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Will Power — It Works As Well On Alcoholism As It Does On Diahrrea


By Bob Aronson

sobriety for opener

Alcohol abuse, especially outright alcoholism is a leading cause of the organ shortage because of its destructive effect on the heart, pancreas, liver, kidneys, reproductive organs and stomach. There are over 123,000 people waiting for organ transplants in the U.S. and with only about 30,000 transplants a year, many on that list will die.

As a former drinker, a heart transplant recipient and the author of most of these blogs, I am always intensely interested in stories or postings about alcohol and drug abuse, so I actively seek the latest information about those subjects.

In that light, I was surfing the internet recently when I came across a group discussion of the issue. What caught my attention was this statement, “If you make the decision to start drinking you can make the decision to stop. Just say, NO, I’m not going to drink anymore, then pray for sobriety and it will come.”

When I saw that my immediate reaction was that the writer was unaware of what it’s like to be an addict and the total misery in which the alcoholic lives. It is a life no one would wish on their worst enemy. It is a life no one would live if they had a clear choice to get out of it. I wish it was so simple as to just, “quit.” or say, “NO,” but more on that, later.

***(A note to the reader. Throughout this blog I refer to the alcoholic as “he” for convenience. Please read it as he/she or him/her because everything I relate here applies to both genders. Also, I can only relate to the disease as a male. Women have many of the same experiences as men, but many more that are totally different. In many ways women suffer even more than their male counterparts)

I am writing this in my role as a recovering alcoholic of some 34 years. I have not had a drink of alcohol in all that time, I am not drinking today and I don’t plan to tomorrow, but I live every moment of every day with the knowledge that I am just one drink away from returning to  the greatest misery man can inflict on himself whether physically, emotionally or both.

This is not one of those “tell-all confessions.” Since the birth of this blog in 2007 I’ve received dozens of requests for more information on alcoholism, but not for the usual fare, many of our readers want to know what it’s like to be an alcoholic. This is an attempt to answer that question, to explain the agony of alcoholism and to help you recognize that the alcoholic can’t “just quit.” I hope it offers some insight into the alcoholic mind and answers at least a few questions you may have about what it’s like to be a drunk.

Those who say, “Just quit,” or, “just say no” have no idea what it’s like to be a full-blown, full-time, uncontrollablejust say no drunk. If it was a matter of choice, a matter of will power, a matter over which alcoholics had control they would not choose to live that way. It is a life of absolute misery, dishonesty and risk. Your best friend and worst enemy is the bottle, it totally controls your life. Every minute of your existence revolves around making sure you have access to alcohol. If you have to choose between eating and drinking, you’ll drink. If you have to choose between bleeding to death and drinking, you’ll choose bleeding and if you have to choose between those you love and alcohol, you will choose alcohol and all the while knowing it’s wrong — totally and absolutely wrong. Worse yet, as you continue to choose alcohol over what’s right, that cloud of oppressive guilt that follows you around  will tighten its stranglehold forcing you to consume more in another feeble attempt to stop the agony.

One other point about “If you can choose to drink, you can choose to stop.” The initial choice to drink is usually made while sober and for many, it is the last sober choice they make. Once the brain is supersaturated with alcohol, how do you get it to make a rational, logical choice? You can’t. The only time choosing to stop drinking might work is if you choose to get HELP to stop drinking, because you cannot do it alone. You must, as the AA Big Book says, realize and admit that you are powerless over alcohol and your life has become unmanageable. Only when you are willing to put your life in the hands of others (usually highly qualified addiction professionals) do you stand a chance of getting it back.

alcoholism definitionI stopped to read the post and comments I mentioned earlier because I have an interest in the subject. Addiction runs in my family. I was a practicing alcoholic for a long time and the practice paid off, I became a perfect drunk. It started when I was a teen who thought a weekend of beer consumption was normal behavior. I realized at that early age that while others could have a can of beer or two and then quit, I couldn’t. I always drank until drunk (sometimes unconscious) or until we ran out of alcohol whichever came first.

My early adulthood was not unlike most other people, I was young, struggling to pay the bills and unable to afford alcohol so my drinking problem wasn’t all that obvious. I knew, though, that anytime alcoholic beverages were available my old pattern continued. Once I started drinking I couldn’t stop. As time went on and there was a little more money, I drank more. At first it was just In the evening and on weekends but before long I was following my father’s habit of having a little “bump” upon arising each day. That progressed to several “bumps” and finally arriving at work drunk and staying that way. I was not a bar fly, I did most of my drinking privately and…I was good at hiding it. From jobs in broadcast journalism to serving as a Minnesota Governor’s Communications Director and then back to broadcast journalism I was a full-blown alcoholic and almost no one knew it. I was under the influence of alcohol even when I was on the air several hours a day and yet, no one ever mentioned it.  Not then and not since. .

I had tried a hundred times to quit drinking and each time I did it with great resolve, but my best efforts never lasted longer than a week  or two before I was back to my old habits. Finally, though, I hit bottom. It was 10 o’clock  in the morning and I had already consumed nearly a quart of vodka and hadn’t eaten in days. I was very sick. Sicker than I had ever been before. While my head was nearly in the toilet bowl I made the decision to get help. I crawled to the phone, found the yellow pages and located a treatment center a couple of miles from my home. I then called my brother, told him what I wanted to do and asked him to drive me there.

It was about noon on Saturday July 17, 1982 and my blood alcohol was 3 times the legal limit. I was so wracked with guilt and pain and so sick I just wanted someone to help me feel good again. I was, “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

The Mounds Park hospital and treatment center in St. Paul, Minnesota no longer exists but they were the right people in the right place at the right time. I have not had a drink since, but I could not have done it alone. “So,” you ask, “Why are you writing this?” I’m doing so because I’m hoping to bring some understanding to the issue.

The first few days in treatment were awful. When I wasn’t in the bathroom emptying my stomach, I spent my time trying to think of a way to get out of there and get a drink, but the papers I had signed had me in voluntary lockdown. Saturday, Sunday and Monday were probably the most tortured moments of my life. I was so sick I prayed for death. Even though they gave me tranquilizers this “purging” period was awful. I later learned that withdrawal from alcohol addiction is among the worst and can be deadly. As I dried out I never left my room, talked to none of the other patients, didn’t eat and drank what seemed to be gallons of water and even that wouldn’t stay down. Anyone who has ever had a hangover, has experienced just a smidgen of what alcohol withdrawal is like for the person who consumes it by the quart or liter every day of his life. It is why the alcoholic needs some “hair of the dog that bit you” in the morning. it’s the perfect way to cure a hangover. If you never stop drinking you never have a hangover. Well — almost.

facts abot deathI’m sure there are many who have been heavy drinkers, made the decision to quit and did. Others counted on God’s intervention and it worked, but for the vast majority of alcoholism sufferers quitting is beyond their ability. That was and is e nature of my condition. I am absolutely convinced that my ability to quit drinking was unrelated to will power. An alcoholism counselor once told me, “If you think will power will work, the next time you have diarrhea, use will power to stop it.” Just the thought of drinking again scares the hell out of me.

So, you might ask how and when you know you are an alcoholic and that’s a great question. In the deep dark recesses of your mind you probably know from that first drunk when you couldn’t stop drinking. The great test of whether there is something amiss is for me quite simple. Most normal, social drinkers can have one or two drinks and quit with no discomfort. I can’t. I know I can’t because I tried it many times. I find it impossible to believe the claims of some who say, “Addiction can be cured.” I will only accept that when they can show me highly supervised, peer reviewed, large group, long term clinical studies that clearly show patients who were cured can drink again and stop after one or two. Anyone or any organizations that claims to have a cure and cannot provide that evidence does not, in my view, have one.

Only others who share my experience will really understand this, but once I have a single drink of alcohol something is triggered in me that is so strong, so incredibly powerful it will cause me to have another and another and another. As the adage goes, “One drink is too much and a thousand are not enough.”

