Category Archives: Alcohol Abuse

“A New High” Proves AA Is Not The Only Road to Recovery

When most Americans think of addiction and overcoming it, Alcoholics Anonymous, more commonly known as AA comes to mind. For most of the country, AA is often seen as the punch line of a joke and conjures up images of a meeting in a church basement with a circle of chairs and complimentary coffee in paper cups. But as the new documentary “A New High” shows, there’s a new recovery program that’s hoping to give AA a run for their money.


“A New High” is a documentary exploring the idea of rehab in a non-traditional way. The film chronicles the lives ofthose addled by addiction, some with shattered lives who have had multiple unsuccessful attempts to rebuild their lives and themselves. These people have found themselves in the care of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and dynamic former Army ranger, Mike Johnson. Johnson recruits a group of addicts to climb the 14,400-foot Mount Rainer, in hopes that the climbing of the physical mountain will help them to be able to climb and overcome their own personal mountains within.


“This climbing thing, it gives them a chance to write a new story, a story of success, a story of hard work, the chance to be part of the team,” says Johnson. “It’s up the mountain, or it’s down into the grave.”

Johnson isn’t exaggerating the severity of the situation these people are in.

“The only thing that’s going to happen if I ever relapse is death,” said one of the climbers. “It’s not the way I was raised, it’s not who I am.”

Johnson’s program is so exciting, because it is potentially offering new opportunities to addicts who feel that rehab at AA may not be the right path for them. A growing movement is mounting, rejecting the idea that AA is the only road to recovery and millennials might be the leaders of this charge.

Recovery That’s Outside The Box

Creative, entrepreneurial, and accepting, millennials have made the gay/straight question about as exciting as left-handed or right-handed. They are playing jazz with tired definitions and assigned boxes and they seem to be doing the same with recovery.

According to AA there are 2,040,629 active members worldwide. In the grand scheme of a problem like addiction that number seems low. According to a study done in 2014 by the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Service (OASAS), there are 23.5 million Americans who describe themselves as being “in recovery”. That’s roughly 10% of the American population and 21 million more than AA’s global membership. That proves that AA must not be the only treatment available.

“You just feel so different from everyone else,” said another one of the climbers. “I just never did anything like this, I never thought I could.”

But this documentary begs the question; can an alternative program like this one work? Dr. Scott Bienenfeld, MD, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction says he thinks it can.

“Setting a goal to reach the summit of a mountain would require many of the things we suggest for people attempting to stabilize an addiction,” says Dr. Bienenfeld. “Vigorous physical activity, commitment, accountability and above all, peer support are all necessary requirements.”

Dr. Bienenfeld, who founded Rebound Brooklyn, a medical recovery program for people with substance abuse problems and addiction treatment, goes on to explain more about why AA’s success varies depending on the person.

“The reason AA works for some people is because they are doing something with other people and without intoxication,” says Dr. Bienenfeld. “Being a part of a team, training, goal setting and reaching those goals with other sober people is the kind of mutual help that can keep someone clean.”

Be a part of something bigger

It appears that the reoccurring theme and key when it comes to recovery is to feel like you are a part of something bigger than you. Reading a book in a church basement doesn’t seem to have a monopoly on active participation.

“AA is a great organization but it only works if it works for you,” says Dr. Bienenfeld. “If it doesn’t work, find something else that does.”

With the millions of American families, individuals and communities decimated by addiction when it rears its ugly head, certainly mountain climbing can’t be the solution to a complex and ancient problem. The take away from the film is inspiration, but Johnson sums it up the best:

“I choose joy. I’ve never found myself able to give up on anybody, because I believe in change. Because I saw it. You can do this and if you do, you will never be the same.”

A NEW HIGH will be screened on Saturday, Nov 14, at 9:15pm as part of DOC NYC at the IFC theater. Tickets available at

This post originally appeared on

Ryan Lochte, Booze Just Isn’t For You

Ryan Lochte and Alcohol AbuseIn a refreshing respite from Trumps latest gaff, the news cycle was dominated this morning by something else. Unfortunately, it’s was a sad tale of scandal involving Ryan Lochte and two other young men from the U.S. Olympic swim team. Its seems that after some kind of issue at a gas station after a night of partying ended in a fabricated story about being held at gunpoint. A convenient way to sweep poor decisions under the rug and blame bad behavior on a dire economic condition in Brazil. Clearly this was a situation that got out of hand and the intention to get out of it, went awry.

