Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

Why Stanton Peele's Kid Isn't A Drunk
I've posted about this before, but now Stanton Peele's on CNN, talking about his new book, Addiction Proof Your Child: A Realistic Approach to Preventing Drug, Alcohol, and Other Dependencies, about why it's wise to not ban alcohol but to introduce it in a reasonable way to your kids:

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."

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

In fact, starting in middle school, her parents allowed her and her siblings to have an occasional sip of beer or wine. By the time she was in high school, Peele was drinking beer and wine regularly at family functions and social events. But it was always in moderation, Peele says. She says her parents' attitude toward alcohol made it seem less mysterious. "It wasn't some forbidden fruit," Peele says. "I didn't have to go out to a field with my friends and have 18 beers."

Experts say binge drinking continues to be a growing problem across the country. According to a recent report from the U.S. surgeon general, there are nearly 11 million underage drinkers in the United States. Nearly 7.2 million are considered binge drinkers, meaning they drank more than five drinks in one sitting.

In this age of "just say no," some people believe it is time for Americans to reconsider how they teach kids about alcohol. Peele's father is at the top of the list.

"We taught them to drink in a civilized fashion, like a civilized human being," says Stanton Peele, psychologist and author of "Addiction-Proof Your Child."

He says many of the programs set up to stop alcohol abuse contribute to the teen binge-drinking crisis. Any program that tells kids flatly not to drink creates temptation, he says. "Preparing your child to drink at home lessens the likelihood that they are going to binge drink," he says. "Not sharing alcohol with your child is a risk factor for binge drinking."

Peele says other cultures have figured it out. He points to Italy, Greece and Israel, where children are given small amounts of wine at religious celebrations or watered-down alcohol on special occasions.

But many other experts say the psychologist is off base. "That's ridiculous," says Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation. "By allowing teens to drink," Fay says, "you are giving permission to your children to do harmful things."

Sorry, Calvina, my experience says just the opposite. Because my dad frequently offered us "a taste" of alcohol when we were growing up, and because, being raised Jewish, there was always wine served at various holidays, drinking had no forbidden appeal for me.

I'm also the only person I know who didn't get drunk during college. I did once get drunk at a wedding with my parents. I was 15, and curious about what it felt like, and I knew I'd be safe with my dad there to drive me home. I threw up on the way, and he laughed at me, and said, "Bet you won't do that (drink to excess) again!" And I didn't.

As for those who say drinking leads to drunk driving -- perhaps if kids don't have to sneak out to drink...they won't need to be behind the wheel or in a car at all?

Posted by aalkon at September 30, 2007 9:38 AM


Shall we start a round of dueling anecdotes? I too was allowed to drink moderately around my parents as a teenager. Now at the age of 45, I'm in AA and various other substance abuse recovery programs.

Posted by: Lena at September 30, 2007 12:43 PM

> Shall we start a round of
> dueling anecdotes?

Why not? Seriously. One problem with research like this is that it's necessary. If there were a really obvious impact from first exposure, Amy wouldn't need to work so hard to make her case. Meanwhile we may as well hear everyone's stories. I don't think first exposure has that much to do with what happens in bigger outcomes. When people have the genetic tendency and the switch gets thrown, then you get an alcoholic, no matter how safe and loving and nurturing that first experience.

Anyone with curiousity for this can find interesting things to read by Googling Marc Schukit. (In one interview he makes the point that some children of alcoholics resolve never to touch the stuff, complicating research... The bastards!)

Another recent nugget is that ADD in childhood is a pretty reliable genetic marker for addictive personality. This was almost a religiously liberating thing for me to learn. This isn't meant to sound backhanded, because I understand that people can really suffer... But because my own habits have sometimes been a minor distraction but never been a Big Problem, it's almost worth it to find a reason that I hated school so much, and am incapable of rote learning even today.

And so then we review Amy's first blog post today, and it has some important earmarks... Specifically, distractability and transgressive social comportment. Why isn't this woman an addict?

Posted by: Crid at September 30, 2007 1:19 PM

Interesting that you hated school -- I wasn't a big fan, either, but one of the things I love most about what I do is the ability to go deep into a subject (reading and thinking about it). I'm am at my worst in memorization -- or just remembering things. ADHD brain, I guess. I sometimes think of my brain as home to a family of squirrels; each of them running off in a different direction.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 30, 2007 2:54 PM

Tossing my anecdata into the ring:

I didn't finally drink until college. It was quite the forbidden fruit for me, as I grew up in a fundie-gelical environment in the Deep South. Once I drank, I drank quite heavily at times.

My cousin, on the other hand, spent her early teenage years in Germany, and even while in the States, her family had a relaxed attitude about alcohol. It wasn't something they necessarily encouraged, but wine with dinner was normal. I rarely saw her even buzzed, much less drunk.