To further the point you might ask, “Well what if you had that drink and then thought real hard about the consequences like, Hey Bob,  you could lose your job, your marriage, everything that is dear to you and wind up in prison for life as well, wouldn’t that stop you?” I guess a rational mind would immediately agree that those considerations would cause you to step back from the bar, but – you must remember the alcoholic mind is not one that is rational. It is driven by a craving so deep and so irrational it will violate every moral and ethical standard you ever had in order to spend more time with its best friend forever, alcohol.

That is not to say the alcoholic has no conscience. Once he has done whatever horrendous thing it was that relieved him of all that he loved he will feel great guilt, depression and sorrow. He will swear to change and to make things right, but when the agony of the hangover (withdrawal) begins he will again turn to the bottle. Does he have a choice to drink or not to drink? Of course, and the alcoholic will vow time and time again to make that choice, to quit drinking and will be incredibly strong in his resolve as long as he is under alcohol’s influence, but the resolve diminishes right along with the influence.

“One more drink,” he says, “will get me back on the road to sobriety,” and he really believes it, but one leads to six and to ten more and then to a repeat of the very behavior that caused all the guilt and there’s only one way to deal with it, more alcohol. It is a powerful drug and while it can cause one to lose his inhibitions (read that “good sense”), it also helps one forget, until you start getting a little sober and then you start all over again.

So you see, the alcoholic knows he has choices and he is willing to make the right one, but he never gets to a point where he feels good enough to make it, unless he is drunk and then even his alcoholic mind knows he has failed again.
drunk in trashAlcoholism is not only the failure to say “no” to the drug, it is also a complete abandonment of all that you know is right —  a behavior change so great as to be unbelievable. The image of an alcoholic that many have is of a foul-smelling bum in dirty clothes who sleeps in a cardboard box in a dark, trash cluttered alley. He is inarticulate, uneducated and offensive. That’s the stereotype, but you know what? That’s only a partial picture.

The rest of the story is quiet and invisible. Every day millions of alcoholics get dressed for work in a stylish suit, and works right alongside you. When I was drinking heavily in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s I wore expensive clothing, drove very nice cars and was always presentable and functioning. I anchored TV and radio news shows, hosted a radio talk show and functioned as the press secretary to a state Governor. Few  who knew me would call me a drunk. They might know that I drank a little, but no one would suggest I was an alcoholic.

Like many alcoholics I was pretty good at functioning while inebriated. Even the people with which I worked moshiding a bottlet closely had no idea that I had a secret life. They didn’t know that the double wide briefcase I carried was not full of office work. H, it carried a quart of vodka and a carton of cigarettes. They didn’t know that when I arrived at the office in in the morning, I had already had several drinks or that I had slept in a chair in the clothing I wore the day before. They were unaware that I hid my bottle in the bottom of the men’s room waste basket so whenever I wanted a drink, I just went to the men’s room. They didn’t know that behind the wall mirror in my bathroom at home, I had built a carefully hidden compartment to house my liquor supply. It was constructed while my wife was at work to ensure secrecy. The hidden latch on the wall mirror let it swing open to reveal several bottles sitting on a 2 X 4 shelf. It is where I got my first drink of the day, just a little something to get the hair off of my tongue and get my heart started. Neither friends nor family knew about the sandpit about six blocks from my home. It had a bottle of vodka hidden under the “No trespassing” sign that was only recoverable under the cover of night. There may have been other places as well and the bottles may still be there because I forgot where I put them.

Not all, but many alcoholics suffer from “Blackouts” and I was one of them. I know one fellow traveler who says he missed the “entire Carter Administration.” Blackouts are periods of time that cannot be remembered. They are periods when you can walk, talk and work and remember none of it. There are huge gaps in my memory of those years and it is attempting to recollect them that threatens my sobriety even though they were a long time ago and I might have just fallen asleep. It is not knowing and suspecting the worst that beckons me to have “just one.” The flashing red, white and blue neon “Liquor” signs act as strong magnets that seek to pull my car into their parking lots. I shudder to think of what I might have done that I cannot remember. So far, though, my recovery program and support system have proved to be a stronger force and I fear the liquor sign more than I fear the memories.

liquor sign
When you are a practicing alcoholic you have to spend a whole lot of time making sure you have an uninterrupted supply of alcohol. There’s a lot of planning that goes into being a drunk because our greatest fear is running out of liquor. In Minnesota you can’t buy hard liquor or even strong beer on a Sunday. The liquor stores close at 10 PM on Saturday night and don’t open again until 8 AM on Monday. It is critical that the flow of alcohol not be impeded. An ample supply must be available at all times in a place that is always accessible.

We drunks spend a whole lot of time hiding our addiction, even to the point of having a hidden secret stock that can be consumed privately so when attending a party you can be seen drinking a Coke or Pepsi not liquor, wine or beer. During that time I had many people comment on the fact that I rarely “Drank” and I always agreed.

When I was Anchoring a regional network radio news show five mornings a week, I sat across a desk from my producer. We were almost in each other’s faces every day and I was never sober. One weekend I called her and said, “Christa, I won’t be in on Monday, I’m in treatment.”

“C’mon Bob, is this your idea of a joke? Why are you calling?” She was quite indignant.

“I’m in treatment for alcoholism, Christa,” I said.

“I told you it’s not funny,” she responded.

It took a while to convince her. We had worked across from each other for three years and she never knew I drank even though I was almost never sober. While on the air I labored mightily to keep my enunciation crisp and to be an errorless reader. Face to face I interviewed Governors, captains of industry, super stars of entertainment and men and women of the cloth while at the same time increasing the profitability of not only the liquor companies but also the businesses that make, distribute and sell Certs breath mints, and Binaca breath freshener.

I think I mentioned that it takes a lot of planning to stay drunk and hide the fact that you are. I worked hard at keeping my drinking preferences and practices secret so I made sure I didn’t frequent the same liquor stores too often. I did not want to be seen frequenting bars and nightclubs, so I didn’t go to them. I almost never drank in a bar. I knew the hours of all the liquor stores, their locations and their prices. I even went so far as to deposit my empty liquor bottles in someone else’ trash cans and often not even in my neighborhood. At work I once put an empty vodka bottle in the corporate President’s waste basket.

Sobering up as I mentioned earlier was not easy. It was terrible. When finally the alcohol was out of my system I sobriety quotevowed to go public with my addiction as a means to help me stay sober. Treatment, AA meetings, being public about my problem helped, I’ve not had a drink since a little before noon on that day in ’82.

While I respect those in the scientific community who insist that alcoholism can be cured and that drinkers can choose to stop, I vehemently disagree. I know scores of sufferers just like me. We talk, we relate, we empathize and our stories are nearly identical. Furthermore I have attended hundreds of AA meetings and read scores of books on the subject. They all verify the fact that those who suffer from alcoholism also suffer with feelings of helplessness, depression, resentments and most importantly — overwhelming guilt.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on addiction I am but a single case among millions. My evidence is anecdotal and not scientifically acceptable, but I know that my story and my experiences are repeated thousands if not millions of times every day. I don’t know why people become alcoholics and I don’t understand the psychology behind it I only know it very nearly ruined my life, hurt my friends and family immeasurably and affected the lives of many others as well.

If someone in your family or circle of friends has a problem with alcohol you can try to help, but don’t be surprised if your offers are perceived as threats and you lose your relationship with that person. The alcoholic didn’t drink for you and is not going to stop for you or for anyone else. He will only stop when he hits rock bottom and can no longer stand living that way. Then he will either seek help and keep seeking it for the rest of his life, or return to drinking and alcoholic bliss where unpleasant memories are washed away in a sea of 90 proof alcohol.

Alcoholism is slow suicide. It will kill you one way or another. Either you will succumb to some disease, or you will drink yourself to death. It’s suicide but very slow, very painful and very effective.

My closing thought is the same as the one with which I opened this posting. The life of an alcoholic is a life of misery, shame, guilt and fear. No one, no one, would choose to live like that if choice was really an option.

Below are some resources for Alcoholics,  their families and friends.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services AdministrationExternal Link—For information about substance abuse prevention and treatment services:

National Institute on Drug Abuse—For information about other drug problems that often co-exist with alcohol problems: 301-443-1124.

