The Playing Field

Sport and culture through the lens of science

Paul Newman's Beer Drinking: Redux

Addiction and the Fourth Drive: Paul Newman's Beer Drinking Redux

Stanton Peele wrote a fantastic post today about Paul Newman's beer drinking ways and the cloak of secrecy surrounding them. Steele's point, which is a very good one, is that despite all the anti-drug and anti-drink hype floating around America, we're pretty far from the puritanical society we pretend to be.

We like to smoke pot, drink booze and take drugs right there alongside the rest of the world. So how, Peele wants to know, can come to grip with the so-called ‘Newman Paradox:' The fact that a great many of us routinely use psychoactive substances (and yes, alcohol is a psychoactive substance), and pretend like we don't.

So how do you solve the Newman Paradox? Well, we could start with the facts. And by the facts, I'm mainly talking about UCLA psychopharmacologist Ronald Siegel's fantastic and almost completely overlooked research found in his book "Intoxication." First written in 1989 (and republished in 2005), "Intoxication" chronicles Siegel's lifelong investigation of our mind-altering habits. He is one of our country's leading authorities on the social and psychological effects of drug use and has spent his career studying such habits around the globe. He has looked at the question of intoxication not only in humans, but in all primates and he has come to one stark conclusion: the pursuit of mind-alteration is a basic and fundamental drive. A biological drive. What he call's "our fourth drive," no different than our drive for food, sleep or sex.

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Siegel came to this conclusion a lot of different ways, but one of the things he looked at was intoxication in other animals. After all, if the urge to intoxicate is really a fourth drive than this urge needs to be found everywhere else in nature. And guess what: it is.

Grazing animals will gorge themselves on the same rye ergot fungus that produces hallucinations in LSD. Rats like to get high on morning glory seeds, elephants get drunk. Ants feed on a psychoactive chemical secreted by beetles monkeys on magic mushrooms. This list goes on and on. In fact, there are very few larger species on earth that haven't discovered a way to get stoned.

Siegel's argument as to why this occurs and what it means are delightfully interesting and too long to go into here. But his message is very clear: we are a species designed to get a little out of our heads every now and again. It's good for us. Good enough that this desire is found throughout the animal kingdom, good enough that leading lights like Paul Newman can drink a six-pack a day and still be on of the greatest actors of the 20th Century.

So how do we solve the Newman Paradox? We start by teaching our children the facts about drugs and drink. We start, and I know this is a surprising election during an election year, with the truth.

 

 

Steven Kotler is an author and journalist. His most recent works include: Abundance, A Small Furry Prayer  and West of Jesus.

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