Worth what you paid for it...

Posted by: Allison at September 30, 2007 2:56 PM

I lump alcohol into the same category as chocolate and cheeseburgers - something enjoyable, not evil - but drinking too much of it will make me fat. Nobody ever tells children to never eat a cheeseburger or a piece of chocolate cake. Why take an abstinence-only approach to alcohol?

I am secretly pleased at this opportunity to blast away at the subject of one of my favorite pet peeves - the damn Imperial Federal Government and its damned meddling. The drinking age only got to be 21 all across the USA because of bribery from the federal government in the form of transportation bill spending. So the people from a state such as, say, Iowa, pay taxes and elect leaders who set the drinking age at 18. Then we pay taxes to the federal government and can only get that money back if we agree to something we DON'T necessarily want, which is a drinking age of 21. But any politician would be foolish to be known as the guy who kept his state from getting millions of dollars. Add a little propaganda from the temperance preachers at organizations like MADD, and the nanny state just keeps getting bigger. Oh, and a few 19-year-olds get criminal records.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at September 30, 2007 4:05 PM

My advice to all parents of children approaching teenagerhood:

1) Learn the signs of drug and alcohol addiction - take a class, talk to a counselor, whatever.
1)Unless you yourself firmly believe that drinking alcohol is always wrong for people of all ages, start offering your children a glass of wine with the occasional dinner when they hit, oh, 14 or so.

1) needs to go along with 2), IMHO. I am admittedly biased, because this was how it was done in my house, but I think the system works. Did my brother and I drink occasionally? Yes. But both of my parents can spot an alcoholic/drug addict pretty much from the second he/she walks into the room. We've seen them do it. That does a good job of reining in your kids' more destructive impulses where mood-altering substances are concerned. And if we had been genetically programmed for alcoholism? The parents would have spotted it, and at least we would have been in rehab/therapy to deal with it before hitting the college wasteland.

I actually think this is also an argument for having kids volunteer in soup kitchens and other charities that administer aid to those who tend to be addicted to various things. Teenagers may be willful and impulsive, but watching a guy's chapped hands shake compulsively and realizing that it's from the alcohol he drinks makes endless vodka shots appear rather less appealing.

Posted by: marion at September 30, 2007 5:39 PM

Very wise, Marion.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 30, 2007 6:02 PM

Always get the voice of reason from Marion.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at September 30, 2007 6:04 PM

Yours, too, Pirate Jo. I read it earlier, but had to run for the phone. I appreciate what Lena says, but I think Marion brings up a good point about how parents can actually interact meaningfully on this. And I think the drinking age likewise leads to binging. All of this age-based prohibition.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 30, 2007 6:21 PM

Hey Amy, I also agree with Marion's point about the influence of parents. This is one of those deals where I have read something and don't remember the source, but it was saying parents have a much bigger influence on their kids' thinking than people realize. (As opposed to the idea that they pick up everything from their friends, etc.)

I don't see why responsible use of alcohol should be taught any differently than the responsible consumption of junk food, computer games, or whatever else. Just enjoy what there is to enjoy, and have the sense to understand when it is taking away from your life, rather than adding to it. There! End of story!

Posted by: Pirate Jo at September 30, 2007 7:37 PM

I concur that Marion should be warmly congratulated for her very wise opinions on childrearing, and I'm happy that Stanton Peele's daughter isn't a substance abuser. I just think it's important to keep in mind that drunks can and do indeed emerge from households like the Peele's and Alkon's. I hear their stories all the time. There's lots of variables contributing to this problem, my peeps. Best to keep one's certainty in check.

Posted by: Lena at September 30, 2007 9:41 PM

Aw. Y'all have put me in such a good mood that I feel like having a glass of wine. Excuse me for a moment...

...actually, should probably do some classwork. Which reminds me: Grad school has one big advantage over undergrad - everyone's legal, so drinking on campus is just fine. I can highly recommend the experience.

Anyway, was just discussing with someone the other day the fact that, in our opinion, the application of the 21 drinking age has changed over the years. When I was in college, the "official" drinking age was 21. Practically speaking, that meant that most people started drinking socially in a non-insignificant way around 18-19 or so. Once we hit 18-19 or so, there was typically at least one bar that could be found to serve your group, and I remember one or two "nice" restaurants that didn't card us when we went there before formal dances. Of course, we were wearing evening gowns and tuxes rather than jeans, which may have helped. Anyway, at the time I mentally contrasted that with the state of affairs in New Orleans, where the official drinking age was still 18...meaning that kids started drinking socially at 15-16, just as they were learning to drive. Unsurprisingly, they had a LOT of accidents as a result. I was okay with the 21 drinking age given all that - well, I was okay philosophically. Being okay with it practically on a Saturday night during an attempt at a pub crawl was sometimes more difficult.