Ryan Lochte’s Pattern of Alcohol Abuse

Lochte has a history of these types of incidents. He has previously been arrested for disorderly conduct and public urination. None of this displays inherent criminality, it’s low level stuff, but as a famous athlete, his stakes are higher and scrutiny is closer, making the behavior worse. One of the diagnostics for a substance abuse issue is “consequence with a willingness to do it again”. So in other words, if it were a bad decision and a young person learned their lesson, it’s not really pathology, it’s youth. The treatment plan for being 19 is being 25 and we all have to take our lumps with that experience. That’s not what Lochte is facing.

At 32 years old, Lochte no longer gets the latitude of “young and dumb”. There is a clear pattern of things going wrong when alcohol is added to his composition. This latest debacle is part of a larger pattern where Lochte acts in ways he wouldn’t in the absence of drinking and partying. Most concerning in the unfolding story is Lochte seems to have led younger teammates then left them holding the bag. That’s the integrity of someone who is actively impaired with a drinking problem. It’s unlikely, though possible, that Lochte has organic mental illness that would lead him to these situations. It’s more likely that when he drinks, these things can happen. That is what alcoholism is. That’s the definition of it. Most are looking for volume and frequency to explain the pathology and that’s only a small data point. More relevant is what happens when someone drinks.

Finding Help for Alcoholism

At the moment the media is consumed with what happens in Rio. Once this unravels, it’s very likely that the public flogging of Lochte will begin. Does Lochte deserve this? Partially he does, he acted poorly and needs to be held accountable. He also deserves empathy, he meets criteria for alcoholism and that requires treatment and compassion. Shame only fans the flame. Perhaps Lochte should speak with teammate Michael Phelps who, after numerous consequences, went into treatment and it seems to have worked, he’s doing well and is vocal about his recovery.

Were Lochte my son or my charge here is what I would advise he say and do: “I have had numerous consequences when I have been drinking. While I am not asking for my behavior to be excused and am willing to accept the consequences, I will be entering treatment to learn more about my relationship with and reaction to alcohol”. Clear, simple, and appropriate. Give me a call, Ryan, I can help you out.

Brock Turner And The Culture Of Alcohol Field Rape

Culture of Alcohol Field Rape

Brock Turner and his parents have shown their cards. Their level of entitlement is staggering. They are the embodiment of modern parenting that treats children not as developing adults but as deified exotic pets whose main role and purpose is to provide fodder for bragging to peers.

Rehabs are full of these kids, inept and unable to function in a world that doesn’t treat them like their parents do. The “my kid can do no wrong” standard is harmful to human development. Reading the letters Brock Turner’s parents wrote to the judge it’s clear where he got the idea that the world is his to act on any impulse with impunity. My guess is these parents were holy terrors to faculty.

What if Brock got a “B”? My guess is the parents would demand the teacher be fired, after all, apparently his parents believe Brock can rape and he is the victim deserving of a standard they have set. Sadly, the judge agreed with this rank stupidity.

Brock Turner And College Rape Culture

One of the things that was blamed in this incident was the culture of binge drinking on college campuses. In a general sense, alcohol use does contribute to the issue of sexual assault. The literature is clear on this, less alcohol, less sexual assault, but that doesn’t address the entire problem. So what is the problem? Where does it start and what can be done?

With the Brock Turners of the world, the problem seems to start with the mini-van, juice box culture where children begin to internalize a belief that they are not beings among billions but that they are special, deserving of perfection and a pain free existence. The truth is, human development is like an immune system, without pain, we can not function and don’t build tolerance for what comes down the Jersey turnpike of life. Life is rife with a range of emotion, disappointment, sadness, frustration, grief and yes, happiness. Addicts believe they have the right to correct any feeling of which they do not approve. Whenever I get a young man as a client I ask them a very simple question “what do you want for your recovery?” Almost invariably they say “I want to be happy”. My reply “well, you’ll be happy some of the time but not always”, baffles them. They have no ability to even entertain the idea that that they are not entitled to unwavering happiness.

