Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

Is It Good to Confess You're Addicted and Seek Treatment?

We like politicians better when they confess they're addicted and pay penance

Trey Radel is the conservative (Republican) Florida Congressman who was arrested for cocaine possession last month. After the arrest was revealed by Politico, Radel issued a statement, explaining that he suffers from "the disease of alcoholism and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice." He has now pleaded guilty to using cocaine repeatedly and distributing the drug to others, for which he was charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced to probation. He promised to enter treatment, but refused to resign.

Does the case of an elected official using cocaine and blaming it on alcohol remind you of anybody? That would be conservative Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who first denied, then admitted, that he smoked crack cocaine in a "drunken stupor." But Ford denies that he has either a drug or a drinking problem and also refused to resign, although he was stripped of much of his power by the Toronto City Council. Ford says that he has recently quit drinking as a result of a "come-to-Jesus" moment.

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So, let's compare the two cases, to see which is worse—or which individual is responding better to his problem.

1. Ford was criticized for denying his drug use; but Radel only admitted he was caught with cocaine after the court papers were exposed. So it's hard to give the advantage to Radel there.

2. Radel admitted to the disease of alcoholism; Ford won't. But, once again, Radel only discussed his disease once he was caught, and he used it as an excuse. Ford, on the other hand, used his non-alcoholic drinking as an excuse. Seems to be a draw there.

3. Ford is a big blubbering slob. Radel seems to keep his behavior under wraps. Is Radel's self-containment an advantage? Or would you prefer for someone to be more out in the open with his flaws (Ford has appeared drunk at public events he has attended, resulting in much criticism).

4. Ford smoked crack; the charge against Radel may have involved only standard cocaine. Does that make a difference for you?

5. Radel is all about seeking help: "As the father of a young son and a husband to a loving wife, I need to get help so I can be a better man for both of them." He is doing so by seeking counseling and treatment. Ford, who also refers to his devotion to his family, claims that he has quit drinking out of a religious commitment.

Radel's and Ford's different approaches might remind you of those taken by successive governors of Texas with drinking problems, one of whom (Ann Richards) entered treatment and went to AA, and the other of whom (George W. Bush) quit on his own.

Do you prefer one style to the other? New York Magazine's Kurt Andersen, in a column titled "The Deniers' Club" (a play on born-again 12-stepper Mary Karr's memoir, The Liars' Club) blamed the Iraq War on Bush's having not gone to AA.

The psychological defense mechanism of denial - unconsciously downplaying or ignoring unpleasant facts - is an impulse most people outgrow after childhood. But at Yale, remember, Bush was a cheerleader. As well as a substance abuser who apparently couldn't admit the problem until he was middle-aged - when he made his swing from boozehound to teetotaler with a plunge into Christian faith but apparently without the 12-step steps that require rigorously abandoning the habit of denial. Consider the great failures of his administration: Katrina, Iraq, the unwillingness to address global warming, and, arguably, before 9/11, Islamic terrorism. Denial runs through them all.

So, according to Anderson, Bush's method of quitting drinking was wrong. Only if he joined AA and acknowledged he was an alcoholic would it be right. Here is Bush's description of why he quit drinking:

Bush once got so drunk he quizzed a woman about her sex life - in front of his wife and parents.

Bush, who quit drinking in 1986, revealed in an interview with NBC that he asked the family friend inappropriate questions at dinner.

He said: "I'm drunk at the table, sitting next to a beautiful woman. I said to her, 'What is sex like after 50?'"

His outburst was met with complete silence and "serious daggers" from everyone.

He quit when he felt his boozing competed with his love for his family.

In this clip from an interview where he explained quitting drinking, Bush said "I didn't like the person I was."

I'm not born again, and I never voted for Bush. But didn't Bush take more responsibility for his behavior than self-confessed disease sufferer Radel? Likewise, I can't vote against Mayor Ford's explanation and approach to quitting drinking as being worse than Congressman Radel's.

In February, my book Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict. . . . will be published. In it, among other things, I present data that people who don't espouse the disease label are more likely to succeed at overcoming addiction since, by Anderson's very logic, they are taking responsibility for their behavior and for quitting.

Pre-order Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life With the PERFECT Program here.

Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.

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