National Institute of Mental Health—For information on problems such as anxiety and depression that can co-exist with alcohol problems: 866-615-6464.

bobBob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s over 4,200 member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of the nearly 300 posts on this site.  You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love. You can register to be a donor at http://www.donatelife.net.  It only takes a few minutes. Then, when registered, tell your family about your decision so there is no confusion when the time comes.

People Who Say they Can’t Quit Smoking Are Gutless Liars!


By Bob Aronson…former smoker

smoking cartoon

if that headline doesn’t get your attention I don’t know what will.

“I can’t quit smoking,” is BS.  You can quit, but you are a pansy, no guts.  You can spread that “Can’t quit” manure elsewhere.  It doesn’t work here because it’s a big lie.

Do I have your attention?

This post is aimed at smokers, whether you are just starting the habit or have smoked for a while and are thinking about quitting.  I am writing this to alert you to smoking related issues not to draw attention to myself or my condition.  I seek no sympathy nor attention.

Yes, this is a posting that encourages you to ignore the temptation to start smoking and/or to quit smoking if you already have the habit. In the interest of full disclosure let me tell you why you should read this. You should do so because I offer hope and straight talk.  No one could possibly have had a greater addiction to cigarettes than I did.  And…I know about addiction, too.  Not only did I quit smoking (1991) I also quit drinking (1982) after years as a practicing alcoholic.   I have not had a drink since.

Let me get right to the point.  Even though I quit smoking almost 25 years ago it is killing me.  When I die I would imagine that my addiction to cigarettes will be the chief cause of my demise because I have emphysema and asthma, Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD).  Had I not quit smoking when I did I would have been dead long ago.  Recently my pulmonologist told me that If I had continued to smoke,  I would have needed a lung transplant long ago.  For those of you who don’t know me I had a heart transplant in 2007 and smoking may have been a contributor to the heart failure that caused me to need that life-saving surgery.

I know how hard it is to quit smoking and I refuse to accept, “I’ve tried many times and cannot quit.”  That, my friend, is pure unadulterated BS.  You are only fooling yourself with that nonsense.  The fact of the matter is you don’t have the guts to quit.  You can’t handle a little discomfort so you light up another smoke and say, “I can’t quit.”  And again I say, “BS.”  Tough talk?  Damned right it is.  If you think the discomfort of quitting smoking is hard to handle try the discomfort a of lung cancer as an option, or maybe emphysema.

I smoked up to 4 packs a day for 37 years and I quit.  Was it easy?  Of course not!  It hurt, it was painful, I was an SOB to live with, but damnit I quit.  I used every gimmick out there to help me break the habit and finally was rescued by nicotine gum.  I probably quit smoking 3 or 4 dozen times maybe more.  You see, you don’t quit once, fail and say, “I tried, I can’t quit,” because you haven’t tried.  The way to quit smoking is to keep quitting until you quit. You never give up, you quit every day, several times a day until finally you have quit for good.

I always kept my smokes and a lighter in my shirt pocket.  Almost every day when I left home for work I would automatically reach for a cigarette and the lighter so I could get my hit of nicotine.  Finally, I got to the point where every time I reached into that pocket for the cigarettes and lighter I would pull both out and throw them out the window of the car.  I did that every day for weeks.  Later in the day I’d find myself buying another pack and a lighter and the next day I would toss them out the window. “The hell with littering,” I would say, “My life’s at stake here.”

After about a year of all this nonsense I finally had my last cigarette in January of 1991.  You see, I had just watched my father die of emphysema.  At least something good came of his death.  I was able to quit.  I was addicted to nicotine gum for two years after that and lemon drops for another year but I quit, by God, I quit.

You know why it’s so hard?  It is because you are an addict, just like any drunk or junkie.  When you hear someone say, “A cigarette tastes so good after a meal,” that’s just more BS.  The reason it feels good is because it’s been a while since your last cigarette and you are going into withdrawal.  As soon as you light up you stop the withdrawal and feel better.  It is no different than getting a hit of heroin or a good slug of booze.

From the time I was 15 years old in 1954 until 1991 (37 years) when I was 52 years old I was a smoker, a heavy smoker.  Some days when I went to work I would throw 4 packs of cigarettes in my briefcase and finish them before I retired for the night..  That’s 80 cigarettes.

There are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes. When burned, they create more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are poisonous as well.  Here are just a few of the chemicals in tobacco smoke, and other places they are found:

  • Acetone –nail polish remover
  • Acetic Acid –  ingredient in hair dye
  • Ammonia –household cleaner
  • Arsenic – rat poison
  • Butane – lighter fluid
  • Cadmium –battery acid
  • Carbon Monoxide car exhaust fumes
  • Formaldehyde – embalming fluid

A final note on this subject.  In 1998 I lost my wife of 35 years to lung cancer. She, too was a smoker and she died a horrible death, no one should have to suffer the way she did and the way thousands of others do every day.  Smoking is a terrible, disgusting and deadly habit.  I don’t care who you are, you have a responsibility to yourself and to those who love you to quit smoking.  You must.  After a while the urges disappear and you can live a normal life again.  You might even find that you’ll take great pride in being able to say, “I used to smoke, but I don’t anymore.”

-0-

New heart, new life, new man

Feeling better than ever at age 73

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s over 4,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs. You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org.  And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.  You can register to be a donor at http://www.donatelife.net.  It only takes a few minutes.

My Alcoholism — Avoid it, Live Longer. A True Story.


While I have written a considerable amount about alcohol and drug addiction (search this blog site and you’ll find several posts on addiction and chemical dependency)  I have written very little about my experience with them.  I chose not to write about myself because it is too easy to sound overly dramatic or like a Carrie Nation reformer and I am not anti-alcohol. We have it in our home, wine, beer and I think there’s some rum somewhere, too.

I am one of the fortunate drunks.  I went into treatment on July 17, 1982 and have not had any alcohol since but it’s been a battle.  I had a heart transplant in 2007.  There’s no way of telling if my alcoholism contributed to my heart problems but it sure is possible.  Here is some of my story.

Being an alcoholic or any kind of addict is to live a life of dishonesty, insincerity and betrayal.   My comments here apply to my alcoholism so that’s the addiction upon which I will concentrate but, all addictions bear similar traits.  The addict will let nothing get between him and his bottle.  He will betray anyone including his spouse and children to satisfy the insane craving for alcohol.  The more you drink the more you will lie, cheat and steal to satisfy your body’s demands.  The drug steals all of your will power, your self-control and your self-respect and makes you its slave.   It is like your body is holding a gun to your brain saying, “Do what I say or I will kill both of us.”  

The very first step In the 12 step Alcoholics Anonymous program is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.”   Powerless and unmanageable aptly describe an addiction like alcoholism.  Powerless and unmanageable two words that when finally adopted and spoken out loud can set you free but oh how long it takes to get there.

Everything written here (except those words I identify as coming from someone else or from another source) is true and based on my real life experience as a practicing SOB drunk.  Pay close attention because this could be you or someone you know.

I always drank too much.  Even before I was old enough to drink if my teen friends and I could get some beer, wine or anything else I never knew when to quit. I drank until I passed out. I could not drink one beer, one glass of wine or one martini. As the saying goes, “One is too many and a thousand is not enough.”  I know from experience that the worse your habit becomes the more aware you are that you are addicted and it eats at your conscience like battery acid on bare skin.  I cannot begin to describe the psychological torture the addict experiences. 

The guilt gnaws away at your self- esteem causing  emotional pain that goes beyond intense…there’s not a word to describe it and that pain forces you to drink even more in order to assuage the  hell your life has become.  No one…absolutely no one would choose to live like this.   Your life becomes totally unmanageable and you have no control on where the desire for alcohol will lead you.  To those of you who say, “Just quit…you made the choice to drink, you can make the choice to stop.”  Oh how I wish that was true. 

