Archive for Alcohol

Four Loko Part Two

Posted in Current Events with tags , , , , , on December 2, 2010 by corecompany

I just can’t shake my fascination with the stuff. I think it’s because 20 years ago I would have been on the phone to the ACLU at the suggestion of banning it, not to mention I would have drunk more than my share of the stuff, vomited whatever McDonald’s food I had just eaten and looked for more. I think the fascination is also because thinking about this isn’t really an exercise in aversion therapy, it’s more of a youthful longing. What fun! Sounds crazy, I guess, unless you’re an alcoholic and loved those “killer parties that almost killed me” ( that’s Crag Finns’ description).
Working on another project I pitched the idea of a video blog to the editor where I would camp out at a Bodega near NYU and interview NYU students who bought Four Loko. His response was priceless, “NYU students drink Four Loko? It sounds like a more “uptown beverage” and no, he didn’t mean that Columbia students like it. For those of you who don’t speak northeast liberal, and for those of you who can’t accept that we all have racist aspects of ourselves, what he meant to say was “malt liquor with grape kool-aid? Aint that for black people?”
Act II, in which, the race card comes into the Four Loko debate.

As I have said before, one of the things that bothers me the most about the alcohol and other drug policy in America is that black people pay a much higher price for the same behavior as white people.  It seems that there has been some measure of success in banning Four Loko, enough that it got the attention of the FDA and whatever white people public official who jumped on the “demonize the stuff bandwagon” have forced the producers of this stuff to change their formula. I guess we can all sleep better knowing that the youth of America is safe from Four Loko, except that they will brew something else so I’m not sure what really has been accomplished. How is this racist? The vast majority of those people protected from Four Loko are college students at State run Universities, largely middle class and largely white, ok maybe exclusively white. In sheer numbers, relatively few of them and yet, this has been a media project, topic of discussion, enough to foster change, merits of the change debate-able. Where is the public outcry and attention on Old English 800, cheaply sold in ghetto (black) communities? Any studies on the damage done by that shit? How about how many kids have been hospitalized after drinking it? How is it that Old English 800 gets a free pass regarding the damage it does and Four Loko is depicted as semen of Satan in a can? It’s simple. White kids drink Four Loko and go to college and need protection. Black kids drink OE, are likely headed to prison and marginalized. What’s even more annoying is nobody seems to be talking about this; not even Spike Lee or Reverend Al? Are we so accepting of the alcohol policy that we don’t even talk about it?

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Four Loco is the new Jungle Juice

Posted in Current Events with tags , , , on November 12, 2010 by corecompany

These kids, what will they think of next? In my day we made “jungle juice” a no recipe concoction which was basically, punch of some kind and whatever booze could be found to be dumped in it. Vodka and kool aid? Yum!! Tequila and Hawaiian punch. The result? Technicolor vomit in teenage wasteland. I have never actually had one but given the number of young people I see with drug and alcohol issues, I have heard all about the “red bull and vodka” mix, I guess every generation thinks they invented something and this is generation Y’s (is that what they are called?) gift to us all. I think there was even an episode on happy days when they “spiked the punch”. In a way, this all looks like some kind of Chevy commercial and for some, it may be wholesome teenage rites of passage. So whats all the media attention about “Four Loko” which as near as I can tell, is packaged jungle juice made with an energy drink. I guess, its kool aid flavored malt liquor with caffeine, in otherwords, its puke in a can but it sure does help that prom dress come right off. Combing the internet for stories about this stuff, you would think it was bottled by Satanist and sold on playgrounds. Whats so new about this? Why now? kids have been getting drunk and sick since way back, why single out this beverage and what is wrong with doing that?
I am not sure why “Four Loko” is the new boogie man, there have been some reports of hospitalizations from alcohol poisoning but this is not new as a result of bottling this stuff. One of the common themes with the stories written about it is that it contains caffeine. So does rum and coke, so do many other cocktails.
What I think is Four Loko is a cheap high, marketed to kids that is detrimental to their health and safety but I certainly don’t think banning it is the answer. Banning it sends a message that the people who makes this stuff are responsible for the behaviors associated with it. Where is the personal responsibility? How about the community? As I often say, we all have a responsibility to the drug and alcohol problem, assigning blame to one faction of the larger problem does very little if anything to address the problem in a real way.
Even if I were still able to drink, I doubt I would be drinking four loko, it sounds vile, although I did wonder if it could be consecrated into the blood of christ, you, know just to add a little spice to mass. As a side note, I looked at their website and they have a page of all the philanthropy they do, they give to cancer, a worthy cause but how about giving to Hazelden youth and family for some four loko enthusiasts who end up in alcoholism treatment? I’m kind of fascinated with the stuff, thinking of doing a video blog and asking kids who buy it what it’s like, maybe I’ll camp out in the parking lot of a high school dance and interview consumers of four loko, I’ll be sure to wear rain boots so I can hose the puke off of me. Kids! When will they learn?