Now, though, a drinking age of 21 doesn't mean that bars are throwing out 16-year-olds and sometimes turning blind eyes to 19-year-olds. As far as I can tell, what it means is that bars are afraid to serve anyone who MIGHT be under 21, lest they lose their licenses. From what I can tell, the de facto acceptance of legal adults under 21 drinking socially sometimes that was part of my college years seems to have shrunken greatly, or disappeared. (But if anyone in college disagrees, let me know.) As a result, the only place left for kids to drink is in closed-off dorm rooms with surreptitiously obtained beer. Gee, I'm stunned to hear of an increase in binge drinking.

What's the point of all this? Not sure, except maybe as a musing on the difference between laws as written, and laws as applied, and what it means to live in an era in which there seems to be less and less leeway when it comes to applying laws strictly. As a libertarian, I approve, theoretically, of not having laws on the books that one won't enforce. Practically speaking, I can see some benefit to "officially" forbidding some things that you know will happen anyway, but will at least be restricted by the law. I think we may be moving beyond that, though.

On another note: Lena, I wish you luck in your ongoing recovery process. It sucks, but what you're doing takes a lot of strength. Best wishes on staying sober so that you can more effectively keep us honest...

Posted by: marion at September 30, 2007 9:46 PM

Marion -

Not to try to knock the soup kitchen notion, I actually think it's a very good idea. But I actually drank for the first time, when my parents sent me to live and work at the gospel mission for a week. I also smoked a lot of weed with the guy who drove the donation van.

Like I said, I think it's a very good idea. In a similar vein, I've gotten some of the kids in my church's youth group, doing their community service, volunteering with an organization that I volunteer with. We provide home care for people with HIV and AIDS. It is a really effective tool for teaching them about safe sex, without having to say a word about it. Unfortunately it is about the most that many of them learn about safe sex, as mine is a rather conservative church. (I go because the people are really loving folks and accept me in spite of my not being what they would consider a Christian)

On the larger point. My old boss and his wife, have always had a very Euro attitude about the alcohol and pot. They allowed the kids to drink casually and allowed them to smoke the pot (though only in the barn until they were eighteen). When they had friends over, the rule was that the alcohol stayed in the barn, no one drove away and moderation was key - i.e. no alcohol poisoning risk. None of the four, has had any problems with substance abuse, their son doesn't even drink any more. And the youngest decided that she wasn't going to drink or smoke pot, until she got a solid career going, which as far as I (through her folks) know, she has stuck to. It's always been available, but she never wanted to try it, for fear that it might slow her down or somehow interfere with her plans.

I, on the other hand, having severe ADHD and bipolar, am very adept at substance abuse. Now days I stick to abusing coffee and nicotine, but in my days I have abused a lot of different things. What I have always appreciated about it though, is that I can take just about any drug, without fear of actually becoming dependent on that particular substance. Heroin, I just didn't care for, so I didn't do it enough to get hooked. Cocaine I really, really, like, but never had a problem with using in moderation. Meth was really handy when I needed to focus (being not all that different from Aderall, I'm not surprised), but I never tried smoking or snorting it, preferring to take it in my coffee - never had a problem moderating it. Pot has been (and on rare occasions still is) a pretty good standby, throughout most of my adyult life. The only drug that I have had a serious problem with, has been LSD. I have cravings to this day, though it's been six years since I last tripped. The other one that I fear, is crack. I tried it once, under a controlled situation. The friend that helped me do so, took every last dime I had, to hold it for me and hooked me up with a decent evenings binge worth. By the time I finished it, I was cursing my friend, who refused to come over and bring me the rest of my money or get me more. That is some scary shit.

It has been my experience, talking with a lot of people with varying degrees of ADD/ADHD, that a lot of people with ADHD have that ability. We really don't seem to care what boosts our endorphin levels, we just need something. I find it interesting that studies are starting to show that people with ADHD, who are medicated as teens, tend to have significantly less problems with substance abuse as adults.

Posted by: DuWayne at September 30, 2007 10:10 PM

> a musing on the difference
> between laws as written, and
> laws as applied

And a grand muse you are. I agree there's there's something to be said for a little wiggling hypocrisy. The truth is nobody knows exactly when people should be permitted to drink, even on an individual basis, and even as judged by loving parents. (I sincerely believe that sobriety and logic and play-less thinking can go too far in most lives, not that they often do.)

So it's OK that kids see that there's a range of opinions about this. It makes it clear that some of us have a lot of problems with substances, while some have few or none.

> people with ADHD, who are
> medicated as teens, tend to
> have significantly less problems
> with substance abuse as adults.

That pattern seems (ahem) familiar. Where to read more? We all know of people who fell into it early and never got out.