Yes, I made the choice to drink and that was the end of my ability to make sound choices about anything.  No amount of will power or determination can end this nonsensical sickness.  It takes an organized approach and a lot of people to end the insanity and slowly help you get back on the road to respectability.  Having lived this life…and believe me when I say I have spared you the really gory details, I know without a doubt that this God awful affliction is a disease as surely as cancer is one and if you think for a minute that you can just stop the cycle yourself, you are living in a fantasy world.  Read on, maybe, just maybe you will learn something.  

Addiction is horrible.  It is beyond description because no one in their right mind would choose to live that way.  You will lie, cheat, steal and betray your best friends, family and employer if any of them gets in the way of your bond with your bottle (whether it’s full of pills, heroin or booze). And….you will do it with righteous indignation because you will really believe there is nothing wrong with you but that everyone is against you.  None of what you do will weigh on your conscience until you sober up and that’s when your conscience goes to work on you like a slave master with a whip.  There are no welts or sores on your body as a result of the whipping, they are on your soul and they never go away. Finally, you can’t handle the guilt any longer and you seek out your best friend that wonderful container that sports a label saying, ”90 proof. Drink in moderation” 

 A drunk is a drunk is a drunk.  The stereotype is the bewhiskered, dirty guy sitting in the doorway of an abandoned building holding a brown paper bag with the tip of a bottle just visible over the top of the paper. He probably smells bad, hasn’t eaten a solid meal in days and has slept in his own vomit  and sometimes his own excrement (I’m using a man as an example but alcoholism and narcotics addiction are no respecter of gender).

I was a drunk for a very long time and never knew anyone like the person I just described.  To be truthful I used that image to prove to myself that I was not a drunk.  I wore an expensive suit every day, had a new car, a nice home and a great job. People liked and respected me and I was what most would call successful.  To look at me no one would ever suspect I had any problems never mind an uncontrollable addiction and a mean streak a mile wide.

Here’s what my admiring friends and associates didn’t see.  They didn’t see me after hours where I would purposely pick a fight with my wife so I could leave in a huff to buy booze.  They didn’t see me return home a while later after having consumed a pint of 90 proof vodka, stumbling into the house, cursing, pushing people out of the way to get to my basement hideaway where I would drink the rest of the evening, fall asleep in the chair and often awaken in my own vomit.  Sometimes I awakened on the bathroom floor, not knowing how I got there or even whose bathroom I was in.

People didn’t see me when the alarm went off and I had to get ready to go to work so sick I prayed I would die.  A hangover, you see, is nothing more than heavy duty withdrawal.  You know that there’s a very long and sharp knife buried in your skull and you know it has gone all the way through and someone keeps twisting it.

Your stomach is on fire and you keep vomiting but there’s nothing left to vomit….not even stomach acid..   The pores of your skin smell of whatever beverage you were drinking and your clothes (that you slept in) are wrinkled, dirty and stink.  At some point in the night you had urinated but without the benefit of being in a bathroom.  And yet despite feeling as though you had been hit by a bus and contracted food poisoning at the same time, responsibility calls.  You have to go to work and there’s only one way to feel human again you take what my dad (also an alcoholic) called a “Bump.”  A long hard gulp of 90 proof booze right out of the bottle.  In most cases it was an almost instantaneous fix.  I could go from looking like a tribe of vampires had been sucking the blood from my body for a week to a resembling respectable businessman within minutes.  That doesn’t mean I felt good or that my mind was clear…it only meant that alcohol was working to delay the inevitable hangover.

All it took to make me presentable and give me the ability to appear normal was a shower, a shave, a good haircut, a starched white shirt, a tie with some red in it, a freshly pressed suit, shined shoes and some mouthwash and I was in charge again.  Little did anyone know that the double wide briefcase I carried was not because I was so conscientious I took home heavy workloads.  No…I carried that briefcase because it would hold a quart size bottle.  The bottle, when finally drained of its last drop of poison would be quietly and secretly placed in someone else’ waste basket far from my office.  You can’t leave any evidence around you know.  Better to make someone else look like a drunk than expose yourself.

Being a drunk takes a certain amount of planning but sometimes making a good plan while in an alcoholic fog is impossible.  A plan is necessary so you don’t run out of booze.  I didn’t hang out at bars much, I drank at home for the most part but it wouldn’t make any difference.  Neither bars nor liquor stores are open 24/7/365.  You always had to be sure you had enough alcohol to take you through the night and the weekend.  I don’t know about other states but in Minnesota you could not buy booze on Sunday.  I would have to make sure I had enough on Saturday to carry me through.  Sometimes, though, I miscalculated and ran out.  That’s when you attack the cooking sherry and even mouthwash. 

If you are as addicted as I was you know where all the liquor stores are; their hours and exactly where your choice of poison is in the store so you can walk right to it.. It was not unusual for me to be waiting at a liquor store for someone to show up tp sell me a bottle. You also make sure you don’t go to the same store too often…can’t have them thinking you are an alcoholic now, can you? 

You might read all of this and say, “With all of those shenanigans you must have known you were a drunk.”  Well, kind of.  I knew I drank too much but I was functioning, I was working, I was producing, I was getting paid and no one was confronting me about my drinking so I made the assumption that everything was fine. 

Somehow drunks attract drunks.  I didn’t think my drinking habits were strange because the guys I hung out with drank as much as I did.  Here’s an example.  Back in the 70’s when I was a Press Secretary, there was a very nice restaurant on University Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota called the Blue Horse.  We would go there for lunch often and here’s what we had; a double extra dry (meaning forget the vermouth) vodka martini on the rocks with two olives (gotta get your veggies you know) before lunch; a bottle of wine with lunch and a double Drambuie up in a snifter after lunch.  Now, when everyone you know and like drinks like that why would you think you had a serious drinking problem?

I am convinced that every alcoholic, no matter how heavy the denial, knows somewhere in the deep dark recesses of their mind that they have a very serious problem. Because of that haunting knowledge we get very good at hiding or disguising our problem.  For most of the time that I was an active alcoholic I was working as an on-air personality in radio and TV or as the Press Secretary and Director of Communications for a Minnesota Governor. Because no one ever approached me about my drinking  my warped logic suggested that I could continue to drink while on the job so I always had a bottle or two in my desk or briefcase.. 

While on the air I would struggle mightily to make sure I pronounced every word correctly, had the right inflection and didn’t slur any words.  Doing that took incredible concentration and commitment. 

While working on the air I was always the morning drive time guy (that’s prime time in radio).  I would hide my bottle at the bottom of the men’s room waste basket and cover it with paper towels.  When I needed a drink I would just head to the men’s room and being as I was the morning guy, there were very few others working.  My shift was 5 AM to 9 AM and by 9 AM my bottle was usually empty.

The men’s room wastebasket was just one hiding place.  I had many others…a sandpit a few blocks from my house, a secret panel in the basement wall, a spot over the furnace, a junk drawer in the garage and my trusty briefcase with the combination lock.

In this post I have described some of my behavior while alcoholism controlled my mind and body, I have not gone into detail about most of it and I made that decision for two reasons.  One is I can’t remember a great deal of what I did, and the other is that even after all these years what I can remember is still too painful to relate to anyone.  The guilt I bear and the pain I caused is barely manageable.  I fear to think what I might do should I dwell on any of it.  You’ll have to take my word for it that my behavior was not what you would expect from a normal human being. 

This blog is about real life addiction.  If you want more clinical information there are lots of resources like this one.. http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/info2/a/aa022697.htm

I believe addiction is a disease, as does the American Medical Association and several other Medical groups. In a 1992 JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) article, the Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) published this definition for alcoholism:

“Alcoholism is a primary chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, mostly denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.”

If you do not believe it is a disease this post probably won’t convince you otherwise and that’s your choice.  I write about what I believe in and if people disagree they can say so in the space provided or start their own blog. 

If you are worried about your drinking habits or about someone else’ drinking habits I found this simple statement to be quite revealing, “If alcohol (or drugs) are causing you problems, you have an alcohol or drug problem.”  The same goes for food, gambling, sex or any other addictive behavior. 

