Elizabeth Vargas was a very anxious child, forced to move repeatedly because of her father’s military career, bullied at school, and unnaturally worried about her dad. Since panic attacks are not helpful to TV journalists, she started to self-medicate with alcohol, eventually becoming a full-blown alcoholic. In Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction she recounts her struggles and that of her husband, reminding us that high-functioning alcoholics can hide their problems for a very long time, and that treatment is long, expensive, and rarely successful the first time around.
Tag Archives: addiction
Written by a physician, Drug Dealer, MD: How Doctors Were Duped, Patients Got Hooked, and Why It’s So Hard to Stop exposes how shoddy research, a laudable quest to treat pain better, and especially features of the health care system that encourage physicians to acquiesce to patients’ requests and above all get them out of the door combined to overprescribe opioids and create millions of addicts. It’s a sobering story. Besides better education for physicians, it seems that relatively simple measures such as a universal prescription registry (alas implemented state by state) would help, but only a minority of physicians bother to check it…
The linked stories in A Manual for Cleaning Women read with a strong autobiographical flavor. The title story is amazing, finely dissecting the complicated relationships between cleaning ladies and their employers. Others tell of her complicated life in multiple locale, fighting alcoholism and other addictions. Still others present mostly women trying to keep it all together but not quite managing to do that.
If you love short stories, this book is for you. If you do not love short stories (and I do not), pick up this book. The links between the stories make them into a fine long novel.
The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait starts innocusouly enough with an older brother that may be a little harsh sometimes, but with reasonably stable parents who seem able to nurture both the author and his brother. As the story progresses the parents divorce and become distracted with rebuilding their lives while the brother turns out to be an alcoholic and heroin addict so the family struggles to alternatively help him or protect itself from him.
There is always the hope that the brother will turn the corner, stop drinking, start working at a regular job, avoid wrecking another car, and indeed there is a successful interlude in the Marines, of all jobs, but in the end only the mother chooses to continue to protect him, and that does not end well. Meanwhile the brother finds his own alcoholic battle. Not exactly uplifting, perhaps, but a masterful story of what it means to love a brother who cannot be saved from himself.
Wonder what psychology and big data can be used for? Wonder no more: the gambling industry is cunningly using both to entice players to play longer and, more importantly, spend more money. The author of Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas does a great job of describing how every minute part of the gambling experience is designed to keep players playing, along the way telling many sad stories about addicted gamblers who spend hours on the machines, forgoing nourishment, sleep, and even (no details, please) bathroom breaks.
The puzzle for me is why they have to do it in a gaming environment (which, in Vegas, could be a grocery store!)? If what’s most important to them is not to win, per se, but the physical sensation of controlling the machine, the feeling of being lost in the experience, and the pleasure of small, ethereal wins (since getting actual winnings in coins would interrupt their flow), why could they not gamble just as much and surely more comfortably in their homes, on a machine that is paid for, and without putting at risk their entire paychecks and beyond? I’ve never been a fan of video games but after reading this book I’m thinking they are just wonderful, wonderfully safe, that is.
Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy is written by the author of Beautiful Boy, in which he described his son’s struggles with alcohol and drugs. I found the memoir interesting, but this new book was puzzling. First, the intended audience and message are not clear: is it an opinion piece on how to treat addiction or a practical handbook for parents and families of addicts seeking treatment? The book seems to waver from one to the other, losing the reader’s interest. Second, the book makes repeated statements without justification, such as the weird noises heard by gas-hufffing addicts are the sounds of brain cells popping. Really, now? We don’t expect the author to be a scientist but it would be good to consult one before making baseless statements. Third, and perhaps most important, the main thesis of the book is that addiction is a disease and should be treated as such, rather than as a failure of self-control. Fair enough, but I found myself (maliciously?) looking for counter arguments on every page. If it is nothing more than a disease, then why do behavior-modification programs work, at least for some people? And for that matter why recommend long rehab cycles?
A bust, at least for me.
Can one be an alcoholic while holding a respectable job as a newspaper columnist and functioning more or less successfully as a suburban dad? In Drunkard, Neil Steinberg shows that it can be done — for a while, until one staggers home from yet another alcohol-soaked commute (plentiful vodka in a downtown bar plus wine on the train), gets into an argument with one’s wife, who understandably disapproves of the drinking, and dumbly strikes said wife, who calls the police and presses charges.
Steinberg must agree to an alcohol-treatment program to be released from jail and he attends it both reluctantly because the program appears irrelevant and inappropriate to him, but also eagerly because he’s horrified at the prospect of losing his wife and sons. The book is the story of his travails through rehab and his relapses as he discovers that he’s now completely unable to have “just one glass” and that his professional and personal lives are full of drinking temptations.
Steinberg is articulate and honest about his misadventures. The book won’t change the world but I found it to be a useful view into the world of alcoholics.