The binge drinking campus culture fuels all kinds of problems. We try to mitigate the whole issue by saying “don’t drink and drive”, sound advice to be sure but hardly addressing the range of what can go wrong when young people drink to the point of stupidity. Late adolescent behavior is risky in and of itself. Does it need help from demon alcohol to nurture risk?

Brock Turner upped the ante into something way beyond the typical campus sexual assault but is there more to it? I have heard many, many, tearful confessions from young men facing sexual assault charges. Are they pathological sexual predators? Maybe. Maybe they are young, dumb, drunk, filled with pressure to get laid and fit in with a lord of the flies fraternity house. Certainly this excuses nothing but it may explain some of the problem and understanding the problem is a step toward improving the problem.

Reframing Parenthood

Why are we shocked at the Brock Turners of the world? They are raised to believe they are chosen, special, and above consequence. Add alcohol and youth and you have a situation that produces low hanging fruit for all kinds of problems. The first step is reframing parenthood. Making ‘not having children’ an acceptable choice (most people shouldn’t be parents) would be a great start. Holding children accountable for their actions would also a great step. Educating young people about their sexuality as more than a chapter of the mechanics in a health text book. Teaching young men their dick is not a sword of imperialistic entitlement. Starting at a much, much, younger age, would help. I’m sure young women need a different approach to their sexuality but I have no capacity to advise that. All I would know to say is “honey, head up, skirt down, boys are filthy, find a nerd”.

The apple pie faced Brock Turner offers an opportunity to have a national dialogue about sexual assault on college campuses. Over simplifying the problem with “rape is bad” rhetoric is incomplete and will do little to reduce the number of these incidence. As always, the monopoly that alcohol enjoys on legal intoxication is a problem. Diversifying choice in the matter would help. While sexual assault spikes with alcohol, it declines with weed. We all like the idea of the young people in our lives using no intoxication but we also like the idea of all children having food.

As with most things in America we treat problems with Christian ethics and tell people not to do things. Sorry America, we need to be more honest and start looking at managed risk and harm reduction. Brock Turner got off far to easily for this egregious assault. In my view, his parents should serve time. Their crime? Complicit in their sons world view that would allow him to commit this act.

Originally published on EpicTimes.Com

Drinko de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo Alcohol Use
If we are to believe Jimmy Kimmel’s man on the street interviews, it’s always astonishing what everyday Americans don’t know about America. Stranger yet, is what Americans don’t know about other countries. Most Americans don’t hold a passport and believe that all parts of the world aspire to be us and can’t believe that much of Europe thinks we’re are badly dressed fat people with excessive TV channels, a total lack of culture, and notoriously racist and violent. Of the 1/3 of Americans who hold a passport, most of those won’t ever use them. We are happy right here near a Walmart, with the safety of guns at our fingertips. So why is Cinco de Mayo so wildly popular? In a word: booze.

While Americans are pretty oblivious to and happy with our ethnocentrism, we also love a good party. Cinco de Mayo has now surpassed St. Patrick’s day in liquor sales. That’s a dubious honor considering the history of the Irish people. Google Cinco de Mayo and the history of it is and what it celebrates is pretty low on the first page, well beneath many recipes for various margaritas. The Americanization of the holiday is just another reason to get drunk, as if a regular old Tuesday wouldn’t do. It looks like we have tequila, tecate, Dos Equis, and Corona to thank for the wildly popular holiday. It’s easy to see what is really important by the sales of items on May, 4. Essentially, avocado and tequila sales spike. Let’s get drunk and have some guacamole to support our neighbors to the south! Well played liquor companies, yet another marketing masterpiece to spike the sales of your damage inducing product. Cinco de Mayo is the Olive Garden of holidays. It’s like a bad taco with ground beef and iceberg lettuce off the .99 menu at any number of Mexican fast food restaurants.

The media is awash with the typical “designate a driver” “use responsibly” and “buzzed driving is drunk driving” rhetoric all of which is a good reminder but is a reminder needed? Is there anyone out there who is defending the act of drinking and driving? What about all the other things that will go wrong tomorrow during the tequila soaked piñata fiesta? Alcohol use sees a rise in many things, among them, sexual assault and no where is this more true then on a college campus.