Texas Rangers Win World Series

Posted in Current Events with tags , , , , , on November 8, 2010 by corecompany


NYC is the only city in America, maybe the world, without an inferiority complex. Of course we think we should win the world series every year. There was no joy in the Bronx today, the Yankees were beaten, soundly, by the Texas Rangers.

A few short months ago, Texas manager, Ron Washington put his job in jeopardy by turning up positive for cocaine. Of course people were calling for Washington to be fired and for “zero tolerance” policy in sports because after all, what kind of example does this set? Children are watching and learning so what kind of example did the Texas Rangers led by Nolan Ryan set? A very good one actually.

Nolan Ryan stuck by Washington, apparently, the Texas Rangers don’t quit on people when they present with alcoholism and chemical use disorders. The series MVP was Josh Hamilton, who has very publicly struggled with his alcoholism, sometimes losing the struggle but always being forthcoming about his mistakes, not blaming anyone and getting back on the beam. Nolan Ryan and the Texas Rangers, by design or maybe default, have an excellent policy and program, they give second chances to addicts and the result, this time, was spectacular. A coke snorter and an alkie are going to the World Series, imagine that. Take this is an example of the possibility of what stable addicts can achieve.

As if this weren’t cool enough for our people, the system shows genuine understanding and support by spraying each other with ginger ale, unprecedented in the alcohol fueled sports world. I am a dedicated Yankee fan, but tonight, live from Tokyo, I am genuinely happy for the Texas Rangers and I might be the only one to see this as a victory for the recovering community but there it is. Somehow, I think Nolan Ryan knows something about all of this. He should give MLB a seminar.

How About Taxing Alcoholic Beverages!

Posted in Current Events with tags , , , on March 2, 2010 by corecompany

Just how deep does our love affair with alcohol go? How in denial are we as a culture about what it does to us?  The denial runs very deep.  A short while ago, Michelle Obama launched a war against obesity.  She laid the groundwork with her garden on the Whitehouse grounds. She upped the ante with a program encouraging people to move, turn off the TV and spend time being more active. She even self disclosed that her own child was pushing maximum density.  A condition many parents are facing. The first lady is doing a good thing, make no mistake, this is not a criticism of the First Lady or her concern with our weight and health.

It seems that the concern with obesity has caused a stir in the media about taxing sugary beverages as a way to encourage us to drink more water and to cover the additional health care costs of obesity. Needless to say, beverage companies are opposed to this, saying there is little evidence to support that their product is to blame for the obesity problem in America. What does all of this have to do with our love affair with alcohol? Everyday, people die due to alcohol. It destroys families, ruins academic and athletic careers.; leaves a wake of destruction in it’s path, anywhere it is abused. The ripple effect and destruction is unknown.  With all of the destruction caused by alcohol, why is it that there is nothing in the media about taxing it to cover the cost of the damage it does? It varies from state to state but the taxes on alcohol are remarkably low. Who pays for the damage that it causes? The additional health care costs, the car accidents, the mentally ill families? In short, who has to clean up the puke from the party?

If we can debate taxing sugary drinks, we should be debating taxing alcohol as well. What is it about alcohol that keeps it out of the media? How does it sneak around, virtually unnoticed?  It must also have an impact on the obesity problem as well, most people impaired by alcohol are not busy training for any marathons. “Beer Belly” is a term for a reason, so if we are going to tax soda to cover the cost of obesity, does that include beer? Is the alcohol THAT powerful that the alcohol industry does not even have to answer any of these questions? Wow, how fucked up are we?

Alcohol vs. Drugs

Posted in Education with tags , , on February 21, 2010 by corecompany

In thinking about the drug war, I often wonder where we stand with alcohol. From my perspective, it seems to get a free pass. We hear about drugs, which we all know are terrible. Are they? Or is it that we don’t like the people who choose drugs over alcohol? Make no mistake, alcohol is a very dangerous substance and the truth is, it does more damage to society than anything else. Why is it that we treat it differently than other drugs? Marijuana is safer than alcohol and yet alcohol gets a free pass. It’s a strange aspect of the drug war and I started to wonder: what does alcohol cost society and who pays for it?