If you are addicted you drink or use for effect, you can’t get the desired effect by having a drink an hour.  Furthermore, the kind of alcohol really doesn’t make any difference.  I preferred vodka and I have no idea why but I drank for effect so I bought cheap booze and drank right out of the bottle. Gulps, not sips.  That marvelous burning sensation as the alcohol went down your throat into your stomach was motivating because you knew that soon the pain would be gone and you could go back to being totally irresponsible and hate all of your tormenters (like wife, family, friends, co-workers…anyone at all).  By the time the alcohol hit your stomach, you were drunk and happy again as long as no one interfered with your drinking.  The wonderful, warm feeling was quickly replaced by every emotion a human can feel and in no precise order.  You hate, you love, you laugh and cry all at the same time all with no reason and none of it is real. You can go from insane laughter one minute to unheard of violence the next and think nothing of it.

A Russian national (they are known for their love of Vodka and their high rate of alcoholism) once told my wife that Vodka was a necessity.  “The first bottle,” he said, “Must be Absolut” After that who cares.”

It is rare that anyone who is addicted uses their substance of choice to get high, they use it to try to find a release or some respite from the misery they are feeling.  Most often people use to try to feel normal.  It has been said that your first drunk or narcotics hit is your first and last high.  The rest of your time as an addict is trying to get to that same place and you rarely if ever do.  Worse yet, it takes more and more of whatever you are using to have any effect at all. 

Alcohol destroys your organs.  Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly but it will destroy your organs and that means it will destroy you.  The problem is that alcohol can destroy your life but let you go on living so that you wish you were dead.  I prayed for death many times.

I’ve told this story in hopes that maybe one or two people will read it and get the help they need so that they don’t become a number on the list of people waiting for organ transplants.  If you know someone who needs help here is a list of resources for you to get more information. 

Want to take a test to see if you are an alcoholic?  You can do it privately at home and only you will know the results. 

The Michigan Alcoholism Screening test can be found, taken and scored here.  http://counsellingresource.com/lib/quizzes/drug-testing/alcohol-mast/

If you take the test and determine that you  need help a good starting point is the Substance Abuse and  Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Government (SAMHSA)  http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/links/

One of the most disturbing effects of alcohol abuse in particular is that it can result in fetal alcohol syndrome, permanently scarring children and can range from increased aggressiveness to a lifetime of brain damage.   http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Real-World-Health-Effects-Of-Drug-Abuse—Overview&id=486086

 

Alcoholism and withdrawal from it can be deadly.  According to WikiPedia 

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delirium_tremens) five percent of acute alcohol withdrawal cases progress to delirium tremens. Unlike the withdrawal syndrome associated with opiate addiction (generally), delirium tremens (and alcohol withdrawal in general) can be fatal. Mortality can be up to 35% if untreated; if treated early, death rates range from 5-15%.

 

If you want more comprehensive information visit the following sites.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) http://www.drugabuse.gov/NIDAHome.html, The Partnership for a Drug Free America (www.drugfree.org/) or your local treatment center.

 

The Women’s Heart Foundation has something to say as well:  http://www.womensheartfoundation.org/content/HeartDisease/alcohol_and_heart_disease.asp

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

 

Addiction — A Journey Into Hell


If you are suffering from organ failure and you are an addict you can be eligible for an organ transplant but you have to be clean and sober first and  most transplant centers require at least six months of sobriety before they will consider you.

Yesterday I posted a blog “My Last Drunk..” about the time 30 years ago I checked myself into treatment for alcoholism.  It was not a particularly outrageous story but it was significant  to me because it was my very last drunk.

I write a lot about addiction because it is one of the primary killers of human organs and because this group is dedicated to ending the organ shortage I’m hoping that stories about addiction and recovery will  help those suffering from the disease find their way into a recovery program.  If we can do that the demand for organs will decrease and those who remain on the list will have a better chance of getting a transplant.

I realize that there are many who refuse to believe that addiction is a disease and many who think addicts even if they are in recovery should not be eligible for transplants because of what they did to themselves.  And I will be the first to admit that addicts do the damage to themselves but it’s not on purpose, it is not because they choose to destroy their organs, their families and their careers.  Who would be crazy enough to do that?  The life of an addict is pure hell and readers will just have to believe me when I say, “No one would choose to live like that, no one!”

When you are an addict you are totally out of control and you don’t set out to harm anyone including yourself but the power of the disease is so great it is irresistible.  When the demand for your drug of choice invades your body you must respond to it no matter who gets hurt along the way. You will lie, cheat, steal and in some cases even physically harm anyone who gets between you and, in my case, my bottle.

Being an addict also means you spend inordinate amounts of time trying to figure out how to feed your habit.  With alcohol money is not as much a problem as with illegal or prescription drugs.  Alcohol is easy to get and relatively cheap but you still must plan.  In most places you can’t buy a bottle of booze on a Sunday so you have to make sure that you have enough booze on Saturday to take you through Monday.  Then in many cases, especially if you have a family you don’t want to know about your addiction, you have to have a place to hide your drug of choice.  I had a secret panel in the wall of our finished basement, a cubby hole In the garage, a special place in a sand pit near my home where I could hide and then dig up my bottle, inside an old tire in the garage and the bottom of the waste basket under used paper towels in the men’s room at my place of employment.

If illegal drugs are your problem then money becomes a huge issue and you will either steal it or con your best friends or family out of it by manipulating them in any one of a number of ways.  No lie is too outrageous for the addict and in many cases no action is too outrageous.  That’s how powerful the addiction is.  You will literally sell your soul to get what you need and the worst part of it is that you can’t even really get high anymore, you use to try to feel normal but all you really get is sicker and sicker both mentally and physically until either you are hospitalized, treated or die.

Addiction will overwhelm your sense of ethics, pride, morals, self-worth and will to live.  I remember having a conversation with myself once in which I said, “Bob you have to stop drinking, you are killing yourself!”  My response without thinking and without pause was, “I don’t care.”  That’s the power of the drug.

When I drank I sometimes consumed up to two quarts of vodka a day.  I was a big man 6’4” and 250 lbs.  I could hold a lot and miraculously I functioned.  I got up every day, put on a suit threw a quart of vodka in my oversized briefcase and went to work.  I drank my way through four years as a Governor’s press secretary and appeared to many if not most to be sober, I almost never was.

In the four years I anchored Morning Edition on the Minnesota Public Radio Network I rarely drew a sober breath yet I interviewed people, had impeccable timing, read news and performed all the other duties an on-air person can do. Sometimes I struggled mightily to keep from slurring words and to walk straight but I was able to fool most  of the people, most of the time.

But it all catches  up with you and at some point you find yourself in places and with people you would not normally associate with.  It is as though the rest of the world can’t see you.  All the while you know it is wrong but you just keep sinking deeper and deeper into the bottomless pit of despair and the more you realize how you have degenerated the more you use your drug of choice to help you forget what you have become.

Addiction is a horrible disease and as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog it cannot be overcome with will power it takes help, a lot of help from a lot of people and then it takes superhuman effort and the help of those same people and even more to stay sober.

One of the toughest parts of recovery is following the Alcoholics Anonymous step that dictates that you make amends to those you have harmed.  It means you must apologize and it also means your apology may not be accepted and you have to learn to live with that.  It’s part of the soul and conscience cleansing process and it is difficult but necessary.

Recovery from addiction is on-going.  You are never recovered because one drink, just one, will send you right back into that deadly spiral into the depths of living hell.  As the expression goes, “One drink is too many and a thousand is not enough.”

I’ll close with this. If you are an addict, there is hope and there is help. It isn’t easy and it isn’t quick but it can work and you can live a normal life again but you cannot do it alone.  You need help.  You can start by calling your local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or any accredited treatment center. In most cases insurance will cover treatment.  If you are uninsured there is still help available through AA and NA.  It is only a phone call away. You just have to take it one day at a time, sometimes, it is one moment at a time but it is always moving forward, sober!

f you are an addict, think you might be or know someone who needs help here are some resources. 

http://nationalsubstanceabuseindex.org/

http://www.addictionresourceguide.com/resources.html

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment/resources

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show, it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

My Last Drunk The Beginning of a New Life.