According to a Kent State study on college campus alcohol abuse, every year 500,000 students will have unprotected sex, more than 100,000 will be too intoxicated to know whether they consented to sexual intercourse and more then 70,000 students will experience alcohol related sexual assault. The reminders not to drink and drive don’t address this problem in any way. Holidays like Cinco de Mayo see a spike in all of the collateral damage with a rise in alcohol use. As a side note, guess who doesn’t pay a cent for all the wreckage? Alcohol companies.

I am often asked, “when is drinking a problem?” “when should I seek treatment?”. Questions of that nature. Holidays like Cinco de Mayo won’t give you the answer but they may provide some insight. Using things like fabricated holidays to rationalize excessive drinking isn’t diagnostic criteria but it may give pause to be honest about how important alcohol is to your life and what problems arise from it. The truth is, most people are better off without intoxication and the numbers don’t lie, alcohol is very dangerous stuff. I like to use this simple test “would I go if they didn’t have a bar”. My answer was always “no”. I’m going because I can get sloppy drunk and hide among all the other people getting sloppy drunk. I like guacamole and all but it’s not the guacamole that would be enough to get me out midweek. From a cultural level, Cinco de Mayo is a made up reason to get drunk. On an individual level, if one is making up reasons to get drunk, give me a call.

Oklahoma, Where Insanity Comes Sweeping Down the Plains

Oklahoma Court DecisionYesterday in a bizarre ruling, an Oklahoma court found forced oral sex with someone too intoxicated to consent, legal. Huh? Can that be possible? “Yes” is the sad and inexplicable answer. The case that produced the ruling involved a 17 year old boy and 16 year old girl. A later hospitalization showed the girl had a blood alcohol content of .34, which could produce death. She was drunk, bone saturated drunk beyond recognition and certainly beyond any ability to consent to anything. There were no reports regarding the boy’s level of intoxication, if any. Rightfully so, there are numerous public outcries from advocacy groups and just about anyone with a a sense of humanity. Think about the message here: pesky courtship and dating rituals, consensual decisions are way too bothersome, all you need is a 12 pack and a passed out date. There are so many issues with this that should be examined and the media is alive with condemning the court’s decision. Much of the attention is focused on the boy. That he was a calculating sexual predator. He might be but there is a massive oversight when discussing the problem and that is the alcohol. Of course the alcohol doesn’t excuse the behavior and certainly doesn’t let anyone off the hook but it’s playing a big role here and we should take a look at it.

Link Between Alcohol Use and Sexual Assault

For years and years we have said “don’t drink and drive” and “designate a driver”. That’s good policy but doesn’t do anything to address the many other things that go wrong when alcohol is poured freely. One of those things is sexual assault. Research is clear on this very simple point: rise in alcohol use, rise in sexual assault. The vast majority of sexual assaults on campuses are when both parties had been drinking. It’s not that the boy who did this isn’t responsible, he is, but alcohol shares in his culpability.

What if there were no drinking involved. Maybe the two teens would have gone to a movie and he would have nervously tried to kiss her. Maybe it wouldn’t have been that wholesome of a scene, who knows. As Americans, our relationship with alcohol is so woven into our lives that we seem to forget to take a look at the role it plays when things go south.

This is an insane ruling in the state of Oklahoma, my sincere hope is there are efforts in place to change this. The alcohol problem has long reaching tentacles and it’s a problem we all share.

Cunning, Baffling, and Powerful…Even for Moms

Mother's Intuition

It was a mom’s gut intuition.  I had to fly to Maui to see my son who I envisioned flailing in desperation due to excessive alcohol consumption.  He moved there with the dream of being a dive master, but I felt he was taking a different type of dive.

My cousin joined me and with feet on the ground, we tracked him to a hotel – only to have a security guard have to open the door of the room he was staying.  I turned a corner to find my 29 year old son in a precarious situation on the bed with eyes glazed staring at the ceiling.  I quietly whispered his name, thinking he was dead, and he blinked.  My cousin and I went into flight mode, trying to pick him up off the bed – watching him crawl on the floor – hearing him spout clear jibberish – and we made a phone call to 911.

Police and paramedics showed up and as the former talked a ‘yep just another drunk’ conversation, I caught the eyes of one of latter, a paramedic who clearly understood that was not acceptable to me.  While my son could talk surprisingly in the alcoholic state, he did not want help.  So, in a compassionate voice, the paramedic said,” buddy let’s go”.  And, I climbed into the passenger side of the ambulance with gratitude that the paramedic understood no was not an option.

