Thursday, January 24, 2008

2007 Darwin Award Nominee: Alcohol Division

Michael was an alcoholic. And not an ordinary alcoholic, but an alcoholic who liked to take his liquor... well, rectally. His wife said he was "addicted to enemas" and often used alcohol in this manner. The result was the same: inebriation.

The machine shop owner couldn't imbibe alcohol by mouth due to a painful throat ailment, so he elected to receive his favourite beverage via enema. And tonight, Michael was in for one hell of a party. Two 1.5 litre bottles of sherry, more than 100 fluid ounces, right up the old address!

When the rest of us have had enough, we either stop drinking or pass out. When Michael had had enough (and subsequently passed out) the alcohol remaining in his rectal cavity continued to be absorbed. The next morning, Michael was dead.

The 58-year-old did a pretty good job of embalming himself. According to toxicology reports, his blood alcohol level was 0.47%.

In order to qualify for a Darwin Award, a person must remove himself from the gene pool via an "astounding misapplication of judgment." Three litres of sherry up the butt can only be described as astounding. Unsurprisingly, his neighbors said they were surprised to learn of the incident. Source. Thanks, John C. (Goathouse) for the item.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Humility R Us [NOT]

It's been six years since AA Trustee Dr. George Vaillant's article in the AA Grapevine, saying that "It doesn't hurt at the level of the GSO for AA to have humility and understand that 60 per cent do it without AA." Source. He was talking about the research finding that 60 per cent of alcoholics who achieve at least five years of abstinence do it without using AA.

It's been six years, and Vaillant's plea for humility has either not been heard or already forgotten. In this months' issue of Addiction Professional, columnist Carlton Erickson reports that "fourteen experts" recently met at a "consensus conference" in Rancho Mirage CA to define "recovery," and came up with a definition that includes an implied endorsement for "peer support groups such as AA and practices consistent with the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions."

In other words, judging by Erickson's column, if you're part of the majority that are staying sober without AA you're not considered in recovery. But if you're a chain-smoking Big-Book thumper whose entire social, moral, and intellectual life is wrapped up in AA meetings, then you're a model of recovery. The mind boggles.

The panel's full report, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, is considerably more balanced than Erickson's column makes it seem. The report says that "the founders of AA recognized that there were many paths to the same position ... and did not suggest that their specific methods were the only means to attain the overall goal." (Thanks Jason Schwartz for forwarding the full article.) The panel considered but expressly rejected the definition of recovery as "abstinence attained through adherence to 12-step principles."

That's progress. But the plug for AA and the 12 steps is highlighted in the report, and Erickson's column picked up on that highlight, as most hurried readers will.

This endorsement is completely gratuitous. It comes in the absence of any evidence cited in the report showing either (a) superior efficacy of 12-step over other paths in reaching long-term sobriety, or (b) a positive association between long-term participation in 12-step groups and measures of "personal health and citizenship."

The report admits that no validated instrument for measuring "personal health and citizenship" exists. Then what scientific ground is there for making the claim?

The implied beneficial effect of AA participation on "personal health" is indefensible given the notorious prevalence of nicotine addiction among AA members. The report takes note of the nicotine problem, including "significant rates of emphysema, cancer, and other terminal health conditions associated with these products among those otherwise in recovery" (read: in AA). But come to the bottom line, the panel tucked tail between legs and "considered it best to remain silent on tobacco use within the sobriety component of the recovery definition."

The next line is lovely: "It is admitted that there is no clinical justification for this position."

The claim that long-term AA participation enhances "citizenship" is equally dubious. The cited ground for it is the AA homilies for doing service, "giving back." But this "service," to the limited extent people actually do it, is in the nature of recruiting for the AA organization. AA has no outward-directed community service component on the order of the Masons, Shriners, Rotarians, and many other groups. So where does "citizenship" come in?

Trying to come up with a definition of recovery is a laudable project. The panel notes that recovery science (as distinct from addiction science) is a poorly developed field, and that the lack of a validated definition of 'recovery' is a significant obstacle. But when you enter the gates of science, the motto is "lasciare ogni sospetto" -- here drop all hesitation, abandon all fear. So long as recovery scientists keep genuflecting to the sacred cow in the room, little progress and considerable dung is to be expected.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Alcohol Killed 'The Prophet'

The excellent New Yorker continues its literary war on the alcohol-as-muse delusion. In the Jan. 7 issue is a thumbnail bio of Kahlil Gibran, author of the huge bestseller, The Prophet. After the success of this book, Gibran took to drinking heavily. Eight years after The Prophet, having produced nothing further of note, he died of cirrhosis of the liver, at age 48.