My name is Bob Aronson.  I went to work every day wearing a suit.  I had been a popular radio and TV personality in another market, Press Secretary to a Minnesota Governor and was now the first Anchor for Morning Edition on the Minnesota Public Radio Network headquartered in Minnesota’s twin cities.  I was a major market radio host and newsman and that’s no small feat.  For all intents and purposes I was a respected member of society.  I had one small problem; I was also an uncontrollable drunk.   Following is but one day in the life of an alcoholic.

I’m telling this story because alcoholism and addiction is one of the greatest destroyers of human organs.  My long term addiction to alcohol and cigarettes (I quit smoking in 1991) quite likely contributed to my need for the heart transplant I received in August of 2007. 

Addiction is horrible, it is a terrible existence and the addict is powerless to stop it without help.  The craving for the drug, whatever it is, is stronger than any force you will ever encounter.  It overpowers reason, common sense, logic and even the love of family.  It destroys your moral code, your sense of ethics and even your hygiene.  You begin to live your life for the drug.  It is your best friend.   

Those of you without an addiction will have trouble understanding this and I’ve heard many of you say, “Just use some will power!”  O God if it were that easy.  I remember an addiction counselor telling a group  once, “Using will power to conquer addiction will get the same result as trying to use will power to control diarrhea.”  She was so right.

Following is but one slice of a long life of alcoholism.  It is the day, 30 years ago, that I stopped drinking.  This not the worst story I could tell, those aren’t even fit to print, but rather this is the  most significant because it marked the beginning of my sobriety.

I  should point out, too, that once a drunk always a drunk its just that some of us drunks are sober.

On July 17 of 1982 I awakened early in the morning with a splitting headache and nausea.  I stumbled through the bedroom covered in my own vomit to make it to the bathroom. Kneeling on the floor before the toilet I retched over and over again but there was nothing left in my stomach.  Its contents were on and around my bed and my t-shirt and underwear. 

When the retching stopped I stripped and stepped into a cold shower that felt like a million icy pinpricks.  I thought I smelled sauerkraut in the house but none was cooking, the odor was me.  I stunk.  I scrubbed my body as hard as I could but not having eaten in several days my strength was at a minimum and taking a shower was wearing me out.  You see, I wasn’t just suffering plain old flu, mine was a special flu that I brought on myself…it came out of a bottle marked Vodka 80 proof.  This was the granddaddy of all hangovers.

Freshly showered and shaved I descended the staircase to the first floor of our home to find it empty.  A terse note on the kitchen table told me my wife had gone to see some friends.   “So what” I thought.  “I’d rather be alone anyway.” 

Descending yet another set of stairs I found my way to the basement where behind the paneled walls I had built a secret compartment that housed my best friend, a quart bottle of 80 proof cheap vodka.  You see, when you are a drunk you drink for effect not for taste so why waste money when after a couple of swallows you can’t taste anything anyway. 

I removed the bottle from its cobwebbed hiding place, cracked the seal, removed the cap and put the opening to my lips.  As the clear liquid burned its way down my throat, I felt rescued.  The effect was almost immediate, I felt good again and didn’t give a damn about anyone but me.  Another couple of quick slugs and I was even better but by the time I got to the top of the basement stairs the alcohol hit me harder than ever before.  Because I hadn’t eaten in days and was not getting rest my resistance was down and I was drunk immediately.  

 In my addled brain I thought, “Another drink will fix this,” so I made my way back to the basement, recovered the bottle and literally crawled up the stairs into the kitchen where I fell into a kitchen chair uncapped the bottle and took another long slug.  In the few brief moments I had been awake I had already consumed a half quart of vodka. 

My mind was mush but somehow I remembered the night before, when we were to entertain my boss and his wife for dinner.  My wife had never met them so she was a little anxious.  I told her not to worry and busied myself with preparing our outdoor barbecue dinner.  Our garage was detached from the house so while I was out messing with the grill, I made a few trips into the garage for a rendezvous with another hidden bottle.  About 45 minutes before our guests were to arrive I had quite a buzz going but found a way to sneak another long swallow after which I told my wife I was going to lie down until the company came. 

Flashback now to my opening sentence because that’s the next thing I remember after lying down.  I went upstairs and passed out.  My poor wife was left to entertain people she had never met and, I was told later, made up the excuse that I had gotten very sick and had to go to bed.  She entertained them for the evening while I slept the sleep only a drunk can know. 

As I sat at the kitchen table, the realization of what must have happened made me realize how low I had sunk and I polished off the quart of vodka to somehow assuage my guilt.  Here I was with my head the table, drunk again, remorseful and needing another drink but my stash was gone.  I had no more and knew I could not drive — hell, I could hardly walk.

Reluctantly I picked up the phone and dialed my brother.  I told him I needed help because I thought I was an alcoholic.  He drove me to a treatment center and that’s when my life began anew.  

I need to pause here for a moment to offer thanks to some people who gave me a much needed break Bill Kling, founder and President of Minnesota Public Radio,  Sally Pope Kling his wife, Rick Lewis, who then was the VP of News at MPR and John Merli, the News Director..  They not only allowed me time to recover but to come back to MPR and continue to work.  Thanks Bill, Sally, Rick and John.  And…of course my brother Terry who took  me to treatment.  All of you will always be in my thoughts and prayers.

Within a year I started my own communications consulting business which I am still practicing. 

If you are an addict, think you might be or know someone who needs help here are some resources. 

http://nationalsubstanceabuseindex.org/

http://www.addictionresourceguide.com/resources.html

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment/resources

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show, it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers. 

Alcohol and Drugs The Organ and Child Killers


Alcoholism and drug abuse have haunted my family for years.  I’ve been in recovery for just about 30 years but I’m not alone in my family.  Anonymity disallows further disclosure but trust me, I know about addiction first hand and even as I write this another family member is suffering and causing suffering.  I hate the disease with every fiber in my body and I know how hard it is to fight it.

Alcohol is a drug. It is no different than heroin or cocaine or Dilaudid or Oxycontin.  They are all addictive drugs and they ruin lives and kill people.  Those are facts.  Here’s another fact.  There is an alcohol and drug abuse epidemic among young people in America today.

Here is some shocking information from the National Center On Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.  And if you are not shocked you should be.  http://www.casacolumbia.org/templates/Home.aspx?articleid=287&zoneid=32

  • Half of college students binge drink and or abuse other drugs and almost a quarter meet medical criteria for alcohol or drug dependence.
  •  Prescription drug abuse is the most rapidly increasing drug abuse among teens.
  • Each day more than 13,000 children and teens take their first drink
  • 7 million (26 percent) of public school students age 12-17 say their school is both gang and drug infected.
  • Teens who see their parents drunk are more than twice as likely to get drunk in a month and three times likelier to use marijuana and smoke cigarettes
  • In 2009 more than one third of teens (8.7 million) said they can get prescription drugs to get high within a day and nearly one in five said they could get them in an hour.

Now, you may ask yourself why a blog about organ donation and transplantation is focusing on alcohol.  The answer is simple.  Alcohol can and does destroy human organs.  If Americans could better control their alcohol consumption the number of people who need organ transplants would drop considerably.  Here are just a few of the effects of prolonged alcohol and drug abuse:’

  • The brain —  confusion and memory loss.  Changes in sensation and numbness.
  • Scarring of the liver called cirrhosis which can lead to death.
  • Disease of the pancreas and stomach even stomach cancer
  • Heart irregularities and weakening leading to death (my alcoholism could have contributed to my need for a heart transplant).
  • Upset the body’s natural control of blood fats and blood sugar levels.
  • Bone thinning called osteoporosis
  • Kidney disease

Long-term use of alcohol and drugs in excessive quantities is capable of damaging nearly every organ and system in the body.

Now, back to the epidemic amongst our youth.  Let’s just focus on alcohol.  Underage drinkers account for 11.4 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the U.S., according to Teen Tipplers: America’s Underage Drinking Epidemic, a report released by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

The report found that more than five million high schoolers (31 percent) say they binge drink at least once a month. The gender gap in alcohol consumption that for generations separated girls and boys has disappeared among younger teens: male and female ninth graders are just as likely to drink (40 percent vs. 41 percent) and to binge drink (22 percent vs. 20 percent), the news release said.

