McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

National News

February 5, 2014

Why Philip Seymour Hoffman's death is so scary

BOSTON — I cried when I heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman. The news scared me: He got sober when he was 22 and didn't drink or use drugs for the next 23 years. During that time, he won an Academy Award, was nominated for three more, and was widely cited as the most talented actor of his generation. He also became a father to three children. Then, one day in 2012, he began popping prescription pain pills. And now he's dead.

The root causes of addiction, like those of many multifactorial diseases, are frustratingly elusive, a nebulous mixture of genetics, exposure and environment. Addiction runs in families, but plenty of addicts come from families with no history of the disease. Availability plays a role, too - but having access to crack doesn't make someone a crack addict. The science about recovery is also hazy: Alcoholics Anonymous, the most widely used form of treatment in the country, has no set structure or methodology, which makes it tough to evaluate its effectiveness. (There's also the fact that its core principle - that members never publicly acknowledge their presence in the program - makes broad longitudinal studies difficult, to say the least.) In-patient treatment centers, like the one Hoffman checked himself into last May, have been accused of obfuscating their success rates.

If anything, the science on relapses is even more slippery. (We do know that relapse rates for drug and alcohol addiction are comparable to people's inability to control other chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, and hypertension.) The challenges are as basic as agreeing on a definition for long-term sobriety. In a graphic titled "Extended Abstinence is Predictive of Sustained Recovery," the National Institute of Drug Abuse says, "After 5 years - if you are sober, you will probably stay that way." I unconsciously added a "forever" to the end of that sentence - but the study that chart is based on ran for eight years, a bar Hoffman cleared easily: http://bit.ly/1iqtYoL

My first attempt at recovery came in 1991, when I was 19 years old. Almost exactly two years later, I decided to have a drink. Two years after that, I was addicted to heroin. There's a lot we don't know about alcoholism and drug addiction, but one thing is clear: Regardless of how much time clean you have, relapsing is always as easy as moving your hand to your mouth.

 In August 2011, after a dozen years in New York, I moved back to Boston, the city in which I was raised and attended college. I was 39 years old and married; my wife and I had a 1 1/2-year-old boy and another child on the way. I'd written three books, won some awards, and was about to start teaching at MIT. If I'd been asked to provide a CliffsNotes version of my life, those are the details I would have included.

Being back in Boston was a visceral reminder that there's an important part of my past that isn't on the bio page of my website: From 1995 to 1997, the last time I'd lived in the area, I'd been an IV drug addict. Living here again made me acknowledge that past every day: The drive to my son's preschool took me within blocks of the apartment that I'd lived in during those years; my route from his school to my office went past the free acupuncture clinic where I'd sought relief from withdrawal pangs. One afternoon, I looked up and realized I was in front of the emergency room I'd been taken to after overdosing on a batch of dope laced with PCP. I did a double take and looked to my wife, but, of course, that wasn't a memory we shared. We met in 2004, when I'd been sober for more than six years.

One truism of addiction science is that long-term abuse rewires your brain and changes its chemistry, which is why triggers (or "associated stimuli," in scientific parlance) are major risk factors for relapse. But these changes can be reversed over time. Walking past the apartment where my dealer used to live didn't make me want to score; it made me feel as if I was in a phantasmagoria of two crosshatched worlds - but I was the only person who could see both realities. None of my colleagues at MIT, no one in the science writing community I lean on for professional advice and support, none of the people who've worked on my books has ever seen me slip into that other world.

That was a disquieting realization. I worry about the day that I stop acknowledging both of those realities. Most adults with jobs and mortgages and spouses and kids can have a glass of wine after work. For me, a glass of wine is a gateway to my past - and that past provides a pretty robust pool of evidence that there's not much separation between my having a drink and my ending up alone in an apartment with a needle in my arm.

A lot has happened in my family over the past 2 1/2 years. Our daughter was born. We bought a house. My yearlong job morphed into something more permanent. My route to work no longer winds through the spectral landmarks of my addiction. Days can go by without my thinking about how close I came to being a statistic - but then my eye will catch on the two inch-long scars marking the veins in the crook of my elbow or I'll notice someone nodding out on the bus. Or maybe I'll talk to one of the small handful of close friends who have relapsed and are now fighting to regain a foothold in sobriety - or be reminded of a friend who relapsed and died. I was lucky the last time I ran that experiment. I don't want to do it again.

 It's impossible to know what led Hoffman to start using after so many years of sobriety. After he opened a portal to that vortex of chemical relief, however, it doesn't surprise me at all that he couldn't heave himself out in time to save his life.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
National News
  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 16, 2014

  • 5 Things to Know Taxe_Brac.jpg Tax Deadline!

    The deadline for filing taxes is midnight Today, Tuesday, April 15, 2014.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Don't blame voters for low turnout

    Suppose nobody votes this year. On Nov. 4 the doors to the polling places are thrown open, and there isn't anyone in line. No absentee ballots are filed. No one litigates, charging either fraud or discrimination, because there weren't any voters.
    It won't happen. But if it did, pundits and activists would surely blame public apathy for such a catastrophe. I'd name a different culprit: the major parties, their candidates and their acolytes in the news media.

    April 7, 2014

  • Starbucks to expand evening alcohol sales to thousands of stores

    Starbucks will expand its evening alcohol and light bites menu, which includes bacon-wrapped dates and Malbec wine, to thousands of stores, Chief Operating Officer Troy Alstead said in a phone interview. The rollout, which can help boost sales, will take several years, he said.

    March 25, 2014

  • news_clinton.jpg Americans in poll don't believe Christie or Clinton

    Americans aren't buying the explanations offered by Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton about controversies that could stand between them and the White House if either runs for president in 2016.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_google.jpg First Apple, now Google hit with kids' app lawsuit

    Last month, 4- and 5-year-old brothers in New York quickly spent $65.95 in real money to buy virtual goods in Marvel's Run Jump Splash game on the family tablet. They were able to rack up the charges without entering a password. And for that, the boys' mother has joined a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday against Google, accusing the company of deceiving consumers about its in-app purchase system, which critics say makes it too easy for kids to spend money on their Android devices.

    March 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • VIDEO: First month of Colorado pot legalization brought in $2M in tax revenue

    The first month of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado brought in about $2 million in tax revenue, the first indicator of the earning potential of the U.S.’s premier legal pot market.

    March 13, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 10.07.38 AM.png VIDEO: Wild car chase in Denver

    Denver police apprehended a man who led them on a wild chase in three different stolen cars Wednesday after a four-year-old boy was reportedly kidnapped from a gas station.

    March 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • How virus sleuths and public health officials track the cause of a mysterious illness

    When a mysterious disease fells people - as happened in California recently, with as many as 20 children experiencing unexplained paralysis - teams of physicians and epidemiologists quickly mobilize. Perhaps you saw the movie "Contagion"? The idea is to find the culprit before it spreads but also to prevent public panic.

    March 13, 2014

  • ERIC-HOLDER.jpg Holder: Heroin deaths an 'urgent and growing public health crisis'

    Attorney General Eric Holder, calling the rise in deaths from overdoses of heroin and prescription painkillers an "urgent and growing public health crisis," is outlining a series of efforts by the Justice Department to combat the epidemic.

    March 12, 2014 1 Photo

Seasonal Content
AP Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.