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Thursday
May232013

A Wonderful Opportunity Based Upon a Great Loss

I had the great fortune of working with a near and dear friend of mine, though the occasion was sad. William Irwin, PhD is professor of Philosophy at Kings College in Pennsylvania and, among other distinctions, is the series editor of Philosophy and Pop Culture.  The occasion was the death of musician Jeff Hanneman of the group Slayer, allegedly related to alcohol induced cirrhosis of the liver. Bill and I have been friends since we were teenaged metal-heads and so we thought it fitting to write a piece about this untimely passing. We chose the venue of his blog on psychologytoday.com. I have included it here in its completed form below:

 

How to Celebrate the life of Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman

I have co-authored this blog post with Eugene J.R. Lombardo, a licensed social worker who specializes in addictions counseling. We’re both big Slayer fans, and we were both aware that since 2011 Jeff Hanneman of Slayer had been battling a kind of flesh-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis. So we assumed that disease is what killed him when the news broke on May 2. Sad though it was, it seemed an appropriately “metal” way to go, especially when you consider that a spider bite supposedly caused the disease.

But, to seemingly everyone’s surprise, it was revealed that the actual cause of death was alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver. As Joel McIver documents in his book The Bloody Reign of Slayer, Hanneman had quit pills and cocaine over twenty years ago, but he continued to drink. Still, considered among rock stars, Hanneman’s drinking didn’t make him stand out.

The revelation that Hanneman’s band mates (the members of Slayer have been recording together since 1983) were unaware of his liver problems related to alcohol drives home the point that the disease of alcoholism is cunning, baffling, and powerful. It festers in the shadows of secrecy.

For clarification, not everyone who drinks heavily is an alcoholic, and not every heavy drinker or alcoholic develops cirrhosis. The liver is the organ that is most directly affected by the consumption of alcohol, and so, as a general rule, alcohol taxes a person’s liver. The greater the amount and the more frequently you drink, the harder your liver has to work and the less “time off” it has from this process.

Scientists and philosophers may debate the definition and application of “disease,” but the American Medical Association unequivocally recognizes alcoholism as a disease. The disease concept of addiction is a paradigm for viewing the hallmarks or “symptoms” and a resulting response or “treatment.” It lies contrary to the belief that those who are addicts are fundamentally flawed individuals, weak willed, bereft of moral fortitude, and generally “less than” non-addicts. The disease concept helps formulate an approach to helping individuals who struggle with addiction, and it also does much to relieve the addict him/herself from the aforementioned erroneous beliefs about why they are the way they are. This disease approach does away with the false belief that an addict can stop or change using pure willpower. An alcoholic or addict can no more “cure” himself through self-knowledge and willpower than can a person with diabetes of cancer.

What are some of the hallmarks of this disease? To start there is a level of powerlessness and unmanageability both of the use of the addictive substance and within the addict’s life. Typically, the addict experiences progressively negative consequences in their physical, interpersonal, financial, and spiritual life. There is also usually an increased tolerance for the desired effect. Addicts spend increasing amounts of time in their behaviors characterized by a pattern of having a desire for use, searching for the drug of choice, anticipatory excitement and euphoria prior to use, the actual use, the feeling of intoxication or high, the come down or withdrawal, and the then subsequent desire for use.

We do not know the details concerning the last couple of years of Hanneman’s life, and so we will not speculate about what he may have done to bring on the cirrhosis. We humans are complicated, delicate creatures, and complex issues are infrequently solved by simple answers. We simply wish Hanneman would have stopped drinking, or stopped sooner.

Today Thursday May 23 a memorial for Hanneman will be held at the Hollywood Palladium. Living on the east coast, we will be unable to attend. But we will not be drinking to celebrate the life of Jeff Hanneman. We know lots of people will, and we don’t wish to moralize on this occasion. But even if it’s not on May 23, it would be a fitting tribute to our fallen brother to not have a drink in his memory some time. You can even blast “Angel of Death” while you do it.

 

Copyright 2013 Eugene J.R. Lombardo and William Irwin

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