But let’s not depend on just once source.  Here’s what the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says about young teens and alcohol and the related risks.

“For young people, alcohol is the drug of choice. In fact, alcohol is used by more young people than tobacco or illicit drugs. Although most children under age 14 have not yet begun to drink, early adolescence is a time of special risk for beginning to experiment with alcohol.

While some parents and guardians may feel relieved that their teen is “only” drinking, it is important to remember that alcohol is a powerful, mood-altering drug. Not only does alcohol affect the mind and body in often unpredictable ways, but teens lack the judgment and coping skills to handle alcohol wisely. As a result:

  • Alcohol-related traffic crashes are a major cause of death among young people. Alcohol use also is linked with teen deaths by drowning, suicide, and homicide.
  • Teens who use alcohol are more likely to be sexually active at earlier ages, to have sexual intercourse more often, and to have unprotected sex than teens who do not drink.
  • Young people who drink are more likely than others to be victims of violent crime, including rape, aggravated assault, and robbery.
  • Teens who drink are more likely to have problems with school work and school conduct.
  • The majority of boys and girls who drink tend to binge (5 or more drinks on an occasion for boys and 4 or more on an occasion for girls) when they drink.
  • A person who begins drinking as a young teen is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than someone who waits until adulthood to use alcohol.

The message is clear: Alcohol use is very risky business for young people. And the longer children delay alcohol use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. That’s why it is so important to help your child avoid any alcohol use.

So you say, “Ok, but what can I do about it. If kids want to drink they’ll find a way.”  And you are right.  But often one of the ways they find to drink is through family members.  Over 70% of eighth graders say alcohol is easy to get and 30% of children age 12-14 get alcohol from a family member.

It’s also wise to use some common sense and remember that as parents you are role models. Your drinking habits are closely observed by your children whether you  think so or not.

There is help and advice from many sectors…SAMSHSA for one (SAMSHSA is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Government.)  http://underagedrinking.samhsa.gov/  Hers’ what they say.

Between the ages of 9 and 13, children start to think differently about alcohol. Many children begin to think underage drinking is OK and some even start to experiment. It’s never too early to talk to your children about alcohol, and encourage them to talk with you.  Over 70% of children say parents are the leading influence in their decision to drink or not.

Lots of little talks are more effective than one “big talk.”

Sitting down for the “big talk” about alcohol can be intimidating for both you and your child. Try using everyday opportunities to talk – in the car, during dinner, or while you and your child are watching TV. Having lots of little talks takes the pressure off trying to get all of the information out in one lengthy discussion, and your child will be less likely to tune you out.

When you do talk about alcohol, make your views and rules clear.

Take the time to discuss your beliefs and opinions about alcohol with your child. Be honest and express a clear, consistent message that underage drinking is unacceptable. When they feel that you’re being real and honest with them, they’ll be more likely to respect your rules about underage drinking.3

Family, peers, school, and the community all play a role in your child’s decision to drink. In fact, most children who use alcohol get it from a friend or family member.1 To ensure these people become positive role models for your child, let them know how you feel about underage drinking.

I have always contended that the best way to solve the organ shortage is to live healthier lives.  That means we have to start at a very early age.  Parents must teach their children about drugs and alcohol as soon and as often as possible.  If we don’t get a handle on this problem every other problem we have in our society will get worse.

Bob Aronson, a 2007 heart transplant recipient is the founder of Facebook’s 1700 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the writer of these donation/transplantation blogs on Bob’s Newheart.  

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

 Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have a PowerPoint slide show for your use free and for use without permission.  Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions.  This is NOT a stand-alone show, it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

60% of People Who Smoke Will Die From it — But You Can Quit!


Besides causing cancer and any one of a number of other health problems, smoking can destroy organs like the heart and lungs and can seriously damage or destroy others. 

There are about 110,000 people in the U.S. waiting for organ transplants and there are not enough donor organs, so each year thousands of our loved ones, friends and neighbors die waiting. The number of organ donors is not increasing fast enough to end the shortage any time soon so one way of dealing with the crisis is to prevent the need for organ transplants.  One way to do that is to quit damaging our organs by quitting smoking. 

From time to time I will be publishing blogs from guest writers.  The following post was written by Dr. Michael Burke, Ed.D, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine and Program Coordinator at the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center.  Dr. Burke is a highly respected expert in the field of tobacco addiction and smoking cessation. 

There is nothing that is healthier for a person who smokes than to stop. Within a short time after one stops smoking, lung function and circulation improve, risk of heart attack and stroke diminish, and the likelihood of acquiring 14 different cancers begins to drop. 

Symptoms from illnesses as different as diabetes, sleep apnea, and Crohn’s disease get better after a person stops smoking.  Stopping before surgery significantly improves surgical outcomes through less infection, better wound healing and bone mending.  Stopping smoking leads to less skin wrinkles and better erectile function, and the list goes on and on. Although people usually underestimate how dangerous smoking is, nearly everybody knows that it is unhealthy.  However, about 1 in 5 Americans continue to smoke, and each day in the US, as many people die from smoking as three fully loaded 747’s crashing.   Worldwide 100 million people died from smoking in the 20th century.  Predictions are that one billion people will die from smoking tobacco this century.  So why doesn’t everyone quit? 

One reason is that cigarettes are quite addicting.   A cigarette delivers nicotine to the brain more quickly than a hypodermic needle.  It is probably the best drug delivery device ever created by man.  It delivers volatile high dose nicotine that, for some people, causes physical changes to a part of the brain that is responsible for pleasure, attention and stress.  I say ‘for some people’.

Smoking affects people differently.  Stopping smoking is actually physically harder for some people than it is for others.  The differences are in large part due to genetics. To shed light on these genetic differences a group at the Mayo Clinic is, oddly enough, studying Zebra fish. http://discoverysedge.mayo.edu/zebrafish-genetics/ Dr. Steve Ekker’s group has discovered two genes that make the fish more reactive to nicotine.  If exposed to nicotine when in the larvae stage Zebra fish bred to have these two specific genes will become sensitized to the nicotine.   Later in life they will move and dart more quickly in the water when nicotine is added to the tank.  However, if these genes are ‘knocked out’ the fish won’t become sensitized to nicotine and then later will not react when exposed to nicotine.   It is wonderful to have a geneticist with a sense of humor.  Dr. Ekker’s group named the nicotine activating genes Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis after those two Hollywood stars whose style of smoking became iconic.

Although it is a more complex story in human beings, some people have Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis genes.  These people experience a heightened reward from cigarettes when they first start smoking and more intense craving and withdrawal when they try to stop.  Too often these people feel ashamed, think that they just have less willpower, or think that they just don’t want to stop badly enough. Instead these folks can stop, they just need more tools and ammunition.

I once treated a woman, a nurse, from Bayonne NJ.  She was clearly a strong lady.  My dad would have admirably described her as a ‘tough old broad’.  “People tell me I’m weak, that I should just quit smoking” she said “But, when I go half a day without a cigarette, I’m on my knees in tears I just feel so awful”.  “I’m not weak” she went on.  “I left a bad man, raised three kids, worked sometimes two jobs, bought my own home, and sent all three kids to college.  I’m not weak! What is it about this that is so hard?” she asked me.  She was most likely genetically set to have a more difficult time stopping, and she needed treatment to match that extra difficulty.   We provided treatment and one year later she was still tobacco free.

Many people try and stop ‘cold-turkey’.  That’s good if it works.  However, less than 5% of the people who use this method are successful at six months.  Counseling and medications have been proven to significantly increase the chances of successfully stopping smoking.  You can learn more about how counseling works by viewing the short video at this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EDaA26unVw  

Your health care provider may provide counseling or they may have a Tobacco Treatment Specialist in the office or local area.  Professional help is also available through a telephone Quit line.  Every state in the US, and province in Canada have one that can be accessed through calling 1800 QUIT NOW.   One online resource that many people find helpful is www.becomeanex.org.  Mayo Clinic also has a Residential Treatment Program – an 8 day program that works for people who have ‘tried everything’.  http://ndc.mayo.edu

There are seven ‘first line’ medications that have been proven to be safe and effective for helping people stop smoking.  Five are nicotine replacement products and two are pills available by prescription: varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban).  

