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Alcoholic Pathos, WaPo Style September 2, 2015

Posted by geoff in News.
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Alcoholism is obviously awful, but I find myself suspecting an ulterior motive when I read articles like “What happened when this college student drank too much, too quickly.” It smacks of one of those “soften up the audience” articles that’s a prelude to “we need to DO something!”

Basically this kid became an alcoholic in high school, blacking out every time he started drinking. By his second semester in college he was blacking out every night. That’s terrible, but is it a common track for a college kid?

He tries to make it seem like it is:

As a college student, I suppose “social drinker” was the way to categorize me. I was a kid, and kids black out: Studies say that between 35 and 50 percent of undergraduates have blacked out at least once.

Nice try, but no dice. Anyone who drinks themselves to oblivion every time they drink is powerless over alcohol, and is by definition a full-fledged alcoholic, not a “social drinker.” He tries to worm his way into the social drinker category in order to contaminate that relatively benign category with his outrageous drinking behavior. The WaPo editors shouldn’t have let him try such underhanded trickery.

In addition, he conflates his en bloc blackouts (no recall of the drinking session at all) with fragmentary blackouts (where only pieces of the session are missing). Only 1 out of 5 of those “between 35 and 50 percent” had experienced an en bloc blackout, meaning that his experience is considerably more rare than he thinks.

Similarly, he tries his hand a misusing a statistic or two:

Fifty-nine percent of those women but only 25 percent of those men said that that one blackout experience scared them enough to change their drinking habits.

That means 75 percent of guys were not put off. At college, I sometimes drove wasted friends to the very emergency room that treated me.

Many of these friends now consider themselves social drinkers, but many still black out every weekend. The line between drinking like a normal 20-something and drinking like an alcoholic can be murky.

First of all, the “75 percent” number does not mean that 75% of the guys experienced subsequent blackouts – it just means that they didn’t think it would happen again. Second, deftly switching from the stat to anecdotal experiences doesn’t really support his argument.

The line between social drinking and alcoholism has always been blurry, but one of the longest-standing criterion has been “Are you in control?” Can you decide not to have a drink, and having had one or two or three, can you decide to cut yourself off?

This fellow couldn’t do either, which is tragic, but his attempt to smear the rest of his peers with his alcoholism comes off as jealousy that they have the self-control that he lacks. He can’t seem to understand that their drinking is fundamentally different than his, which suggests that despite his horrible experiences he hasn’t really learned anything at all.

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