Tag Archives: Recovery

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.

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.