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Tag Archives: Alcoholism

Hoarders

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Reality television is at best a cracked lens on society. The percentage of toddlers wearing hairpieces, spray tans, dentures, and artificial nails is in actuality quite small. Most women don’t call themselves housewives, implant faces and bodies beyond recognition and parent so abysmally. Whether the people who participate in these shows are mentally healthy or not is an interesting question. Voguing for a camera (and hoping to land fame, fortune and book deals) is not currently classified as a mental illness. For the official-certified-it’s listed in the DSM-V, display of mental illness you need to turn to the addiction sub-genre of reality show.

That there is an audience at all to watch people struggle with a mental illness is itself disturbing. But evidently there is, and the proof is the shows focusing on obesity, drug and alcohol addiction and hoarding. You’ll note that there are no shows about mental illness that have a less quantifiable or compelling visual behavior. There’s yet to be a “Watch The Narcissist” show, and to be fair it’s probably due to the redundancy factor. There’ll never be a “Depressed Divas” show as depressed people are never entertaining. A “BiPolar Bonanza” would demand a far too attentive director and shooting schedule (dammit his mood just shifted, where is the camera!) We, the audience, are not very interested in mental illness per se, what we like is wacky behavior. And if that behavior stems from a syndrome all the better. We love nothing more than hearing from a person with questionable credentials (‘therapist’ needs a modifier to mean anything) spout psychobabble about the behavior. The hoarding shows center around this very phenomenon. We see a ‘therapist’ gently talking the hoarder into parting with the petrified pet. In the next scene she actively listens to distraught and frustrated family members and explains ‘the process’ to them. We sit in our over-accessorized homes, eating chips and dip out of a chip and dip bowl, as we wear our ‘tv watching’ outfit and snort over the wasteful accumulation. “That’s f*&^ed up” we say as we accidentally tip over the tower of DVDs.

This interest in wacky behavior doesn’t just guide free cable programming decisions. It also seems to guide political policy and expenditure. There are currently 85 communities across this country that consider hoarding to be a serious public health hazard. Hoarding, of course is not necessarily a health hazard. No one has been physically harmed by a Madame Alexander doll or Thomas Kinkade collection. Possibly a more apt description for the kind of behavior with which the authorities are concerned is ‘filth’. There’s a method that’s been used since the dawn of filth for such scenarios; it’s called condemning. There are no soft-spoken ‘therapists’ or understanding fire chiefs necessary. If a home poses a genuine risk to the public, shut it down. Anything else is utterly disingenuous. Hoarding and living in filthy squalor is only the presenting behavior. There’s a reason people engage in barricade building. Convincing someone to part with a few carcasses and some urine soaked newspaper may make the helpers feel better, but dollars to dozens and dozens of donuts, that home is going to fill the hell up again. And why shouldn’t it?! What business is it of anyone’s how someone else chooses to live? This is when someone pipes up and says “It’s a public heath issue”. Is it? Not always. If the person lives rurally it’s not. If it really and truly is then shut it down. But wait, what’s to become of the hoarder? Well, if we really believe that the person is a danger to themselves and others (and if they’re not we have no business bothering them) than they need to live in a protected environment.

That homes are being cleaned out, very slowly and often at taxpayer expense, by community officials is troubling. On its surface it appears that we care about our most fragile neighbors. If that is even remotely true why aren’t the same resources being used to remodel shantytowns? Surely people living in doorways, under bridges and in tunnels are also worthy of a clean dwelling. It stands to reason that people living on the street, presumably without access to health care also pose a public health hazard. It is always better to err on the side of helping, but it is the responsibility of the strong to be clear about who exactly they are helping and why. Wrapping ourselves in rhetoric to impinge on someone’s autonomy is not helping anyone but ourselves.

 

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Managing Binge Drinking

animal house

Not every college students spends 5 out of 7 days binge-drinking. But to look at Facebook photos (and videos!) you would certainly think that is the case. It’s simply not possible to be that intoxicated all the time and still pass your classes; even in the most remedial of college programs. But there are a fair share of schools at which it appears that the number one form of recreation is drunkenness (which is not the same as ‘drinking’.) This behavior, even if we were to ignore the immaturity of it, is not innocuous. It’s physically dangerous. People die, people are raped, bad things happen. (College students would be a lot further ahead if pot became the substance of choice. There’s no such thing as ‘pot poisoning’ and long before a user would consider a violent act, they’ve nodded out.)

For parents (and others) who are concerned about the excess it’s helpful to consider the root causes. For students aged 17-22 there are probably finite reasons for habitual binge-drinking. There is most likely some percentage who suffer from alcoholism (a condition which has no age limitation.) But for the rest of the students it could be issues of social maturity and/or boredom. For the socially immature, they may be best served in a community college (living at home) for a while, or at a very small school at which social interactions are less daunting and actively encouraged. The socially immature should be encouraged to step away from the keyboard and find people with like interests (e.g., clubs, religious groups, teams, performance groups.) Even if this was all encouraged and done in high school, some people are never quite comfortable socially. For them it might be best to talk about managing their intoxication. With enough coaxing and patience you might be able to come up with a plan that helps the student avoid dangerous levels of drunkenness. (i.e., “When I no longer can hear the music, it’s time to stop.” or “I will always eat and drink water while drinking booze.”) We may never love underage binge (or any other kind of) drinking, but we do want our children to learn to be responsible and to care for themselves.

