The One Cult Fits All Approach To Treating Alcoholism

Posted January 2nd, 2014 in drinking by davecopeland

I will not bash Alcoholics Anonymous, as it has worked for so many people who needed to quit drinking. But the medical professions blind acceptance of A.A.’s claim that it is the only viable method for problem drinkers is discouraging.

I was one of those people that A.A. would not have worked for (I tried). And while I’m not sure that Moderation Management would have been a viable option for me, it would have been nice to know that I at least had options. If you want to see some of the A.A. propaganda that can make it seem almost cult-liike, check out the comments in response to Gabrielle Glaser’s op-ed in today’s New York Times. A better use of your time, however, would be to read her column:

The cold-turkey approach is deeply rooted in the United States, embraced by doctors, the multibillion-dollar treatment industry and popular culture. For nearly 80 years, our approach to drinking problems has been inspired by the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Developed in the 1930s by men who were “chronic inebriates,” the A.A. program offers a single path to recovery: abstinence, surrendering one’s ego and accepting one’s “powerlessness” over alcohol.

But it’s not the only way to change your drinking habits….We don’t treat cancer, depression or asthma with the same tools we used in 1935. We need to get away from the one-size-fits-all approach to drinking problems.

Me and ADD (and ADHD)

Posted March 4th, 2013 in drinking by davecopeland

You could say my decision to stop drinking on June 5, 2010 has led to close to three years of happiness, a chance to get chronic depression under control for the first time in my adult life and, with putting me in a place, with less than a week before my 40th birthday, where I no longer feel like a chronic under-achiever.

And you’d be partly right.

But that decision stemmed from one I made in February 2010, which was to seek treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder. I was just shy of turning 37 of the time and was finally starting to accept that these problems weren’t going to go away. I’ve been treated for ADD ever since and would argue that that treatment saved my life.

Findings from a new study include:

Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital, the Mayo Clinic, and elsewhere assessed 367 young adults in Rochester, Minn., who were diagnosed with ADHD as children and compared them with peers who never had the disorder. Those who had grown up with ADHD were 88 percent more likely to have died, often from accidents or suicides, by the time they reached an average age of 27, compared with the control group. And 57 percent had been diagnosed with a mental health problem compared with 35 percent of the controls.

Of course it comes with a stigma, which the Globe explores in a must-read article for anyone who thinks they may have ADD/ADHD, “had” ADD/ADHD as a kid but discontinued treatment, or still thinks ADD/ADHD is a punchline to a joke (blog version for non-subscribers).


Posted November 22nd, 2012 in drinking by davecopeland

Woke up this morning to a Facebook feed full of posts celebrating inebriation which, even without a hangover and 2.5 years without a drink, still feels like a mini kick in the balls. I never was much for going out the night before Thanksgiving but over the past several years it has taken on a rather wicked intensity as being as big of an amateur night as New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day.

Then I found this tidbit: November, thanks in large part to the Thanksgiving weekend starting on Wednesday and ending sometime Sunday morning, is the month where more people die in drunk driving accidents (followed by January and December, rounding out our happy holiday season).

Not preaching. Just saying….

Another Salad Bar excerpt: Social media and sobriety

Posted August 29th, 2011 in Cut Off At The Salad Bar, drinking, Social media, Writing by davecopeland

One in the occasional series of excerpts from “Cut Off At The Salad Bar,” the book I have been working on this summer and hope to finish by the end of the year:

When I broke up with people I was dating, I immediately blocked their profiles on Facebook. I didn’t want reminders of the person I had lost, I didn’t want to know when they had gotten over me and moved onto someone else. It was a social media restraining order: you have my phone number and I have yours if we really need to get in touch with one another (although yours was always written down somewhere and deleted from my phone to prevent drunk dialing), but I would rather not see new photos of you smiling when I’m still feeling miserable.

