Addictions and how do they influence our lives

Every form addiction is bad, no matter the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.

C.G.  Yung

Pete Rose, greatest ever baseball hitter was banned form entering the Hall of Fame because of gambling addiction.

There is an asterix next to Barry Bonds’ all time home runs record because of allegations of steroids use.

Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven “Tour de France” trophies after it was found out he was using illegal drugs.

Harsh punishments. They put entire life’s accomplishments in question.

Any physician coming to the hospital after having a few drinks is being put under scrutiny and his license can be revoked, if this will continue.

For a public figure a DUI  conviction can be a career ending event.

It wasn’t like that in the past.

John L. Sullivan was probably the greatest American boxer during bare-knuckles and later on  gloved boxing era.  His reign was 10 years long.  Boxing at that time was a savagery where there were no rules, anything went and the fight was finished when one of boxers couldn’t get up from the floor.  His fight with Jake Kilrain lasted more than two hours and took 75 rounds for him to win.   Sullivan was a heavy drinker and when he appeared clear eyed before one of his fights New York Times announced “Sullivan Is Sober” and run it as a headline story.  He earned close to $1 million during his careerand died from consequences of drinking with only a few bucks in his pocket.

Then there were writers.  The God’s of American Literature: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, Raymond Carver and John Berryman.  All described in a book by Olivia Laing  “The Trip to Echo Spring: on Writers and Drinking”.  From myself I would add Truman Capote.  “Four or five of the eight American born writers, who won Nobel Prize in literature were alcoholics” (Henry Allen, WSJ).

Write drunk, revise sober.

Ernst Hemingway

When Stephen King was asked “Do you drink?”, “Of course” he said, “I am a writer.”  He quit alcohol after family intervention in 1987.

How they write when they are sober?  We don’t know. By the end of their careers they had health problems and  quite  few of them committed  suicide.  King however doesn’t  drink for last 20 years or so and is doing very well.

Drunk writers remind me of fat opera singers.  Do you have to be overweight to sing well?  Probably not, but many of the singers were.  Additionally when they lost weight  often they also lost their voice.  Lately however we see more and more singers, particularly women, without weight problem and know less and less writers who drink.

One of the most prominent  people in medicine in this country was Dr. William Halsted.  He is considered to be a father of American surgery.  He was one of four big guns, professors establishing Johns Hopkins Hospital and putting the cornerstone for medical care in this country.  He was also a cocaine and later on morphine addict, which was not illegal in that time.  His doctors tried to fight cocaine addiction by substitution  with morphine.  Halsted became addicted to both. It was not unusual for him to interrupt surgery for an extra injection of narcotic.

Three  different scenarios of addiction in three different fields.  Does addiction influence quality of their work?

Let’s start with writers.  The fact, that they are getting awards while on booze means that drinking has no negative effect on their art.  May be even positive?  No one knows. By the end their careers however their  health was failing, quitting was rarely possible and the quality of work was not that good.  King is possible exception.  And they don’t harm anybody, except  themselves.

Athletes present a little different story.  They don’t hurt other people, but case is being  made for a non-ethical competition with the others, who don’t use this kind of help.  The example of Sullivan is extreme.  Fighting while intoxicated gave him particular advantage while changed the sport of boxing to a  bar brawl.  While a drunk person fights, his judgement is off, limits of how much can he do are gone and frankly he even don’t feel opponent’s punches.

An interesting point would be to allow all athletes to use presently banned substances, same as letting pros to compete with amateurs in the past. I know I am opening Pandora’s box, but a discussion would be interesting.

The third example is more clear and closer to my heart.  Any physician using illegal drugs or alcohol while working and abusing prescription medications is a danger to his or her patients and is approached as a car driver under influence .  In medical staff code he is  labeled “impaired physician” and treated appropriately. Potential for harm is obvious. There is no tolerance for that and penalties are stiff. Having said so, life and achievements of Dr. Halsted seem to be extraordinary.  His accomplishments are undeniable, legacy is stellar and he is an icon in American Medical Hall of Fame.  Nowadays however he would be thrown out of every hospitals medical staff.  We don’t know, if he ever harmed his patients.  There is no record of it. It would be interesting to talk to his scrub nurse.  On a second thought, she was his fiancee and later on his wife, and for her he developed first surgical latex gloves.

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamus in illis .

Here we are.  One big problem with three different scenarios.  Addiction is always  a huge challenge for the main character and often for immediate family, friends, coworkers and people they are serving.  Some people can handle it themselves, some with help, but most can not.  And lives not only of the subject, but also immediate family and friends and coworkers, are ruined.

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

The Eagles, Hotel California  (Camarillo State Hospital?)

More about remarkable life of Dr. Halsted in one of future posts.

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