Binge drinking out of boredom seems much simpler to manage. If the student is seasonally bored (ex. he/she is an athlete on their off-season) a job or heavier course-load every other semester could work wonders. If the student is continuously bored they might be at the wrong school. Perhaps they’re disinterested in academics all together? Perhaps the rigor of the institution is not challenging? Perhaps they’d be more suited to an urban university? It’s best to address the issue before serious time and money is wasted (pun intended.)

There’s nothing wrong with letting off steam, making a fool of oneself, and learning one’s limits. But there is something troubling about defining one’s college experience with a series of blurry drunken episodes. One of the simplest and time-tested methods to ensure that a person gets the most they can out of an experience is for them to have a financial interest in the endeavor. Working during every school break, or at school not only breaks up any boredom, it boosts social maturity and self-esteem. It also helps (anyone at any age) to consider the value of what they’re paying for when they are paying for it themselves.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Education

 

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What Would Bill W. Do?

Not too long ago, there was some media buzz about the efficacy of addiction therapy.  This is not a popular subject.  If one works in the rehabilitation (rehab) industry one is understandably resistant to any metric devices that might prove the methodology ambiguous.  Addiction is a very resistant phenomenon.  There are occasions, when a society of thinking people can agree, that lacking a 100% guarantee, erring on the side of empathy and care is optimal.  For some addicts, the simple act of stopping something in motion, is enough to change their lives.  Rehabilitation can be that barricade.

Addiction to alcohol, drugs or eating disorders has never seemed quiet or private to me.  I recognize someone in the throes of the phenomenon (whether they are using or not.)  People with a Faustian relationship with food are very obvious to me, and I completely understand the entertainment value of metaphorically playing with one’s food.  Of course, when it spills into passive suicidal tendencies, all bets are off.  It is torture to be in the life of an addict.  Addicts can be very unpredictable and by definition, not reliable (their primary relationship is to their addiction.)  Empathy can wear thin after multiple incidents.  It is helpful to remember that people use drugs, food, and alcohol to the point of personal destruction, NOT because the substances or processes are so tempting, but because without them, life would be unbearable.  In other words; drugs, eating disorders and alcohol work.  They numb and distract from an inner pain that for some people is devastatingly crippling.

Posh rehab centers are part of the American lexicon.  Most of us can rattle off one or two without thought (Hazelden, Betty Ford.)  Colleges and universities now address eating disorders via education campaigns, marketing (‘all you can eat’ dining have been replaced with ‘all you care to eat’ dining) staff training and additional counseling staff.  Certainly excessive/binge drinking (which can be an indication of alcoholism) has been the bane of higher education for some time (drug abuse, because of its inherent illegality poses more of a conundrum.)  Employers contracting with treatment providers has become de rigueur.  Clearly, there is treatment available for some.

But what of the veterans?  Veterans are returning, and mercifully will continue to do so in even greater number now.  They will come back to what kind of treatments and where?  This week it was reported that 1 in 5 suicides is that of a veteran.  Now, I’d be the first to say that NOT screening people for mental illness before enlistment is absurd.  But regardless, we have a problem here.  I don’t mean to imply that veterans (or anyone) who commits suicide is an addict.  Not at all.  But there is overlap.  Suicide, most often, is not a well thought out end of life plan, but an act of someone who feels they have no options.  Addiction is also the result of feeling there are no feasible options.  Teaching people to recognize their pain for what it is, and providing them tools to pull themselves out of that pain, is effective.  Rehabilitation, at its best, does just that.

So what’s our plan?  If rehabilitation is accepted by the wealthy, the educated and corporate America, as viable treatment for addiction, shouldn’t it be available to all?

 

 



 
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Posted by on October 12, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Betty Ford

Betty Ford has died.  I will never be confused for a political analyst, and my childhood memories are as suspect as anyone’s.  However, I am struck with the idea that Mrs. Ford was an American pioneer.  Long before the Huffington Post, the country knew Mrs. Ford’s opinions on serious social issues.  Decades (and generations) before any First Lady would be criticized for being politically vocal, Mrs. Ford made her position known on such subjects as legalized abortion, the ERA and premarital sex (remember, this was the 1970s, premarital sex was still up for discussion as a social ill.)

Before we had the luxury of watching newsreaders have their colon examined on national television, Betty Ford went public with her bout of breast cancer.  Before there were little pink ribbons, Mrs. Ford inspired tens of thousands of women to be screened and seek treatment.

Forty years before people would make a career from their public struggles with addiction, Mrs. Ford went public with her struggles.  She helped to create the treatment center which is now such a part of the American vernacular it is used as a verb.

Long before Gawker or AwfulPlasticSurgery.com, the world knew (and saw) Betty Ford’s face lift.  Almost unrecognizable to the yet untrained American eye, Mrs. Ford lifted her face proudly.

I know little, if anything of her husband’s politics (save for the pardon) but I am willing to venture that Mrs. Ford’s “firsts” outweigh her husband’s.  For better or worse, she really was our nation’s first; Public Figures, They’re Just Like Us!Bet

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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