The problem, of course, is you can’t “unfriend” drinking. The problem is online or off, you can’t avoid being reminded that other people still get to drink.

A typical sober day online, as told in slightly-edited Facebook status updates…

Ronnie is pre-gaming. Seth is looking for ideas for our beer pong team name. Ellen is drinking Schooner. George says I wanna get drunk! Sam is sitting on a balcony with a beer in hand, sun shining and Eddie Vedder playing in the background, wondering what could be better. Brian is hungover: breakfast, anyone? Molly doesn’t get drunk, she gets awesome. Stacy is having Bloody Marys by the pool s. Nancy guesses she is funny when she is drunk – or so she has been told. Andy thinks the two most honest types of people in the world are drunks and little kids. Zach has 2 days until he’s drunk in a forest.

Everyone seems to be going to the bar. Everyone seems to be having fun. Everyone – or at least the 750-million+ on Facebook — seems to be sipping a glass of wine, having a beer, nursing a hangover or just living the good life with a drink in hand.

Everyone clicks “like.”

Another “Cut Off At The Salad Bar” excerpt

Posted July 18th, 2011 in Cut Off At The Salad Bar, drinking, Writing by davecopeland

I’m trying to finish the book proposal for Cut Off At The Salad Bar before I head out of town on Wednesday. Here’s the first ~600 words of the overview. These are, presumably, the first words (minus revisions) a potential publisher or literary agent will read after the title page. Leave your thoughts in the comments section:

The magic number for alcohol-related blackouts is 0.15.

Drink enough to reach a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 – anywhere from two to four drinks, depending on your sex and body weight – and you hit that point where magnetic-resonance imaging will show decreased activity in the frontal areas of the brain – the bits of gray matter that deal with memory, decision making and attention. Double that intake to about 0.15 and your ability to record long-term memories goes away. There is evidence that the faster a person reaches that 0.15 threshold the more likely they are to blackout; that is to say that even though the person may be conscious and engaging with other people, the portion of the brain known as the hippocampus literally stops recording memories.

It’s not clear why people remember some events from a night of drinking and not others, and there is a theory that people are susceptible to suggestion when they try to piece together a night of overindulgence the following morning. As in, “You were so drunk, I can’t believe you X…” and then the drinker feels as if he or she “remembers” doing X.

A good analogy is that those portions of the brain are like a video recorder that records what you do, and alcohol can – but not always – erase portions of the tape (a better analogy is that those portions are never even recorded, but for the sake of metaphor, let’s say they were erased). The erasures are not as deliberate as the Nixon administration’s creative editing of the Watergate tapes. Instead, the edits are as random as if you had spilled something – a gin and tonic, perhaps – on your faithful VHS copy of Leaving Las Vegas. The drink erases parts of some scenes while preserving others. The randomness of the blackouts is what makes them so scary: a woman can remember the exact brand of cigarette she bummed off of a stranger in front of a nightclub and brushing her teeth before going to bed, but she may not remember being raped by the same stranger in the hours between those two events. Someone else may remember leaving the bar and parking their car when they get home, but not the fatal hit-and-run accident in between.

Binge drinkers – people who consume five or more drinks in one sitting – are more prone to blackouts, for obvious reasons. They’re also more prone to alcoholism, which raises many questions, not least of which is this: How the fuck do all these alcoholics manage to write memoirs about hitting rock bottom, complete with scenes of drunken nights and mornings told with swear-this-is-true authority?

Kick lit has transcended memoir and become a genre unto itself. While it usually covers alcohol addition (Lit, Marry Carr), other vices like heroin (Scar Tissue, Anthony Kiedis) or painkillers (Pill Head, Joshua Lyon) are also welcomed into the fold. It doesn’t matter if you’re only marginally famous (Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher) or not famous at all (Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp), a seasoned memoirist (Dry, Augusten Burroughs) or a writer from an entirely different genre (A Drinking Life, Pete Hammill).