Posted by: Crid at September 30, 2007 11:15 PM

"By allowing teens to drink," Fay says, "you are giving permission to your children to do harmful things."

How did we ever get to the point where people can say this kind of thing? What kind of world view do they have? Any teen with a backbone should tell her where to stick her permission.

Posted by: Norman at October 1, 2007 3:47 AM

Let's raise the stakes a bit... the Feds' War On Drugs is a complete bust. The loss rate from the illegal stuff is dwarfed by Alchohol and Tobacco (why is there an ATF when A, T and F are legal? those people, and the DEA, wearing their goofy high school track jackets look like rent-a-cops who didn't make the cut at the FBI). Legalize, regulate and tax them. Get your coke and crystal meth at Wal-Mart. I admit I'm curious if buying "naughty" drugs in public will stigmatize users in a way that back-alley deals with guns present will not.

Posted by: DaveG at October 1, 2007 6:28 AM

Norman, I don't know how we got to that point, but it's a familiar mantra:

"Don't let kids have access to birth control/HPV vaccine, that gives them permission to have sex!"

"Don't let kids see anything lewd or sexual, they'll start humping each other immediately!"

"Don't let kids have a sip of wine, they'll become instant alcoholics!"

"Ban dangerous internet videos, kids might imitate them and hurt themselves!"
"Don't let kids do anything, otherwise they might do something BAD!! Hide your heads in the sand, and take your kids with you!"

Yadda yadda yadda. I think it's better that kids get SOME exposure to certain things and ideas when they're still young enough that you can moderate such things and hopefully impart some of your own experience. My stepdaughter gets a sip of hard cider (I don't like beer, and neither does she - currently) once in a while. If she's dating, she knows she's expected to tell us who she's dating, and that there are some rules involved. When she gets her license to drive, in addition to my helping her and typical driving classes, I'm signing her up for a road-hazard maneuvering class taught by a professional. I figure it's better for her to get some experience, but with a safety net, than have NONE until she's out on her own, with no experience to guide her.

It's a teen's "job" to test boundaries, make mistakes, and learn some about growing up. I figure it's our job to moderate and guide as appropriate, to help them not mess up TOO badly.

Posted by: Jamie at October 1, 2007 6:43 AM

Vis a vis Lena's comment above:

I too was allowed to drink moderately around my parents as a teenager. Now at the age of 45, I'm in AA and various other substance abuse recovery programs.

I'd be interested to know the differences between how various people were raised to drink moderately. Anybody interested in giving details? Especially those who say this didn't work.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 1, 2007 7:36 AM

studies are starting to show that people with ADHD, who are medicated as teens, tend to have significantly less problems with substance abuse as adults.

I think one can revise this to say that "studies are starting to show that people with ADHD who receive medically-supervised treatment with FDA-approved legal drugs as teens tend to be far less likely to seek their own medication strategy using dangerous and illegal drugs as adults."

(Note: I essentially agree with DaveG on the stupidity of the "war on drugs," except to the point of having coke and crystal meth sold at Target. However, I do think that coke and crystal meth are more dangerous to one's health than Adderall, when properly taken, and while one can argue that these drugs SHOULDN'T be illegal, their current illegality means that one can end up spending a lot of time in jail for taking them, which does not do one any good.)

Posted by: marion at October 1, 2007 7:37 AM

Crid -

Sorry, but I am only semi-html literate. If you google the string; "ADHD medication" "substance abuse" you should find a ton of articles on it. Also, if you click on my name, I have several ADHD and bipolar posts up. There are a few links that are well worth reading. Most notably, "the neuroscience of ADHD" at Retrospectacle, which is a great primer on the physiology of ADHD. There is also a crosspost of an article from Corpus Collosum, that has some interesting info, with more that appeared in comments.

Marion -

I agree with you about selling coke, meth or heroin at Target. I am all for legalizing, but I also think that they need to be kept on a short leash.

I think one can revise this to say that "studies are starting to show that people with ADHD who receive medically-supervised treatment with FDA-approved legal drugs as teens tend to be far less likely to seek their own medication strategy using dangerous and illegal drugs as adults."

Indeed. Although for myself, I have to admit that the drug use was as much a part of my quest for personal pleasure as it was to self medicate. At least one of the abstracts that I read, mentioned this too. It is not only about self-medicating, at least on a conscious level. It is very hard though, to separate pursuit of pleasure, from the desire to fell "right."