We paced the hospital ER floor until the head ER doctor called me in and proceeded to tell me if I drank as much as my son, I’d be dead.  “Well, this is not about me, so what are you going to do? ”  I responded.  With crossed arms he told, “nothing” because miraculously my son was talking and he didn’t want help, so it was impossible to help him.

I heard, I’m possible – and that answer is my number one lesson. Never, ever, let a hospital official say they can’t help your child because they are over age and said no.  Impossible, I think not!

It was my cousin who said let’s call Joe.  On the other side of the country, he got on plane in Brooklyn.  I clearly thought he would head to the beach, but he headed to our hotel, where he asked to see my son.  Back from the hospital and with a bottle we couldn’t pry from his hands, I had left him in the room to welcome Joe.  I opened the door to see him slumped on the couch.  Joe looked in, turned and said to me, “you are no longer here.”

Even writing that, I start crying with my heart in my throat as Joe explained he will be the only lifeline.  In a hotel room down the hall my cousin and I waited, for days while Joe called paramedics twice more, with an intention to get my son sober enough to get him off the island avoiding seizures and getting some kind of confirmation that he would agree to leave, and get help.

And, my son, who doesn’t even remember I had been in Maui for almost two weeks, still didn’t want help.  He was so still under the influence that he thought the hotel assigned Joe as another person in his room.  So, it was time to make another decision.

So lesson number two, don’t wait for someone to hit rock bottom – set it up.  Excruciating, based on the premise that he has two choices, to live or die – and it is not only him who will do either, but his family and friends as well.

So, with a call to my former husband and friend, I got consensus – to sell my son’s truck, take most of his clothes and leave him with a pair of shorts and a top and flip flops, to take his wallet and only leave his driver’s license and medical insurance card, and leave his phone.  Then I went to the front desk and checked him out of his room.  He still didn’t know I was there.  While getting more sober, Joe was his lifeline.  More than excruciating.

With Joe back on a plane to Brooklyn, and it being a total of 13 days, my cousin and I got ready to head to the airport as well.  Time for us to go home, such a hard decision.

About two hours before our flight, I got the first call.  “Mom, I can’t find my truck.”  I told him I was sorry and I loved him, then hung up and cried.  About a half hour later, I got the second call, “Mom, I had to check out of the hotel and can’t find another to stay at and I don’t have my wallet.”  I told him he might want to find a shelter before it got dark.  I told him I loved him, then hug up and cried some more.  About another half hour later, I got the third call, “Mom, I don’t know what to do.”

I suggested he look at his phone – there were two numbers to call.  One to dear friends of ours (that I was with at that exact time) who would pick him up off the streets and bring him to the airport, and the other Joe, to meet him in Brooklyn at the sober living home.  A minute later, my friend’s phone rang, and it was my son, ready to be picked up off the streets in Maui and head to Brooklyn.

Of course, I wanted to run to him, to hold him, to tell him life is worth living, but I had to let go of that lifeline.  And because I did, he is alive.

My son is alive because of excruciating decisions validated by the depth of wisdom of Joe, the steadfast love of my cousin, the loyal support of our Maui friends, the incomparable belief of our family…and my son making the choice not only for him to live, but all of us to live.

He’s coming to visit for Mother’s Day…and I am sobbing with joy as I write that.  There were a few other people that were steadfast realistic in this journey, and I thank them profoundly.  They know who they are.

It is possible; don’t accept ‘we can’t help because he/she doesn’t want help’ – and you might have set up rock bottom – because our kids are always our kids and sometimes through life they need our help, even when they don’t want it.

A lifeline, Joe saved yet another life.

America Needs to Rethink Intoxication. America’s Royal Family Could Lead the Way.

Rethinking Intoxication in America

The Kennedy clan has had well-documented travails with demon alcohol. Some members of America’s royal family have even had their destinies redrawn by their use. It could be argued that a drunk driving accident at Chappaquiddick cost the family another Presidency. Perhaps fittingly, then, their long and storied relationship with booze goes back to the very beginning–it was the saloon business that got them started with their unique American experience. To this day, some members of the family are still addled by the stuff, and any conversation about them is riddled with hush-toned tales of the latest escapade, whether it be tragic or merely gossip-worthy.

