NIAAA’s and NIDA’s own data show that the vast majority of kids outgrow their substance abuse without relapsing in parking lots and beating women.

May 11, 2007

Teaching the Wrong Thing

News Item: Alcohol at home can cut teenage binge drinking, study says, by Polly Curtis, health correspondent, The Guardian, Friday May 11, 2007

Teenagers who drink alcohol with their parents were less likely to binge drink in a survey of 10,000 children, according to Mark Bellis, the lead researcher and director of the public health centre at Liverpool John Moores University.

A major study in the United States found the same thing, and it was quickly broadcast as the wrong thing.

In their research, Foley et al.* discovered that adolescents whose parents permitted them to attend teen drinking parties were twice as likely to binge – a restating of the obvious. Across the U.S., newspapers reported that parents who allowed their children to drink at home were encouraging them to binge.

But that was not what the study found. Actually, children who drank at home with parents were one-third as likely to binge. I have attended parent education nights, and the school’s alcohol go-to person regularly states: “Those parents who serve their children alcohol at home make it far it more like they’ll be binge drinkers.”

Actually, not drinking at home with children is a significant risk factor for their binge drinking.

Incidentally, the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that half of 21-year-olds in the United States regularly binge drink.

Stanton Peele

* Foley, K., Altman, D., Durant, R., and Wolfson, M. (2004). Adults' approval and adolescents' alcohol use. Journal of Adolescent Health, 35(4): 345-346.

March 22, 2007

Who Gets More on the Side – Democrats or Republicans?

Newt Gingrich’s admission that he was dating his current wife while still married to his former spouse has resurfaced that endless debate – who gets more, Democrats or Republicans? Gingrich himself has made a significant contribution to the Republican side of the ledger. This was Gingrich’s second “messy” divorce. Earlier, Anne Manning, wife of a fellow professor, revealed they had an affair when Gingrich taught at West Georgia College. (Manning reported that Gingrich, like Clinton, insisted on oral sex in order to preserve deniability. There goes the Democrats’ claim that only they do fancy sex!)

When John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson occupied the White House, the supremacy of the Democrats in this area seemed unassailable. And, we now know, Franklin D. Roosevelt had a long-term romance with Lucy Mercer, Eleanor’s social secretary.

Of course, Republican presidents had their moments as well. According to Kay Summersby, Dwight Eisenhower and she had a tentative affair while she served as the allied commander’s driver in Europe. But, Harry Truman claimed, Eisenhower’s boss George Marshall refused to allow Eisenhower to divorce Mamie to marry his Irish assistant.

Gary Hart, emulating hero Jack Kennedy, had his 1988 Democratic presidential campaign derailed when he was photographed with his date, Donna Rice. And Bill Clinton seemed hell bent on returning to the glory years of Camelot with his active social life. Although Clinton denied a long-term affair with Gennifer Flowers and propositioning Republican turncoat Paula Jones while he was governor of Arkansas, he was finally forced to admit that as President he succumbed to the charms of White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

As a result of Clinton’s affair, we saw just how heated the contest between the political parties was in the arena of cheating. Republicans succeeded in calling for an impeachment trial because Clinton perjured himself denying his relationship with Lewinsky. But it seems Republican leaders in the House lived in highly brittle glass houses!

After Gingrich himself resigned as Speaker of the House due to the backlash from Clinton’s impeachment, Louisiana Congressman and freshly minted Speaker Robert Livingston was forced to confess his own torrid background of multiple affairs. Although Livingston claimed he would not be intimidated because of his peccadilloes (since he had prayed for forgiveness), he quickly resigned.

When another deeply religious (he had been voted Catholic American of the Year) Republican leader, Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde, revealed his long-term affair, the American public must have thought there was a lot of screwing going on in Washington! But it wasn’t only the men of the Republican party who were partying – Idaho Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth, another leader in the Clinton impeachment, revealed she had an illicit affair. (Chenoweth pointed out that, unlike Clinton, she wasn’t addicted to sex, since she was single and bedded only one married man.)