Posted by: DuWayne at October 1, 2007 8:34 AM

Here's my story. I have a photo of myself at perhaps 5 years of age, with a beer stein in my hand. I'd asked for a taste of what Dad was drinking, and he said "sure". I had a sip, didn't like it, and there it was. From there on, I'd occasionally try it again (or a mixed drink, or wine) and generally still didn't like the taste. Alcoholic beverages had no mystique at all - they weren't magical grownup treats, they were beverages that didn't taste very good. I didn't like powdered milk, I didn't like grape soda, I didn't like beer - simple, eh? At 19 (legal age in Canada), nothing changed. I've since learned to enjoy a few alcoholic beverages - I have a nice wine collection, and a few good amber rums - but I can take it or leave it. As a wise person once mused - the abolitionist and the dipsomaniac both have the same problem: they see alcohol as a drug, rather than as a beverage.

As for drugs, my parents were occasional partakers. Mostly weed/hash, though my father had experimented with some harder stuff in his youth. When I went to high school, I did get a drug talk from them. It went something like "there's a lot of pressure to try drugs in high school. If you think you need to try, let us know and we'll get you something that isn't cut with poison". To this day, I have never even tried any drugs of any sort. Not even weed (which I think should be legalized, though I wouldn't partake of it then, either).

I have the healthiest attitude possible to booze - if that's the flavor I feel like having, I'll have it, but I don't need it. And drugs? Not for me, thanks.

So there's my story, take it as you wish.

Posted by: Lauren at October 1, 2007 8:36 AM


That's exactly how it's going with our kids.

As a hobby, we run a whisky-bar, and live upstairs in the same building. Talk about an opportunity for the kids to screw up big-time!

We have always let them taste anything they want. They occasionally do, and until now always with the reaction "eewww, that's gross". It's not forbidden - they just don't like it. When they do grow to like alcohol, I have zero worries that they will be stupid about it, first because it's not a forbidden fruit, and second because they see us drink responsibly.

Posted by: bradley13 at October 1, 2007 8:55 AM

My boring anectode -

Grew up in a teetotaling family. Tried first drinks at 16. Quickly discovered that a) being drunk is fun, and b) being hungover is not. Been a responsible social-moderate drinker ever since. Parental restrictions had no bearing whatsoever.

Posted by: snakeman99 at October 1, 2007 10:36 AM

Here's mine:
I'm old enough that I caught the tail end of the '60s. Peace, love, dope, all that. Tried it all. I'm a keg-party veteran, and spent quite a few nights worshipping at the porcelain altar, until I realized that it wasn't fun. I learned at about age 25 that moderation is key. I don't have a really addictive personality, so I was fairly safe as far as trying a lot of things and not letting the substances rule my life, as I saw happen to many of my high school friends. Most of us made it to adulthood, some didn't. Some still have problems, some don't. o_O

Posted by: Flynne at October 1, 2007 11:31 AM

I get monthly TOC alerts from the Archives of General Psychiatry and several other clinical journals, and most of the research action these days is in neurotransmitters and hormones (believe me, I wish I could say I actually READ these journals every month). This kind of dovetails with something I've observed consistently in my own family and others: It's the boys who are more likely to develop substance abuse problems. (Please note the use of the term "likely.") I'm a guy ("Lena" is my tranny alter ego), and both my brother and I have strugged with booze and drugs for years. But my sister? A glass or two of chardonnay will do her just fine. Now, AA and all the other programs have plenty of girl drunks in them, so again I must emphasize the probabilistic nature of these observations. But given the trends in psychiatric research these days, and the growing applications of our knowledge of the human genome, the idea of "addiction-proofing" one's child through a program of table manners seems like a quaint, Oprah-esque book marketing strategy. However, this is not to say that parents don't have an any effect on their kids' substance use. The bottom line is WE NEED MORE INFORMATION. So, be patient. Have a cocktail, for chrissake.

And FYI to Marion: Sobriety rocks. Very little struggle is involved.

Posted by: Lena at October 1, 2007 11:57 AM

In high school biology class, we learned that alcohol affected developing brains negatively, and since the brain grows until around age 20-22, the drinking age was set at 21. That statement always bothered me because what about the Europeans? They drink alcohol from an early age and turn out fine. I would love to know if anyone else has heard this as well.

Posted by: Amy at October 1, 2007 1:52 PM

I lived in Germany as a child, where giving kids a little beer was no big deal. My first and only hangover happened at Oktoberfest in Munich when I was 5. I was getting my Mom, Dad and big brother to give me sips of their beer. Guess none of them realized the others were giving me sips too. That cured my liking of beer.

Over the years Mom always had me try new drinks, and mostly I thought they were gross. Mom also let me know if I wanted to drink, I could do it at home where I was safe. It was so normal to have alcohol around that it was just no big thing.

In college at one point I decided to try and get tipsy. That's when I realized I could drink like a fish (DO fish drink?) and not feel a thing. I realized that could get pretty dangerous, as I could get alcohol poisoning before I even felt tipsy.

These days, at 38, I have the occasional strawberry daquiri, and that's it. Don't like the taste of most alcohol, and don't like the way I metabolize it.