But not all of them have allowed the family curse to seal their fate. Christopher Kennedy Lawford and his cousin Patrick have taken their family’s commitment to social justice and focused it on furthering the cause of Americans in “recovery” from addiction, a massive group of people still living in shrouded mystery and marginalization. Patrick Kennedy has been a strong supporter of the mental health parity bill, which, in short, would make it mandatory for insurance companies to cover mental health they same way they cover physical health. In other words, insurance companies would no longer be able to feed the myth that many of the conditions that plague man are character-related, and they would have to pay for the treatment of addiction just as they would for diabetes or cancer.

Patrick has taken on the issue of the stigma of addictive disease, and I thank him for that. But I can’t, for the life of me, understand his vehement opposition to legalizing a substance that is safer than the one that not only made his family so wealthy in the first place but which continues to hang around their collective neck like an albatross.

His arguments are weak. For starters, he boldly claims that more people would smoke marijuana if it were legal. I don’t think this is true. The “statistics” might increase, but I think that would be almost entirely attributable to the fact that more people would honestly report that they smoke marijuana. That’s a big difference. But what if a few more people grabbed a joint and took a haul off of it, so what? Intoxication is here to stay, my friends and it is quite simply a government overreach to tell people how they can do it. It’s simply a fact that it would be far better to have a population intoxicated on marijuana than on booze. The data is quite clear in terms of which is better for public safety, for example. When was the last time you saw a bloody bar fight between two people who were stoned on weed?

Kennedy also argues that marijuana isn’t harmless. He’s correct about that–what is harmless? — It is less harmful than other methods of intoxication and it goes on regardless of its legal status. He also worries about marketing toward kids. But that’s not a reason to make people who use it criminals. it’s a reason to have careful regulation of sales and marketing. If Kennedy wants to take on the risks of marketing to kids, why not take on alcohol–where we already see it happening–rather than worry himself silly about what might happen with marijuana. Alcohol is a frequent sponsor of college sporting events. Why does alcohol get a free pass, Patrick?

But the thing that concerns me most about Kennedy’s position is that he and his cousin Chris are among of the very few self-disclosing “sober” members of the American elite. We need them, their voices, their ability to open doors , and their leadership. What we don’t need is pandering to established useless policy that does nothing about the problem of intoxication or the challenges of entering a life of recovery. Of course, if there is one thing a Kennedy likes more than scotch and chasing skirts, it is running for office. Patrick sounds like a candidate–but not a recovery and mental health advocate. What is worse is he sounds like a candidate on the take from the powerful and unscrutinized alcohol lobby hell bent on keeping their monopoly on intoxication. His efforts to keep alcohol as the only legal form of intoxication hurt families, communities, and recovering people. I am a massive fan of the Kennedy clan, particularly of Bobby Kennedy and their tradition of using their prestige for social justice causes. Patrick would do well to read some of his uncle’s writings and give it some sincere thought.

Make it Right, Bud Light

Bud Light’s Marketing Campaign

Bud-Light“The perfect beer to remove ‘no’ from your vocabulary” was the tag line on bottles of Bud Light as part of their “up for whatever” campaign. This is the height of irresponsibility in the alcohol industry. It’s patently offensive that the beer, wine and distilled spirits lobbies inject this substance into the culture with low tax and recession resistant impunity. Alcohol companies are notorious for “drink responsibly” messaging, only to counter it with this, showing their true intention.

The CDC estimates 88,000 deaths annually from alcohol and a staggering 2.5 million years of potential life lost by shortening lives due to alcohol use. (Alcohol fact sheet

Taking Action Against the Beer & Wine Industry

Alcohol is a very dangerous psychoreactive substance with massive consequences and somehow, it never pays the piper. Contrast this with an alternative form of intoxication, marijuana, with a death toll of ZERO annually. It matters that the beer and wine industry facilitate alcohol moving stealthy among us, taking lives and wrecking havoc in families and communities. It matters that we demonize marijuana users and distributors when it is by any measure, safer than alcohol.

