October 09, 2003

Drunk or Stupid?

Ken Schram is a broadcaster in Seattle who apparently thinks he's hip, funny, caustic and populist. He likes to fancy himself the champion of the underdog. His latest targets, though, seem to be the underdogs themselves.

The issue: a 75-unit housing facility being created for chronic alcoholics in Seattle. Schram's objection: the residents will be allowed alcohol in their rooms.

If someone can explain to me how it helps to give alcoholics a cozy place to booze it up, I'd like to hear it. [...] This idea is a joke and a waste of $9 million.

Makes me wish we could take city officials to court simply for being stupid.

Unfortunately, stupidity is not illegal.

Actually, Schram is pretty fortunate that stupidity is still legal. He'd be doing life.

Seattle and Tacoma have been wrestling with the problem of chronic drunks in their downtowns. Solutions have included the (probably quixotic) declaring of "alcohol impact zones" where certain types of liquor can't be sold. They have pressured stores not to sell such products, and threatened those that failed to comply.

In steps a local social services agency, hoping to address the problem with the modern notion of "harm reduction." Chronic alcoholics living in the park are not exactly prime candidates for the Betty Ford clinic. The plan is to provide them with shelter, health care and treatment for their alcoholism. Benefits: reduce the load on hospital emergency rooms, reduce crime committed by and to the afflicted, help clean up the downtown image. Looks like a win-win to me.

But not to Schram. Despite his sometimes progressive views on other topics, on this one he is just another Neanderthal.

This case serves to point out the weird mush of beliefs that people still hold about addictions. On the one hand, the public may have some understanding of the disease theory of alcoholism: "Well, you can't blame someone with a disease." At the same time, they believe at heart that it's a moral failing: "He would be working at his sobriety if he weren't a degenerate loser."

You see, in the view of most people there are "good" alcoholics ones on the wagon, going to meetings and "bad" alcoholics ones who have lost control of themselves again. We who are not afflicted are supposed to feel sympathy for the good ones, and disgust and disdain for the bad ones.

This is a destructive belief system for nonalcoholic and alcoholic alike, particularly when the alcoholic is struggling in an abstinence/relapse cycle (the vast majority).

It's part of an equally destructive game of funding health care services for the addict. "We don't need to spend much because the addict should be able to control their disease on their own. After all, it's not like cancer, where you can't help it. And there's no drug available to cure it, so let's give up. After all, the addict has."

That's why stories like the Seattle facility get play. Providing care for the undeserving bad alcoholics? How dare you?

Mr. Schram, stupidity is a form of disease and far more morally repugnant than any kind of chemical dependence.

Posted by campbell at October 9, 2003 05:08 PM | TrackBack