Posted by: Kimberly at October 1, 2007 2:22 PM

"what about the Europeans? They drink alcohol from an early age and turn out fine."

Well, if relatively high rates of cirrhosis-related deaths can be regarded as "turning out fine," I guess you're right...

J Hepatol. 2007 May;46(5):827-39. 2007 Feb 16.

Worldwide mortality from cirrhosis: an update to 2002.

Bosetti C, Levi F, Lucchini F, Zatonski WA, Negri E, La Vecchia C.

Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Via Eritrea 62, 20157 Milan,

BACKGROUND/AIMS: Cirrhosis mortality has registered large changes over the last
few decades. METHODS: Age-standardized (world standard) cirrhosis mortality rates
per 100,000 were computed for 41 countries worldwide over the period 1980-2002
using data from the WHO mortality database. RESULTS: In the early 1980s, the
highest rates were in Mexico, Chile (around 55/100,000 men and over 14/100,000
women), France, Italy, Portugal, Austria, Hungary and Romania (around
30-35/100,000 men and 10-15/100,000 women). Mortality from cirrhosis has been
steadily declining in most countries worldwide since the mid or late 1970s
(annual percent change, APC, between -5% and -1.5% in the last decade only for
both sexes). In southern Europe, rates in the early 2000s were less than halved
compared to earlier decades. In contrast, rates have been rising in Eastern
European countries to reach extremely high values in the mid 1990s, and declined
only thereafter. In the UK rates were still steadily rising (APC around +7% in
men and +3% in women from England and Wales, and +9% in men and +7% in women from
Scotland). CONCLUSIONS: Mortality from cirrhosis shows favourable trends in most
countries of the world, following the reduction in alcohol consumption and
hepatitis B and C virus infection. The steady upward trends observed over more
recent calendar periods in the UK and central and eastern European countries are
attributed to the persistent increase in the prevalence of alcohol consumption.

Posted by: Lena at October 1, 2007 2:44 PM

My parents are of German & Austrian background, and I grew up in Canada, where the drinking age was 18 when I turned 18. They were very liberal, in that they let us try wine, beer, any kind of alcohol when I was quite young. I thought booze tasted gross. Both sides of the family are functional alcoholics, including both my parents and my sister, because we have some kind of weird genes that let us process nervous system depressents quite efficiently (not fun at the dentist-need about 5 needles to get a filling).

I went through a heavy beer drinking phase in university, but I got tired of the hangovers, and the way it kept taking more and more beer to get a buzz (damned adaptable body), so alcohol was no good for the buzz factor.

I tried weed, LSD, and magic mushrooms, but that's as far as it went, and I enjoyed all of them, but only dabbled out of curiousity, as I don't think I have an addictive personality.

I only drink wine & microbrewery beer now, on the odd occasion, and only smoke weed with my sexy boyfriend, because it makes my orgasms better.

My parents were liberal about sex too, which makes me apparently one of the few healthy people in this area too. It's amazing how prudish and guilt stricken a lot of women & men are about sex, and I'm exhausted having to deal with their issues. It's probably because I was raised as a United church christian, which is pretty much a godless heathen, which I became at around 25. Now I just live in the now as an amateur Daoist.

Posted by: Chrissy at October 1, 2007 6:04 PM

> one can revise this to
> say that...

OK, fine. Go ahead and take all the fun out of it... Shatter the fantasy that magical principles can protect us... That reckless, troubled, deeply distracted teenagers can effectively, responsibly self-medicate... That a clumsy but earnest individual won't likely respond as sensibly as will as the double-blind science from The Man.

That is so like a Harvard Grad.

Posted by: Crid at October 1, 2007 9:50 PM

Liberal parents or teetotaling parents do not matter if a person is genetically predisposed to addiction.

Posted by: Rudy at October 1, 2007 11:07 PM

Rudy's right. If you got the genes, and the switch gets thrown, then it's game on. Maybe responsible parents can can warn you you this, but I'm not sure they can map out your path for a lifetime just during your youth.

Posted by: Crid at October 2, 2007 12:01 AM

I believe that technically, I am an addict. I have a drink just about every day, often times 2 or 3. Once or twice a month (when my son is with his dad), I will have 5-8 which I believe is called a binge. However, on the scale of things that people tend to measure, I am doing well -- economically, socially, career, family, hobbies, etc. I pay my own way and take responsibility for my own damn self. So, I wouldn't classify myself as having a problem. I recognize that I'm not doing my liver any real favours, but its a potential trade off I'm willing to make. I come from a line of tea-totallers. While none of my grandparents, aunts or uncles drink (well, my one aunt has one now and then) every one of my cousins drinks regularly -- either "normal" social or more frequently, like me. Not sure if that is a result of our upbringing or our genetic makeup. My understanding is that the jury is still out on an "addict" gene.

