Panic Street Lawyer: What's wrong?

Sunday, 31 March 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Jay Hornack

20120331 wineglasses photocom71058860 150Since I asked, let me tell you what’s wrong …

Last week’s PSL sang the praises of drink – literally. My article quoted the lyrics of a They Might Be Giants song with that title, referenced the vast amounts of beer consumed during March Madness and St. Patrick’s Day, analyzed how beer gave us civilization, and mentioned recent legislative efforts to liberalize consumer purchases of liquor in Pennsylvania.

But this week is a new week. In the Jewish religion, this is Passover Week, where the mandatory four cups of alcohol at the Seder meal are wine, not beer. In the Christian religion, this is Easter Week, which includes celebration of their first consecrated wine at the Last Supper on Maundy/Holy Thursday. And this week, I went to see and hear the theatrical production of “The Book of Mormon,” whose plot is based on a religion that – according to their “Word of Wisdom” – prohibits the use of all alcohol (as well as illegal drugs, tobacco, coffee and tea).

I am not saying that there is something wrong with religions having different uses and views on intoxicating beverages. What does seem wrong to me is the inclusion of serious issues about alcohol and drug use with stories which sound like I encourage people to drink alcohol. I left the serious stuff for today.

Last week’s summary of the Pennsylvania alcohol privatization article, for example, omitted legislative opposition based on the risk of increased social harm and focused only on legislative support for increased consumer options in products and shopping hours.

20120331wap springbreakersSelena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens in a scene from "Spring Breakers." Michael Muller/A24 FilmsPop culture often sends mixed messages on the subject of alcohol and drugs. In film, for every “Spring Breakers” there is “Flight.” It is the powerful Hollywood tale of a successful airline pilot (played by Denzel Washington in a 2012 Oscar-nominated lead actor role) who struggles with addiction. I was able to finally watch “Flight” just last week (I am still working my way up to watching “Smashed,” last year’s Sundance-acclaimed independent film on the same subject but with different characters).

In music, for every Keith Richards and Snoop Dog lifestyle there are rock stars who have public meltdowns connected to alcohol and/or drug and musicians who ultimately lose their struggle to “get clean.” Just this week, you can read in this newspaper the stories of Billie Joe Armstrong (performing with Green Day at Consol Energy Center on March 31) and the late Jason Molina, respectively.

The local story which I think best exemplifies the “split personality” view we have of alcohol and drugs is the one about the strip club in Pittsburgh’s West End that is seeking a liquor license in order to operate its business a mere 90 feet from a club which offers recovery support for alcoholics and drug addicts.

20130324 beerglass photocom123212003 150Valentyn Volkov/Getty ImagesLast week’s PSL had a link to an op-ed piece written by a clinical associate professor of psychiatry, who advanced the thesis that alcohol has helped humans since ancient times to positively deal with social angst. I left out of my summary of his piece the following paragraph:

Today, many people drink too much because they have more than average social anxiety or panic anxiety to quell — disorders that may result, in fact, from … primeval herd instincts kicking into overdrive. But getting drunk, unfortunately, only compounds the problem: it can lead to decivilizing behaviors and encounters, and harm the body over time. For those with anxiety and depressive disorders, indeed, there are much safer and more effective drugs than alcohol — and together with psychotherapy, these newfangled improvements on beer can ease the angst.

Of course, if prescription drugs and psychotherapy are less accessible and/or more expensive than alcohol, then drinking to self-medicate can happen.

In America, the goal seems to be to balance a desire to help persons with substance use disorders with a concern that providing financial aid to persons with such disorders creates incentives for them to not “get well.” For example, since 1996 the Social Security Act has stated that a claimant “shall not be considered to be disabled [and therefore not entitled to monthly benefits] if alcoholism or drug addiction would … be a contributing factor material to the Commissioner’s determination that the individual is disabled.” How exactly the Social Security Administration should apply that statutory language in practice was the subject of a Social Security Ruling set forth in the Federal Register and which became effective on March 22. Are there people (as opposed to government) trying to make a difference in the treatment of persons with substance use disorders? Yes, there are – and one of the better-known recovery advocates is himself a rock star. Eric Clapton is a legendary British rock/blues guitarist and vocalist and the only person to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times (as a member of The Yardbirds, as a member of Cream, and as a solo artist). He and his band are appearing live at Consol Energy Center on Saturday, April 6.

20120331wap bbkingclapton 150B.B. King and Eric Clapton at the first Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas in 2004. Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressBut Clapton, who turned 68 on Saturday, is also recovering alcoholic and drug addict, as his best-selling 2007 autobiography set forth in painful detail. He has funded Crossroads Centre Antigua, “an international centre for healing,” since 1997, auctioning off some of his prized guitars and periodically hosting the Crossroads Guitar Festival. A 2013 event is happening on April 12-13 in New York City.

Clapton continues his efforts on behalf of “lifelong recovery” (and continues to make new music). Meanwhile, we continue to say that we want to help, but at the same time that we laugh at celebrities (e.g., Lindsay Lohan) whose lives have gone terribly wrong. This is sometimes a dilemma even for persons who tell jokes about celebrities for a living, such as TV’s Craig Ferguson.

In conclusion, I do have one non-offensive alcohol joke for your possible use on – appropriately – April Fools’ Day. It’s an oldie but a goodie: if the Chicago Cubs beat the home team on Monday April 1, you can tell everyone you know that PNC Park is not selling bottled beer this Major League Baseball season because the Pirates lost the opener.

(Top image: John Foxx/Getty Images)

The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow Jay on Twitter: @panicstlawyer

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