Nobody seems to know what alcohol consumption costs. Consumption of alcohol is fine but alcohol abuse is a different matter. In a sense, alcohol is just another product that people buy. Of course people are in denial and not honest about their drinking and the impact of it on themselves, their work places, or their families. I don’t think there is any real way to know what alcohol costs in dollars to the US on an annual basis. NIDA doesn’t seem to know. The Marin institute, a think tank in California estimates the cost to be 175.9 billion dollars annually. Seems like a huge number. Some of the categories they were looking into were; additional health care costs, loss of productivity, damage to property. As a side note, imagine the additional cost if we were trying to arrest people for consuming it. Forget scholarly research and stats, I argue they are never accurate with any kind of questions about chemical use because, addicts lie. In any event, let’s say alcohol cost a shitload of money every year in many ways, ways we cannot even imagine. Who pays the tab? The consumers of the product don’t pay the price, not really (when do drunks ever pay the price?). Looking into this and not very deeply, I was shocked to find how minimal the taxes are. In New York, beer is taxed .14 per gallon, wine .30 per gallon, and distilled liquor $6.44 per gallon. Cigarettes are taxed $2.75 per pack.  A gallon of beer can do a lot of damage. Is .14 adequate?

Maybe one of the ways that we can finance treatment and continuing care options is by taxing alcohol in a real way. How about a .25 per drink tax in NYC bars? Who would this hurt? Bar owners? Not a chance. Who supports the low taxes on alcohol? Must be the alcohol lobby. In spite of our enmeshed relationship with alcohol, it is not a ‘needed” product. It’s not bread, milk, heating oil or gas. Have we become so fucked up by this substance that we just accept the damage it does to us? If cigarettes are taxed at 2.75 per pack, so should a bottle of wine, a 6 pack of beer or a bottle of liquor. Nobody likes taxes so I will take the heat: it can be called the “Schrank damage control/treatment option tax” and if you don’t like the tax, don’t buy the product. Take the money you will be saving and throw it into the hat at an AA meeting and shut the fuck up, you’ll thank me later.

Penn. State – #1 Party School in the Nation!

Posted in Education with tags , , , , on February 8, 2010 by corecompany

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On Tuesday afternoons at the center for counseling services on the campus of Penn. State, there is a substance abuse group. There are other groups offered at the center as well. Groups for: undergrads, women, depression management, mindfulness (what?), stress management and yes, a substance abuse group on Tuesday afternoons. Just how out of control is undergraduate drinking on American campuses and just what are we doing about it?

According to the Princeton review, Penn. State is the #1 party school in the nation based on their criteria and responses from an online survey.  Graham Spainer, president of the university says he doesn’t mind being known as a party school but wishes they weren’t number 1.  This is odd considering Penn State routinely lists alcohol as one of the biggest problems they have in Happy Valley.

A recent broadcast of “This American Life” from the Penn State Campus observed all kinds of drunken mayhem right outside the door of one of the producers of the show. In the span of 30 minutes the show producer witnessed drunken students stealing a stop sign as well as three girls who hike up their skirts and pee in her yard. We have always expected boys to pee in the yard but it’s good to know that this practice has now crossed gender lines. Later the show interviewed a girl celebrating her 21st birthday at a football tailgate party. Stating her goal was to get drunk. The celebrants included her parents and women from a neighboring tailgate who came over to watch this young girl get drunk and deliver her some kind of lemonade and vodka concoction.

According to student surveys, 75% of the Penn State undergrad population (more than 30,000 young men and women) drinks an average of 4.5 drinks on both Friday and Saturday nights more than enough for what the Harvard School of Public Health calls “binge drinking”. This does not include what they are doing on other nights. What is the problem with this? Is this wholesome behavior?  A rite of passage? Is it the entitlement of a generation raised on being told they were all “geniuses” and protected from human experience for fear they would have ‘low self esteem”?  I don’t think that is it because back in my day, we behaved in largely the same way. Inconsiderate, entitled to drink, party and do as we pleased because we were ‘in college”. Is this behavior so enmeshed into the American experience that we just accept it? Does it need to be “corrected”?

