An Alcoholic Walks into Rehab…


 …to listen to a lecture on alcoholics.

I infiltrated Jacksonville’s impressive Lakeview Health on Friday. I went to a lecture on “Saucy Women,” suggested to me by a reader, which was intended for addiction professionals, but open to the public. It wasn’t like an episode of Law and Order where Detective Benson goes undercover, prison bars clanging behind her, but I did have the passing thought as I entered, “What if they figure out who I am and decide to keep me for observation?”


The speaker was Sara Jo Nixon, Ph.D., she began her lecture with a photograph of Picasso’s The Absinthe Drinker, and she was funny and smart and wore espadrilles, so I listened.


It was an interesting lecture, complete with charts and graphs – the product of extensive research done on a “treatment seeking population,” to determine how one’s sex affects their pathology to addiction. Particular emphasis was given to “telescoping issues,” the rate one moves through common landmarks in the disease of alcoholism or drug addiction, and whether women telescope more quickly than men.


I will not attempt to paraphrase Dr. Nixon or to draw fractured conclusions about her talk. Nor will I add my two cents about mitigating factors to data, such as social mores, abuse statistics or my own experiences. But I will tell you some of the things that surprised or interested me particularly in her research:

  • Lindsay Lohan and Tara Reid are examples of women who fall outside of the definition of “Type 1” alcoholic – disproving the theory that women drinkers tend to be “harm avoiders”.
  • For women, 14 drinks per week is considered “heavy drinking” for men 21.
  • 20 grams of alcohol per day for 10 to 20 years is the danger zone for women: cardiovascular disease, liver disease and brain damage occurs (30 or so grams for men).
  • Harmful drinking guidelines are just that – damage can occur with a lesser intake of alcohol.
  • Liver damage = brain damage.
  • Gender means the characteristics of males and females; sex means men and women (I looked that up because this distinction seemed to get Dr. Nixon hot under the collar…).
  • Some ill effects of alcohol are irreversible, even in long term recovery.
  • Women go from first drink to treatment earlier than their male counterparts.
  • Women in treatment tend to have addiction in their family history.
  • The alcoholic’s “declarative memory” (facts like your name and date of birth) realizes little change, while all other brain functions degrade.
  • Alcoholics have brain shrinkage which makes their brains look a lot like the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.
  • Dr. Nixon has never had a drinking problem.*




You should take all the bullet points above with a grain of salt, by the way…

According to Dr. Nixon’s data, I should be dead thrice, or at least be suffering from irreversible brain damage. Also, you should assume I left out some of the most important parts of the lecture, because we also learned that the largest impact on the long term alcoholic’s brain, is the inability to isolate relevant data from irrelevant data… I kid you not.




*I know this because she was talking about a test subject who drank a case of beer per day (and sometimes a bottle of liquor on top of that) and when she told us, Dr. Nixon gave this sort of, “YIKES,” look and said, “When would she find the time?”


Today I’m not drinking because I want my brain to look plump and healthy and not lacey and shrunken…



How come you’re not drinking?