Roger Ebert reviews his 30 years in Alcoholics Anonymous. (Addiction in advertising: How prevelant is it?)

August 31, 2009

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Thumbs up, one day at a time

Well-known, Pulitzer-Prize winning film critic, Roger Ebert recently published a lengthy column on his 30-year membership in Alcoholics Anonymous. You ought to read it, if for no other reason than it provides a rare glimpse into how the AA program actually works. It’s a fascinating and brave piece.

I say brave for two reasons. First, not many people as famous as Roger Ebert own up to the disease of alcoholism unless, of course, they have gotten into trouble or were called out by someone else. That happens all the time. Those people must ignore, deny or fess up. Ebert could have taken this fact to his grave. Ebert’s admission and column is brave for a less obvious reason as well. AA is about “attraction not promotion.” One of its traditions is to stay clear of publicity. By breaking from tradition, the author is publicly discoursing about what is usually kept private. Hence the term “anonymous.”

Ebert addresses both of these issues at length in his story, which is why I also find it fascinating.

Without going into it, I can relate. Not only am I a writer but in college I also aspired to film & music criticism. I also aspired to get drunk and high. I graduated with great credentials in both.

For decades advertising has been known as a drinking man’s business. The justifiably acclaimed show, Mad Men makes drinking about as important to making ads as Magic Markers. Martini lunches no longer existed when I came into the business, but we still drank in droves, often from happy hour to bar time. Coming into work hung over was like a badge of honor. I assumed everybody –save for a few squares- drank to excess. I would learn the hard way to speak for myself.

But I wonder if the advertising industry (particularly the creative department) is still considered the Amsterdam of white-collar professions. Are drinking and drugs still a big part of ad land? If so, how many of us are addicted? In my novel, The Happy Soul Industry one of the main characters is both a creative director and addicted to opiates. He not only uses drugs for recreation but as a source of inspiration.

What about you, Gentle Reader? Are you happily immersed or desperately struggling with alcohol and/or drugs? Let us know. Obviously, you can (and probably should) remain anonymous. In my 5 years at Euro RSCG, I am aware of only one person working for me who also was an addict. A painful story, that person eventually had to be let go. But one individual does not make for an epidemic. Maybe the problem has diminished. Or, perhaps, folks are quietly taking the necessary steps to recover and have been able to do so while remaining employed…and anonymous.

Roger Ebert\'s column on AA

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13 Responses to “Roger Ebert reviews his 30 years in Alcoholics Anonymous. (Addiction in advertising: How prevelant is it?)”

  1. Eric said

    Thanks for the post and directing me to Ebert’s article. I really liked this quote, “I began to realize that I had tended to avoid some people because of my instant conclusions about who they were and what they would have to say. I discovered that everyone, speaking honestly and openly, had important things to tell me.”

    So true.

  2. SRP said

    Yup, Eric-
    The lessons of AA far exceed that of not drinking too much.

  3. Jeff W said

    I haven’t yet read Ebert’s account but will. It sounds enlightening and inspiring. Breaking one’s anonymity in a public manner (particularly in the press) is highly discouraged by AA doctrine (as you point out). AA is so strong because of its “team” success. It discourages personal anonymity breaking because if an individual touts its effectiveness, and then fails in sobriety, AA takes an effectiveness “hit” along with the individual. I remember Joe Namath shouting from the rooftops about his AA success story after being sober for all of about nine months. I’m sure Mr. Ebert feels he owes his life to the program and has probably had success staying sober all those years. Some who have been in the program that long have had success staying sober “most” or “some” of the time. For AA’s sake I hope they remain anonymous.

  4. Hush hush said

    I’ve never done illegal drugs in my life and only drink 3 or 4 beers a week. And i’ve been celibate for several years now. No shenanigans at the holiday party for hush hush.

  5. SRP said

    Hush Hush-
    Good luck on your journey, amigo.
    Celibacy sounds a bit harsh.
    But like the man said, whatever gets you through the night.
    -SRP

  6. Joe said

    Anyone who has the courage to admit they have a problem and take the steps to make themselves better has my respect.

  7. Amy said

    I loved Ebert’s article, and I agree that it’s some of the best writing on AA… and gives a glimpse to something people can’t understand easily, unless they’ve been there. I found the comments to the article fascinating as well — some people asking whether what they do is normal, others taking Ebert to task for not remaining anonymous, and even others being critical of the (non-existent) “God” aspects of the program. Kudos to Ebert for being brave in the ways you mentioned.

    Also, I wonder: how many people DO believe substances are essential for being creative? I know there’s an underlying ethos that mental illness and creativity go hand in hand, but what about substance abuse? That may be there as well; hence, your novel. :)

  8. SRP said

    Amy-
    Thanks for your studied comment. Though Ebert broke the “rules” if he helped one addict into recovery it was probably worth it.
    -SRP

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  10. Rob said

    To the OP, alcoholism is NOT a disease, it’s a choice. I know you’re just trying to kiss Ebert’s wide ass by being all politically correct, but you can’t just go out and “catch” alcoholism. I know – I was a drunk myself. How did I beat it? Well I went to about 3 AA meetings and realized that listening to a bunch of men whine about how pathetic they were made me want to go out for a drink. Instead of listening to their crap, I just decided (as in ‘I made a choice’) that I wouldn’t drink anymore. That’s called willpower by the way, and I don’t need a coin for it either.

    I then learned that I could go back to drinking in moderation, instead of trying to get drunk. I also recently quit smoking cold turkey after 17 years. Again, that’s called “willpower” and it is a conscious choice. People use the term “alcoholism is a disease” to gain the sympathy and attention of bleeding heart liberals that lack the testicular fortitude to tell them to harden the fuck up. It’s not a disease, it’s a crutch for the weak minded and limp wristed. Harden the fuck up OP.

  11. Tom said

    So much for your willpower… Eh. Enjoy your drink and let me know how your sad story turns out. Drink up ! And bail out

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