There is too much confusion about nicotine replacement.  Nicotine replacement medications have saved many lives and can save many more. Nicotine is not the ingredient in cigarettes that causes health problems.  Smoking health problems are caused by 4,000 other chemicals that people ingest when they smoke.  Some of these chemicals are natural to tobacco others are added by the tobacco industry.  Nicotine replacement helps manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms safely, while eliminating exposure to the awful toxins in tobacco.  We encourage people to take enough of these medicines for long enough to stop smoking.

People who smoke can also talk to their health care provider about two other medications varenicline and bupropion.  These medications are proven to help people safely stop smoking.  Like most medications, there are some potential side effects and you should talk to your health care provider before taking these medications.   But remember, if the tobacco industry had to list the side effects from smoking, it would probably fill a telephone book.  Cigarettes are the only product that will kill over 60% of the people who use it in the way it is intended.   Stopping smoking, by any means necessary, is the healthy choice.

Please comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org.  And – spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors.  On-line registration can be done at http://www.donatelife.net/index.php  Whenever you can, help people formally register.  There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance.  If you convince one person to be a donor you may save or positively affect over 50 lives.  Some of those lives may be people you know and love.  

You are also invited to join Organ Transplantation Initiative (OTI) http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=152655364765710 a group dedicated to providing help and information to donors, donor families, transplant patients and families, caregivers and all other interested parties.  Your participation is important if we are to influence decision makers to support efforts to increase organ donation and support organ regeneration, replacement and research efforts. 

Are You an Alcoholic? Here’s the Test


By Bob Aronson

devil cartoonAlcohol, Drugs and Tobacco can have deadly effects on your organs and constitute one of the leading contributors to the need for organ transplantation.  I have long contended that while organ donation is important we just aren’t making enough headway under the current system.  Too many people are dying because of the organ shortage.  One way of reducing the organ shortage is to diminish the demand.   Healthier living could help achieve that goal. Look at this listing of the short and long term effects of alcohol.

Depending on how much is taken and the physical condition of the individual, alcohol can cause:

  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Distorted vision and hearing
  • Impaired judgment
  • Decreased perception and coordination
  • Unconsciousness
  • Anemia (loss of red blood cells)
  • Coma
  • Blackouts (memory lapses, where the drinker cannot remember events that occurred while under the influence)

Long-term effects of alcohol

Binge drinking and continued alcohol use in large amounts are associated with many health problems, including:

 

  • Unintentional injuries such as car crash, falls, burns, drowning
  • Intentional injuries such as firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence
  • Increased on-the-job injuries and loss of productivity
  • Increased family problems, broken relationships
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • High blood pressure, stroke, and other heart-related diseases
  • Liver disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Sexual problems
  • Permanent damage to the brain
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency, which can lead to a disorder characterized by amnesia, apathy and disorientation
  • Ulcers
  • Gastritis (inflammation of stomach walls)
  • Malnutrition
  • Cancer of the mouth and throat
  • More info available at http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/alcohol/short-term-long-term-effects.html

I am a recovering alcoholic (since 1982) and know first hand how Alcohol another drunk cartoonprobably caused me to need a heart transplant and cigarettes left me with serious Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD).   Since I began Blogging in November of 2007, I have published six posts on alcohol’s deadly effects on internal organs.  They are Alcohol and Drugs – Cunning, Mysterious, Deadly; Alcohol May Have Ruined My Heart, How Much Do You Drink; Think Outside the Bottle; Should Alcoholics Get Liver Transplants and How Alcohol Can Kill Your Liver and You. 

These posts have generated numerous responses and questions.  The most common question, though, is, “How can I tell if I am an alcoholic?  A simple answer  is, “If Alcohol is causing problems you  have an alcohol problem!” 

The “Gold Standard” of the treatment industry is the Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (MAST).  The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence at  http://www.ncadd-sfv.org/downloads/mast_test.pdf  is a great resource  if you want more information.   I have copied the test and printed it below.  You can take it in the privacy of your home and grade yourself according to the instructions which follow the test.

In order for the results to be accurate your answers must be absolutely truthful, you do no good by lying to yourself so BE HONEST!  I hope you find this information helpful.  

If you take the test and determine that you  need help a good starting point is the Substance Abuse and  Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Government (SAMHSA)  http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/links/

 MICHIGAN ALCOHOLISM SCREENING TEST (MAST)

 

Please check one response for each item.

 

1. Do you feel you are a normal drinker? (“normal” – drink as much or less than most other

Yes

No

2. Have you ever awakened the morning after some drinking the night before and found that you could not remember a part of the evening?

Yes

No

3. Does any near relative or close friend ever worry or complain about your drinking?

Yes

No

4. Can you stop drinking without difficulty after one or two drinks?

Yes

No

5. Do you ever feel guilty about your drinking?

Yes

No

6. Have you ever attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

Yes

No

7. Have you ever gotten into physical fights when drinking?

Yes

No

8. Has drinking ever created problems between you and a near relative or close friend?

Yes

No

9. Has any family member or close friend gone to anyone for help about your drinking?

Yes

No

10. Have you ever lost friends because of your drinking?

Yes

No

11. Have you ever gotten into trouble at work because of drinking?

Yes

No

12. Have you ever lost a job because of drinking?

Yes

No

13. Have you ever neglected your obligations, your family, or your work for two or more days in a row because you were drinking?

Yes

No

14. Do you drink before noon fairly often?

Yes

No

15. Have you ever been told you have liver trouble such as cirrhosis?

Yes

No

16. After heavy drinking have you ever had delirium tremens (D.T.’s), severe shaking, visual or auditory (hearing) hallucinations?

Yes

No

17. Have you ever gone to anyone for help about your drinking?

Yes

No

18. Have you ever been hospitalized because of drinking?

Yes

No

19. Has your drinking ever resulted in your being hospitalized in a psychiatric ward?

Yes

No

20. Have you ever gone to any doctor, social worker, clergyman or mental health clinic for help with any emotional problem in which drinking was part of the problem?

Yes

No

21. Have you been arrested more than once for driving while under the influence of alcohol?

Yes

No

22. Have you ever been arrested, even for a few hours, because of other behavior while drinking?

Yes

No

About Scoring this Alcoholism Test Questionnaire

This quiz is scored by allocating 1 point to each ‘yes’ answer — except for questions 1 and 4, where 1 point is allocated for each ‘no’ answer — and totaling the responses.

So in other words, please score one point if you answered the following:

1) No

2) Yes

3) Yes

4) No

5-22) Yes

(Note that this is the current revised version of the MAST; the original MAST included 25 questions and used a more complex scoring method.)

Your Alcoholism Test Score

0-2 = No Apparent Problem

3-5 = Early or Middle Problem Drinker

6+ = Problem Drinker

Please comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org.  And – spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors.  On-line registration can be done at www.donatelife.net  Whenever you can, help people formally register.  There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance.  If you convince one person to be a donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives.  Some of those lives may be people you know and love.  

You are also invited to join Facebook’s Organ Transplantation Initiative (OTI) a 3,400 member  group dedicated to providing help and information to donors, donor families, transplant patients and families, caregivers and all other interested parties.  Your participation is important if we are to influence decision makers to support efforts to increase organ donation and support organ regeneration, replacement and research efforts. 

 bob minus Jay full shotBob Aronson is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder and primary author of the blogs on this site and the founder of Facebook’s over 3,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative group.

Now retired and living in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife Robin he spends his time advocating for patients with end stage diseases and for organ recipients.  He is also active in helping his wife with her art business at art festivals and on her Rockin Robin Prints site on Etsy. 

Bob is a former journalist, Governor’s Communication Director and international communications consultant.

 

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