But let us return from the glory days of the Clinton Administration to the present. Republican Presidential contender Rudy Giuliani was pricked when his son, Andrew, described his resentment of the former New York mayor’s very public divorce of Andrew’s mother, Donna Hanover. Giuliani soon married his current wife, Judith – although a judge had forced Judith out of the mayor’s mansion before Giuliani divorced. Meanwhile, another leading Republican candidate, John McCain, has also admitted having an affair.

In his Book “No Retreat, No Surrender,” Tom “The Hammer” DeLay, Republican whip in Congress until 2006, revealed that he cheated regularly as a Congressman while he was drinking 12 cocktails daily. But, like other Republicans, he saw the light and turned to Christ and away from poontang. It seems that Republicans can’t stop chasing tail or drinking until they have religious conversions.

Clearly, the Republicans have taken a recent lead in “poontang politics.” John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama all seem relatively pure – maritally, that is. The sexual purity of the Republican soul should be aired on a program noted for adhering to the highest moral standards, like The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, which relies on expert commentary by former Clinton advisor Dick Morris. Oops!

Stanton Peele

March 19, 2007

What Houdini Tells Us About Life Beyond the Grave

The appearance of Sandra Bullock in a movie, Premonition, and Jeff Goldblum in a TV series, Raines, where the stars talk to dead people drives home how much wistful, sentimental superstition pervades American society. Although Americans frequently congratulate themselves on their technologic and scientific modernity, we in many ways think like people in the dark ages.

Clairvoyants and seers are ubiquitous on the American scene. Performers who speak to the dead regularly appear on Oprah Winfrey, Montel Williams, Maury Povich – even on Dr. Keith (Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist). Mediums write best sellers, have their own television programs, and perform in front of large audiences.

It was in the mid-nineteenth century that mediums began conducting séances in parlors and on stages across the United States. Harry Houdini was enthralled by the possibility of himself speaking to the dead. Born in Hungary as Erik Weisz in 1874, he was brought up in Wisconsin by old world parents and believed in the afterlife.

He became disillusioned, however, as he attended séances and observed mediums’ use of magic techniques with which he was well familiar. (To this day, magicians are mediums’ worst nemeses.) Nonetheless, in his twenties, Houdini relied on such performances to make ends meet, staging séances with his wife, Bess.

As described by William Kalush and Larry Sloman in The Secret Life of Houdini, he struggled morally with his medium subterfuges. A tender man who rooted for the underdog, Houdini – like present-day “clairvoyants” – would seek out information about people in the audience to use on stage. Having learned that one young boy had died, Houdini cried out to the parents who were in his audience: “Joe says, ‘Don’t cry Mamma, there’ll be another one soon to take my place.’”

As Houdini had correctly guessed, Joe’s young mother had again become pregnant, although her pregnancy was as yet secret. Mother and father, along with the audience, were stunned. Decades later, Houdini wrote the parents apologizing profusely for his ruse.

Shortly, Houdini gave up talking to the dead altogether. According to Kalush and Sloman, Houdini deeply regretted “preying on people who were grief-stricken and vulnerable.” He later wrote: “When it was all over I saw and felt that the audience believed in me. . .they believed that my tricks were true communications from those dear dead. . .from that day to this I have never posed as a genuine medium.”

The people and reactions Houdini describes are the same as those of the people who speak to TV mediums. On a recent Maury show, for instance, a woman and her mother-in-law described how the man in their lives was shot dead. They described their incapacitating grief – how they couldn’t continue living if they thought they would never see the man again. The mother hears her son’s voice on the radio, the woman see him on TV. A clairvoyant went to their house and found “proof” of the voices they heard.

Stories like these are heart-breaking, of course. But intentionally deceiving poor (both emotionally and often also financially) people for entertainment and profit is not an answer to their misery. Houdini’s scrupulousness, of course, never troubles less gifted – and less caring – clairvoyants, like those who fill books, screens, and stages today.

