Addictions and How Do They Influence Our Lives

Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic, or alcohol or morphine or idealism

C.G.  Yung

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

There are asterisks 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 an 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 continues.

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 the 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 the 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, the New York Times announced “Sullivan Is Sober” and ran it as a headline story.  He earned close to $1 million during his career and died from the 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 the 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 do 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 the 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 a weight problem and know less and fewer 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 at 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 the 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 of their careers, however, their health was failing, quitting was rarely possible and the quality of work was not that good.  King is a possible exception.  And they don’t harm anybody, except themselves.

Athletes present a little different story.  They don’t hurt other people, but the 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 a particular advantage, while changed the sport of boxing to a bar brawl.  While a drunk person fights, his judgement is off, the limits of how much can he do are gone, and frankly, he doesn’t even feel the opponent’s punches.

An interesting point would be to allow all athletes to use presently banned substances, same as letting pros 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. The potential for harm is obvious. There is no tolerance for that, and penalties are stiff. Having said so, the life and achievements of Dr. Halsted seem to be extraordinary.  His accomplishments are undeniable, his legacy is stellar, and he is an icon in the American Medical Hall of Fame.  Nowadays, however, he would be thrown out of every hospital 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 fiancée and later on his wife, and for her, he developed the 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 the remarkable life of Dr. Halsted in one of future posts.

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