Strangely, for a guy whose life is so steeped in living free of intoxicants, I kind of think much of what goes on is late adolescent hijinks, that when sequestered to certain areas is harmless fun. Incidentally it seems that one of the biggest issues at Penn. State is the conflict that the undergrad revelry creates for the families that live on or near fraternity row. Umm, how about move dip shit? Maybe it is kids just being kids. I can’t imagine having 40,000 young people living in close proximity of each other without many things going on. In one sense, Penn State seems pretty honest about it. They don’t seem to be telling the kids not to drink in a hypocritical scolding. Many of the young people who live this way will be OK. It is true that kids will be kids and for most, they will age out of this kind of lifestyle.

What is disheartening about the substance abuse climate at Penn State, and college life in general, is the flagrant disregard for the recovery life and culture.  Considering the overwhelming amount of drinking on the campus, how would a kid in recovery make it? The simple answer is, they wouldn’t. How would a kid questioning what impact partying is having on their life flush that out at Penn State? I guess they could attend the group on Tuesdays but is that really adequate? The short answer is No, it is not in any way enough to support a young person who is having issues with alcohol. My issue is not that Penn State has a culture of drinking but that they don’t have a culture of recovery and marginalizes youth who want to live a recovery lifestyle. Nobody can foster a recovery lifestyle alone. We all need peer support, community, a sense of belonging, and a blend of community based and professional helping to sustain recovery. So I guess, kids who want this are not eligible to attend Penn State? That seems wrong, is it different from excluding a kid in a wheel chair? How about a kid with diabetes? What if they were raised in Pennsylvania, grew up watching Nittany Lion football, idolizing Joe Paterno is it fair to deliver the message that a huge land grant university can’t accommodate you? Fair or not, that is the message. On the off-chance that someone undergoing treatment at Hazelden youth and family or at Caron’s young adult program is reading this and thinking about how to integrate into an undergraduate life, scratch Penn. State off the list.

Recovery is never served by an evangelical membership drive. It makes no sense to try to police an entire culture on undergraduate campuses. Not to mention that I don’t think everyone who drinks has a problem. I loved every beer I drank out of a red cup and oh how I wish I still could but I don’t think everyone else should be sober, it’s really not my business. What does make sense is to start to think of recovery as something for young people and to make strides toward treating it as the acute illness that it is. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Kids might stay sober?

Michael Phelps Unwinds With a Little Help From His Friends!

Posted in Current Events with tags , , , on February 4, 2009 by corecompany

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Since the release of the Michael Phelps picture many opinions have surfaced regarding the role of athletes in the culture, the expectations we hold them to and of course, pot. Some of them seem reasonable “he’s a kid”, some seem less than reasonable, “will a 10 year old who idolizes Phelps think its ok to smoke pot because he does”? One of my favorites comes from columnist David Ramsey “Phelps fills us with shame.”  That’s a bit of an overstatement from Mr. Ramsey.  As far as I know, judgment never helped a drug issue on any level.  Before reading the comments of Ramsey I’d never heard of him but I imagine him to swill scotch and lament the state of the world and the entire drug using culture.

            Universally there is a consensus that Phelps acknowledged “wrong doing”.  It seems odd that he did something “wrong”, other than choosing an intoxicant besides alcohol. Would this be news if Phelps were seen drinking? At his age drunkenness is more than tolerated, it’s encouraged.  Beer swilling is expected from young adult males, certainly athletes are known to imbibe and yet nobody bats an eye. Why then do we demonize Phelps for choosing an intoxicant that is safer than alcohol? The truth is young men + booze= stitches, car accidents, date rape charges, fights, jail, hospitalizations. Young adults + marijuana = complacency, over eating, staring at video games, listening to Pink Floyd, watching “The Big Labowski” repetitively. Given these choices, I am unclear with what Phelps did “wrong”.

            Make no mistake; I am not advocating for the use of Marijuana, it’s a dangerous psycho reactive drug that can derail a developing mind, body, and emotional world, not to mention dislodging mental illness. More than discussing pot, I think the Phelps issue offers a chance to indict alcohol. Demon alcohol. It does more damage than all street drugs combined and yet, parents sit and my office and say “We know he drinks, but we’re grateful he doesn’t use any drugs!” The” Just Say No” era has done grave disservice to supporting chemical dependency as a health issue. It serves for us to continue to view this issue as “right” or “wrong”.  Dealing with chemical dependency is successful to the degree that we can be honest about it and the truth is, Marijuana is a safer intoxicant than alcohol.