Stanton Peele

March 16, 2007

My comment on HBO series, “Addiction” :

Promulgating the idea of addiction as an inescapable disease is not a new or scientifically based idea. It is an old Harry Anslinger and Temperance tactic, and the NIDA, NIAAA, and their perhaps unwitting HBO and filmmaking accomplices are serving up a moralistic, anti-drug menu. But what's worse is that the series actually undercuts people's ability to overcome addiction and alcoholism — since a large majority do so on their own (think about smokers) — primarily addicts who reject the disease concept.

February 16, 2007

When Will the Embargo on Discussing Alcohol Be Lifted from the Framingham Heart Study?

After World War II, a long-term study was begun in Framingham, MA to study the meteoric rise in heart disease in the United States. The study became a landmark, and over the years identified the importance of diet, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and exercise in coronary artery disease.

It was the Framingham study that also discovered the benefits of drinking. In 1972, Harvard researcher Carl Seltzer attempted to publish the finding from the study that men who drank moderately had less heart disease than abstainers. However, the National Institutes of Health refused him permission to publish this result.

Decades later, this finding has been expanded. The protective effects of drinking for both men and for women have been repeatedly affirmed. Based on the results from 34 studies involving more than a million subjects, a 2006 article in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded: “1-2 drinks per day for women and 2-4 drinks per day for men are inversely associated with total mortality.”

Learning that light-to-moderate drinking can save your life would seem to be extremely powerful information. This is especially true considering that as many Americans die from heart disease as from all other causes combined. But, just as in 1972, twenty-five years later you are still unlikely to learn about drinking’s benefits uncovered at Framingham and elsewhere.

This reticence was clear in PBS’s February 15th two-hour special, The Hidden Epidemic: Heart Disease in America – much of which was devoted to the historic study. The documentary noted the major risk factors identified for the first time at Framingham study. But at no time did it discuss alcohol.

Just how powerful the effects of alcohol are was made clear in another 2006 study conducted by the prestigious Harvard Health Professionals research group. Examining only men with otherwise healthy lifestyles – including good diets, moderate weight, not smoking, and exercising – subjects who had 1-2 drinks daily had one-half to one-third the risk of suffering a heart attack as abstainers.

That abstinence from alcohol is among the major risk factors for heart disease seemingly could not be discussed in the PBS documentary. An excellent panel of five experts led by Larry King dealt with diet, sex, exercise, smoking – just about everything that people do that impacts the health of their hearts. But alcohol was never mentioned.

Why isn’t it possible to tell adult Americans that drinking is good for them? The NIH issued a memorandum in 1972 explaining why Seltzer couldn’t publish this finding: “the encouragement of undertaking drinking with the implication of prevention of coronary heart disease would be scientifically misleading and socially undesirable in view of the major health problem of alcoholism that already exists in the country.''

The United States has a long-standing fear of alcohol, one that is not as apparent in other countries. Recall that we enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution in order to ban the manufacture and sale of alcohol (which was then repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment). Italy, France, Spain, and Greece, along with other continental European countries, have never banned alcohol. These countries do not share America’s heart disease epidemic.

Among the most startling expressions of America’s national phobia toward alcohol is the belief that telling adults that regular moderate drinking is good for them will prompt many to become alcoholics. As a result, American public health officials and researchers feel, they should keep this information to themselves. But is takes quite an effort to keep this truth under wraps.

January 8, 2007

In Denial

Damn, I was really enjoying Kurt Andersen’s pointing out how psychotic Bush is [“The Imperial City: The Deniers’ Club,” December 18, 2006], until he says it’s telling that Bush quit drinking without going to AA! Does Andersen really think we’d be a happier nation if Bush were going to AA meetings, admitting he had no control of himself, turning himself over to a higher power, telling everyone he’s abstaining “one day at a time,” and deprecating everyone who (like the actual Bush) quit drinking without all this folderol?
—Stanton Peele, Chatham, N.J.

New York Magazine, Letters to the Editor