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Mr. Smashed Goes To Washington

Richard is taking some time to address his backlog of work, so in the meantime, C.R. shares some of her thoughts about drinking and D.C.

As reported by the Washington Examiner, SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has released research that shows that the alcohol- abuse rates are higher in Washington, D.C. than anywhere else in the country.

And it may not be “the street” that’s spiking those numbers.

While D.C. has a lower-than-average rate of alcohol dependence for those aged 12-17 (the rate is 3 percent), it has a higher-than-average rate of alcohol dependence among those aged 26 and above (8.1 percent). Just about the age one graduates from grad school and enters politics, if one is so inclined.

The high alcohol dependence rate in our nation’s capital is most likely due, at least in part, to those wild parties (also known as the Democrats and Republicans). Yep, that’s right. Those in the swinging world of politics seem to be particularly prone to alcohol abuse.

In Washington, D.C. political functions are often social functions. At many of these events the bubbly (and the hard stuff), flow like political rhetoric.  (And on a side note, it seems that our tax dollars are picking up the tab).

Among federal government decision makers and their staff, imbibing is socially acceptable. According to one D.C. insider, if you don’t drink you are viewed as uptight or priggish or unable to “cut a deal,” at least in some circles.

Is this a frat house or the federal government we’re talking about?

What do you get when you mix the cut-throat stress of politics,  a bitterly partisan atmosphere, and alcohol? You get a potent cocktail—let’s call it “The Timebomb.”

I had the occasion to visit several members of Congress with a group awhile back. We spent the morning meeting with our elected servants and the afternoon and early evening at a rather stuffy banquet in one of those mammoth government halls, listen to much speechifying by a different set of elected servants.

At one point I needed to leave the room and I got a bit lost on the way back and ended up at the other end of the building.  I peeked into the wrong room and saw that this was where the real party was happening. Think Animal House, only with Ivy League degrees, hundred and twenty dollar ties, and cater-waiters.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t Animal House, but there was some staggering and slurring going on.

The logic behind that old euphemism “lubrication”, used when referring to “booze” is undeniable. In politics either you are meeting with your political foes, at best a tense situation, or you’re cutting loose with your allies, which can be an excuse to, well, cut loose. Either way, “lubrication” seems to be the stress-reliever of choice. (Apparently there is a marijuana issue, too. But leave that for another time).

What happens to the D.C. alcohol-dependence rate when Washingtonian power players leave the rarefied air of D.C.? Does it level out?

The Huffington Post linked us to this copy of one  pol’s infamous in-flight bar bill (over 50,000 dollars per year for two years running of top shelf booze!) While the media was (legitimately) griping about our tax dollars being used for this, my thought was: Are these people sober enough to legislate?

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), cites a report from the Journal of the American Medical Association which says that 37 percent of all alcohol abusers have a mental illness and in a related statistic, of all the people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse drugs or alcohol. I doubt that our elected officials are exempt from that sobering statistic whether they’re hunkered down in the Executive, Legislative, or Judicial hangouts or flying high.

We’ve blogged in the past about the potential for drugs and alcohol abuse to trigger a latent mental illness (or even, over time and with abuse, cause mental illness)—and almost no demographic escapes this possibility, not even the Washingtonians. Interestingly enough, the Washingtonians was the name of an anti-slavery, Maryland-based temperance group that preached total abstinence from alcohol and predated Alcoholics Anonymous. Eventually, they fizzled out.

I hate to spoil anyone’s party, but here’s an idea: how about raising the drinking age in D.C. to retired? Or maybe we could simply stop serving liquor at government  functions?

P.S. I’m not anti-alcohol, just anti-alcohol abuse.

Mr. Smashed Goes To Washington

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2011). Mr. Smashed Goes To Washington. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2018, from


Last updated: 1 Aug 2011
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Aug 2011
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