Alcohol TaxationFor years we have been told to “designate a driver” an innocuous message and one that may save lives but it presumes that is the only thing wrong with excessive alcohol use is impaired driving. The “designate a driver” culture doesn’t take into account that rates of sexual assault rise with the use of alcohol. Bud Light issued an apology and will stop this ad campaign but you can’t unring a bell. The posturing about safety doesn’t really help the social problems associated with alcohol. Today, Bud Light showed their cards, it’s time to hold alcohol companies accountable for the damage done by the product that makes them rich. The state of Virginia hasn’t seen a tax raise on Alcohol since the 70’s. A .10/100 tax per unit of beer sold in the state would yield $169,000,000 annual revenue. That would mean positioned drop in centers throughout the state and admission for state of the art treatment for the asking. When families struggle to find treatment, yes, insurance companies are scum but we are all complicit in this insanity. Write your congressman and demand a tax raise on beer dedicated for alcohol abuse services. It can be done.

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost
On a happy note, the young man in this story is over a year sober, has a job, and building a life. It happens.

Insufficient Alcohol Abuse Treatment Options on Maui

It’s no secret why 2.2 million people visit the island of Maui each year: the beauty, the weather, the recreation. That tourism is supported by a residential population of just 163,000, most of whom work in service industry jobs. And it’s not the locals that are consuming what the Maui county liquor authority reports as $250 million in annual liquor sales. The island is awash in millions of drunk visitors. And the problem cases are all supported by a tiny hospital with an ER staff that sees cases of alcohol poisoning daily. They’re so busy that they’re forced to turn away patients who are not stable enough to be out of a hospital setting. It’s a crisis situation, nothing less.

I’m the founder of Williamsburg House, the first sober house in NYC (in Williamsburg) as well as a long-time practitioner of interventions and crisis management. I know my craft, and I know how to talk to ER nurses, paramedics, police, and judges. I thought I was capable of negotiating any system — I operate a residential sober facility in Brooklyn, for God’s sake — but I have never seen anything like I saw in Maui.
Called in May 2015 to help a man in crisis, I arrived in Maui after a 17-hour journey to find my identified patient, and his harried mother and aunt. They told me a tale of bringing their alcoholic 26-year-old son/nephew to this one hospital on Maui at 6am, only to be turned away with no medication and no referral. In my arrogance, I thought, “The calvary is here, step aside ladies. Maybe go to the spa or take a walk on the beach while I get this young man sober.” What I found was a 26 year old man in acute intoxication, the kind of bone-saturating drunk that you’d see in a cartoonish depiction of alcoholism in a black and white movie. He was incoherent, rambling, and clutching a bottle of Captain Morgan. After a few hours of sparring with him I made the call to 911 to get him admitted to the ER for detox. The Maui police showed up, annoyed, and without compassion. “You should have taken him to rehab before this,” said one of the officers. “Be that as it may, ‘surfer dies of alcohol poisoning in rat hole Maui hotel room, after police left annoyed’ sounds like a shitty headline, wouldn’t you say?” I replied with NYC snark that did nothing to help my cause. Nevertheless, the paramedics did eventually take my client to the ER which started a process of discovery about this island paradise.

Seeking Safe Alcohol Detox

The charge nurse told me that she literally cannot care for the high numbers of cases of alcohol poisoning she sees every single day. She refers most of them to a treatment center that provides detox. But the treatment center told me their next available bed was in July. “July?” I asked incredulously. “He’ll be dead by then.” “More then likely” was the matter of fact response laced with frustration and a spoonful of sadness. Alcohol detox is a very dangerous process and can result in death. There are 88,000 deaths annually chalked up to alcohol and the detox is one of the primary causes. While the culture demonizes heroin use, the truth is, a heroin detox won’t kill you, but an alcohol detox will. So why, on an Island with 2.2 million visitors per year and $250 million in annual liquor sales are services to treat the byproduct of all this fun so abysmal?

With the huge number in liquor sales, a safety net would seem not only feasible but a moral imperative. Maui is likely not unique in this problem. While we focus on other drugs of abuse, and well we should, we seem to lose sight of alcohol. We can do better than this. We must do better than this. Alcoholics are not disposable people. We are not a blight on society who deserve substandard care because we “did it to ourselves”. There was a happy outcome in this case. The family was thrilled when six months after these events, the young son came on time, sober, and appropriately dressed for his sister’s wedding. Sadly, that is an all too rare outcome.