Your story doesn’t even have to be true, for that matter (A Million Little Pieces, James Frey). And while we’re asking questions, here’s another: How did people not realize Frey had made big parts of this book when reading scenes about his first few, terrifying hours of sobriety that were rendered with precise detail?

Answers to questions like that don’t really matter (until they do) in the new culture of over-sharing: If you crashed and burned at rock bottom and rose to tell your story, that story (and accompanying film rights: Permanent Midnight, Jerry Stahl) should be sold.

June 5, 2010: The Last Drink

Posted June 5th, 2011 in Cut Off At The Salad Bar, drinking by Muhammad84G

The last drink goes down something like this:

Frank pushes a glass of champagne into my hand even though I had told him when I arrived that I wasn’t drinking that night. It was an engagement party for one of his friends, a guy I had met just once before. I wanted to keep my promise to not drink that night. I had even stopped at an A.A. meeting on my way to Frank’s house to strengthen that resolve.

“Jesus,” Frank says, annoyed. “Just hold it for the photos.”

The toast for a couple I do not know is long and, to me, meaningless. The post-toast photos are endless. I feel the warm plastic and the somewhat cold champagne within. I hold the glass up like I have done hundreds of times before, but this time the smile is conflicted and the clinking of glasses is fake on my part. The flashes stop and the wall of people disperses into the living room, into the kitchen and into the backyard. I walk to the end of the dining room table where I set the glass of champagne down.

I am alone in the room. I start to turn away but, before I do, I pick the glass up again.

Then I set it down. I glance around, double-checking to see if anyone is left in the room. Are the people in the adjacent living room paying attention to me? Do I give a shit? Does anyone give a shit? No one cares if I have a drink. I look at it, let my mind run through all those rationalizations: “It’s just one drink” and “This weekend is already shot – you had two last night” and “Drink it and go home to prove you can just have one” and “You can always give quitting another try tomorrow.”

I pick the plastic flute up again, see the bubbles and the relief within. “What the fuck?” I tell myself.

The last drink goes down something like this: in two gulps.

New-ish writing, one year out

Posted April 4th, 2011 in drinking, Writing by Muhammad84G

Prologue: Cut Off At The Salad Bar

Here’s your dilemma: you’re a female bartender in your late thirties or early forties. Maybe you work here a couple of nights per week, serving drinks and over-priced steak dinners to tourists to put aside money for a vacation. A girl’s weekend in Vegas? A family trip to get the kids to Disney World? Or maybe a romantic weekend in Vermont for you and your husband, so you can feel like one of the privileged fucks who make up the brunt of your clientele for once in your life?

But if we’re going to give you a realistic back story, we’re going to take one look at that sad smile and note that it’s April of 2010. You’re too old for this shit, and too nice for this shit – not hardened in a way so many career bartenders are. Yet, here you are. You’re here because your husband got laid off and the money you make at Brick Alley – combined with his unemployment and whatever you do for your day job – is just enough to keep you, him and the kids one step ahead of foreclosure. In a few hours you’ll go home and before you sleep you’ll assemble Easter baskets for the kids, hoping they’re still too young to remember that last year they got more candy and better toys.

But first you have to deal with these two.
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Cut Off At The Salad Bar (first peek at what I’ve been working on)

Posted January 28th, 2011 in drinking, Life, Umass, Writing by Muhammad84G

I woke up this morning to find out that I had lost about 20,000 words I wrote on a book over winter break, as well as another 30,000 words in notes and outlines (some of which I have, thankfully, hard copies of). They’re not on my hard drive or on my backup disk. There’s a chance that they’re on my computer at Bridgewater State.

Then again, there’s a chance they’re not. I’ll find out Monday, if I don’t drive myself crazy and drive down there to check before then.

What follows are some of the 4,700 or so words I did not lose. I’m posting what is part of the epilogue of a memoir covering the last year or two of my life to remind myself that I really liked this project — winter break was the first time in years I had really enjoyed being a writer — and that I want to push forward despite this major setback.