Don't want to piss off Lena as I know AA works for about 30% of people....however, after spending 3 years trying to help a non-functioning alcholic get his shit together (I finally left him to his own decisions), I was disgusted with the state of addicition treatment here in Alberta. The mentality that addicts have a disease implies there is medical treatment. And then finding the treatment is to rely on some higher power to magically cure them sounds like evangelism to me! Talk about setting them up for failure! "You really have no control, so if you slip, its not as if you had a choice. Your faith in the higher power just slipped." How about "You control you. If you choose to drink continuously throughout the day, you're going to lose your job, your health, your friends and your family. If you choose to do this for any length of time, you are choosing to die soon. And if you do choose to drink continuously one day, you still have a choice the next day not to." Try as I might, I could not find a single treatment program, psychologist or psychiatrist willing to consider other methods than AA, 12-step, or whatever label any program put on this disease mentality.

There are other treatments out there. I read books about them (with real science behind them!), found them on-line, but couldn't find any resources here that would support those alternatives. And AA was not working for this person.

Of the 4 other people in that social circle, three are dead. I'd say all by their own hand, although two of them took a more expedient route, while drunk. An unwillingness to take personal responsibility for themselves and the world's reinforcement and encouragement of that lack of responsibility is what got them all there. That and an unwillingness to even try resolving any of the other psychological issues each of them had. Or at least that's the way it looked from where I was standing, right next to them.

Hit one of my pet peeves....or more accurately one of the things that makes me furious. Sorry about that....I think I did fairly well to contain my rant actually!!

Posted by: moreta at October 2, 2007 7:16 AM

Stanton Peele takes an approach which might work better for you - the notion that all drug use is not abuse, and that drug abuse is matter of choosing short-term over long-term gains. Check out The Truth About Addiction And Recovery, by Peele:

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 2, 2007 7:21 AM

Moreta --

If you don't think you have a problem, why do you find AA so frustrating? What's all the huffing and puffing about? Just live your own goddamned life and let others do the same -- in or out of AA.

Any successful recovery program is not about blaming anyone else for your own bullshit addictive behaviors (see Steps 4 and 9 of AA, for more info). As far as your reservations about the "higher power" stuff, there are plenty of recovering atheists whose higher power is the group (ie, the meetings, phone calls, etc). My higher power is the daily decision to stay clean and sober. It's a decision that no one else -- supernatural or mortal -- makes for me. The program is there to help me stay focused and to remind me I'm not alone. Why is this so objectionable?

For me, the shit-filled dirty diaper of self-pity is most clearly seen in the lonely drunk sitting at home alone, night after night, ruminating on all the imaginary injustices that he or she has suffered so exquisitely. These people often measure well economically and socially, and they pay their own way. I entered AA on a six-figure salary and a publications history that included the New England Journal of Medicine. But booze had me feeling so fucking sick, none of it mattered anymore. Because of the help of AA, I've been sober for over 3 years now. Again, why is this program a problem?

And Amy, with all due respect to you, I regard Stanton Peele as the Naomi Wolf of Addiction Medicine -- ie, he's just another fashionable social constructivist who's not even fashionable anymore. His work is compelling, but ultimately useless to me.


Posted by: Lena at October 2, 2007 8:10 AM

Actually, that is one of the books I purchased and read at the time to try to help my friend. I think Stanton Peele is absolutely right. The lack of knowledge and/or interest (or could it be *gasp* funding/lobby/pr?) to consider this type of idea and approach here was death. My friend went into treatment, participated in both in and out patient therapies, but not one of them ever talked to him about choice. It was all about giving into a higher power....well he had already done that, its name was booze. Hmmm...imaginary higher power vs. real life bottle of vodka....I know which one of those I believe in!

Posted by: moreta at October 2, 2007 8:25 AM

Lena, as I said, I didn't want to piss you off, as I know AA works for 30% of the people who give it a try and I'm glad for you, that you are one of them. My issue is that there is no other option. My frustration with AA and its supporters is the unwillingness to admit that there might be other solutions. Unfortunately, that is only logical from inside the group, as it has been the only solution that works and continued success requires carrying the message forth as the solution (Step 12). AA or death. The politics, lobbying and public perception generated by the promoters of the theory and treatment methodology have prevented other options from being developed or even considered as possibilities in my province, leaving those other 70% who want help with nothing else (organized) to try.

Reminding oneself of the decision to stay clean and sober and getting support in doing so is a great purpose of a group. I don't find that objectionable at all. Although I didn't intend to debate AA in and of itself, I guess I did open that can of worms. I think steps 4, 8, 9 & 10 are excellent. What strains against my values and beliefs are steps 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 11 and 12. I appreciate that you are able to replace the diety related words in those steps with "my own will to stay sober"...which is great. Doing that while reading The Steps, The Big Book, the Thought, Meditation and Prayer of the Day just doesn't work for everyone. Looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, walks like a duck...must be a duck! More importantly, and the point I was really trying to make, is that the steps don't work for everyone even when they don't have to do a few mental tricks to hear different words than what is being said.