Excerpt from the epilogue of Cut Off At The Salad Bar (draft)


I joined a farm share. It’s something else I never could have done when I was drinking: pay hundreds of dollars up front for a box of vegetables from the farm each week. I wouldn’t have had the money to pay ahead of time and the vegetables would have gone bad before I’d decide to stay in and cook them instead of grabbing a burger at the bar.

The farm is hosting a pancake breakfast on a Saturday morning in January so members can see where their food comes from. It’s two hours west of Boston in a small town called Whately, and Kate and I turn it into a day trip. Whately is close to Amherst, so I promise to drive her through campus and show her my undergraduate homes and haunts.

The breakfast is in a converted tobacco barn. The building is cold, but the food is phenomenal: pancakes made with locally-milled flour, steamed kale, strawberries and sausage like a baby’s forearm and bacon, all drowned in locally-produced maple syrup and chased down with hot apple cider.

Steamed kale with maple syrup. Trust me on this one: if you get the chance, you’ve got to try it.


A woman seated at our table is from Cuba and says she hasn’t tasted bacon like the bacon we are eating since she fled Castro. The whole meal is $10 for all-you-can eat, and the proceeds are going to a charity aimed at helping low-income people get fresh fruits and vegetables.

Music comes from a stereo with a tape deck. A woman – very much a neo-hippie that you’d expect to find in the Pioneer Valley – breast feeds an infant at the table next to ours. There is no pretension in this part of the state — dusty work boots, frayed fleece pullovers and salt-licked cuffs on brand-less blue jeans are the norm. Professors, working-class moms, locals and retirees filter into the drafty room to buy produce and dairy products from the young, upbeat women manning the retail end of the barn. Kate snaps photos of the winter root vegetables I have never heard of. The whole experience is simple and maybe even something I would have scoffed at another time. But it is fun and wholesome and I feel a connection to people I have never seen before and I will probably never see again.

A connection unclouded and uninfluenced by alcohol, a hangover, or feelings of self-doubt.
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A true drinking story

Posted January 10th, 2011 in drinking by Muhammad84G

One guy I drank with when I was in my early twenties developed diabetes and his doctor, knowing he couldn’t stop entirely, told him to limit his alcohol consumption to two drinks per night. On the first night of his doctor’s orders, a Friday, Rooney didn’t drink at all. The next night he drank 14 beers.

“Rooney,” I said, “didn’t your doctor say…”

“I know what my doctor said. But two drinks per night equals 14 drinks per week. So if I go overboard on any given night, I skip a few nights. It will all even out,” Rooney said.

The next night he proceeded to tie one on. As we emptied another 30-pack of beer I once again mentioned his doctor’s orders and reminded him of the logic he had given me the night before.

“It’s Sunday,” Rooney said.


“It’s a new week.”

6 6 6 for my sorrow

Posted December 20th, 2010 in drinking by Muhammad84G

I was originally going to post this on December 5, but I chickened out. I didn’t get braver, just found myself in a safer place so I’m posting it now:

The scary thing is that parts of this ring true.

Parts like “I associate my lack of excitement with music with my lack of excitement about living at all with my sobriety” and “I just feel lost in terms of what I’m here for.” I’m definitely not as hard up as the letter writer, but there is a touch of truth in what he (or she?) says. And it gets unnerving to realize the writer has 3.5 years of sobriety compared to my 0.5 years.

He or she is “working a program”; I refuse and consider myself fortunate that quitting drinking was so easy for me. I haven’t felt the lack of creativity; if anything, I’ve been more prolific and more driven and more hell-bent on maximizing time that would have otherwise been spent in bars and nursing hangovers.

I’ve already hinted at why I stopped drinking. But I haven’t said too much about what it’s like to be a non-drinker in a world that seems even more full of drinkers than it was before June 5, 2010. In a nutshell:
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