My intent was not to lament imaginary injustices done to me (or my 3 dead friends), but to lament the lack of choice. And, of course, to share my anecdote about how I was brought up vs. my drinking habits per your original post. My first paragraph was the anecdote and was meant as a stand alone from the rest of my comments.

I'll gladly let you and others go on living their own lives, in or out of AA, sober or drunk. However, I will also continue to raise objections about AA being the ONLY option available for those who are looking for help.

Posted by: moreta at October 2, 2007 9:28 AM

Of course AA isn't the only option. Many of us in the program know that. (I've heard good things about Welbutrin, by the way. A colleague of mine is currently evaluating its effect on craving for methamphetamine.)

You don't have to 'do' the steps... any of them. You don't have to have a sponsor. You don't have to adopt any of the program's recommendations. The desire to stop drinking is enough to get a seat. People come and go all the time. Everyone's got their own journey with this stuff.

Good luck with everything.

Posted by: Lena at October 2, 2007 10:43 AM

> I was disgusted with the
> state of addicition
> treatment here in
> Alberta

The cancer programs (ahem, "programmes") are probably pretty shabby, too. My point is that this is a wickedly complicated and hazardous condition, like cancer. It's not a little oopsie that can be conveniently bandaged. I wish people with cancer had more "choice" as well, but as it is they're in a tough spot.

And once again, policy is not the problem... You can lobby and fund and do all the PR you want, but bad things will happen to people. Not everything that happens is done to us by Cheney and Rove. Wretchedness is in our nature, both as character and chemistry.

(But if Cheney shoots you in the face, that's just mean.)

Both Moreta and Lena are making sense. AA would not be my cup of tea either because it's so social, and Sartre was right: Hell is other people.


> there are plenty of recovering
> atheists whose higher power is
> the group

I presume you mean there are contentedly Godless people in AA. Pinsky says human brains and identities only grow through interaction with other people. That's how it's done.

This may be terribly obvious, but I bet if you completed twelve steps of anything --even chapters of the Boy Scout manual-- in the presence of several others who'd been pushed to the edge of their character, you'd probably be a different person when it was over.

AA shouldn't be mocked for its religious overtones, or for its clubby ones.

Posted by: Crid at October 2, 2007 1:13 PM

Fun editorial titles from the front page of the Onion:


* No Police Report Can Truly Capture My Love Of Drunk Driving

By Keith Pauls

* Open Relationship
I'm In An Open Relationship With The Lord

By Bonnie Nordstrum,

Posted by: Crid at October 2, 2007 1:51 PM

"Pinsky says human brains and identities only grow through interaction with other people. That's how it's done."

Is it Pinsky or Pinker? Steven, right? As in "The Blank Slate"? Which I absolutely MUST get around to reading one of these days...

Anyway, I love that idea about brains and identities growing through interaction. After an exhausting day of teaching medical students about research design, and not always being so sure that I was getting through to them, it's also a little bit of consolation. Those little fuckers in lab coats keep me on my toes. Bless their pointed little heads.

How are you, Crid? Are you working your ass off too? Amy just made deadline, so we'll all feeling a bit tired west of Sepulveda right now.

Posted by: Lena at October 2, 2007 6:30 PM

My favorite poetry of the day (besides some nice prose my sister quoted me, reading a bit too fast, from Sinclair Lewis) Lena:

For me, the shit-filled dirty diaper of self-pity

Blank Slate is fantaz. Pinker has a new book out.

Amy not only made deadline, but went to French, where she was semi-coherent.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 2, 2007 8:17 PM

This is Pinsky. He's a clinician and media guy, not a researcher.

Life's OK here: Big work last week, little work this week. Truly, the wet side of the 405 is a wonderful place to live, work and shop.

Posted by: Crid at October 2, 2007 8:20 PM

I was on TV with him a few times. I find him a bit intimidating in a dad-like way, so to alleviate my nervousness, I pictured him in just a pair of underwear and business shoes and socks, and crawling on his hands and knees with me riding him around the studio and beating him with a riding crop.

It worked!

Sorry...was that too much information?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 2, 2007 8:29 PM

It decreased your nervousness, but did it get you horny too? As much as I love getting boners, I don't think I'd like to deal with one in front of a television camera.

Non-sequitor of the Day: Check out's posts on Brittany Spears. He is shamelessly tacky -- and very funny.

Posted by: Lena at October 2, 2007 10:14 PM

Leave a comment