Friday, January 20, 2006

Adi Da: Raging Alcoholic or Out of Control Alcoholic?

Just when I said I'd post something positive about Adi Da, a controversy breaks out about whether or not Adi Da is or has been an alcoholic, and if so what kind, and if not whether this is slander. Mr. Happy is accusing a forum poster, "friend" of slandering Da without proof by calling him "an out of control alcoholic". Friend objects to Mr. Happy mischaracterizing this charge by saying friend called Da "a raging alcoholic". This is the level of the debate on Adi Da these days.

Do facts count for anything? As friend says, everyone in Adidam knows that Adi Da dranks extensively for many, many years. Having proof of that is like having proof that somone in your own family has an alcohol problem. People try to keep it quiet with outsiders, but within the family everyone knows about it. Maybe not the distant cousins, but most people who are around know. With Adi Da, his drinking was legendary, and even a matter of boasting for some. One insider I knew told me back in about 1985 that at least 80% of the "sacred teaching" was delivered drunk. Others told me that he commonly drank two fifths of bourban a day. This was not considered scandalous, but a sign of his nearly superhuman powers to keep functioning with that much alcohol in his system. Da's wild "partying" was legendary, and the constant runs for huge amounts of liquor to the local stores was widely known of. Also, devotees themselves were invited to party with Da, drinking and using other inebriants along with him. This was not considered scandalous within the community either, but was kept from outsiders who wouldn't "understand" Da's teaching methods. Da often said that drinking was actually necessary, not just for himself, but for devotees, to overcome the "resistance" in themselves and the world to the Divine Process Da was bringing through his own body, and into their bodies. It was proposed by Da and others in the community that inebriants like alcohol were an important and even sacred part of the spiritual process, and had to be understood in that context.

Adi Da's drinking continued all the way up until he began suffering from serious health problems in the mid and late 90's. In 1995 he had a sudden onset of glaucoma which permanently took away about 80% of his peripheral vision. Naturally, he blamed this on devotee's lack of devotion to him rather than his own unhealthy lifestyle, which included not only large amounts of alcohol but using drugs such as amyl nitrate which constrict blood vessels and which are thus very dangerous for those who have a genetic susceptibility to glaucoma (his father suffered from it also). It's not a suprise that Da suffered from glaucoma, and had to undergo surgery to prevent it from resulting in total blindness, but it is odd that he tried to turn this whole event into some kind of spiritual "crisis" of universal importance. In any case, after this Da's general health began to suffer greatly. His doctors and close intimates had tried for years to get him to cut down on his alcohol and drug consumption, because they could see what a terrible toll it was taking on his health. Da, however, insisted that to do so would compromise his spiritual "work" with the world, and that he was willing to "sacrifice" his body for the sake of that work by continuing to drink heavily and indulge in other unhealthy habits of eating and consuming "accessories" as they were called, including heavy smoking of tobacco. In fact, that line of criticism of the community was a nearly constant theme for many years: that our spiritual immaturity was forcing Adi Da to consume all these unhealthy "accessories" that were destroying his health, including alcohol. This was not hidden, it was a regular part of the "notes" cycle read to the general community. Details of his life habits weren't read out, but it wasn't necessary, it was just assumed.

I can't remember exactly when Da quit drinking, it was somewhere around the turn of the century. I can't recall if it was before or after the Lopez Island "translation event" in 2000. But it was around that time that Da was finally convinced by his doctors, friends, and family to stop drinking. He had some serious heart problems, arteriosclerosis, and general declining health that made it a medical necessity. Still, it took something like a formal "intervention" to get him to agree to stop drinking. By then he had already begun switching over to marijuana, due to his glaucoma, and seemed very happy with that. He of course had a perfectly legitimate medical reason to use marijuana, and it was all perfectly legal under California law, and that seemed to make him more comfortable. And marijuana is of course very safe and healthy, non-toxic and with no serious side effects, especially if used with an inhaler. So my impression is that Da pretty much quit drinking then, and probably has not gone back to it since.

Does any of this make Da an alcoholic? By the standard definition, yes. Even now, having been dry for several years, most people would continue to call him an alcoholic, though a recovering one. It's not slander to say such things about anyone. Alcoholism is a serious problem, both in terms of mental and physical health, but most people recognize how widespread it is in the world and have some sympathy for those who suffer from it. Even if one accepts Da's explanation for the spiritual necessity of his alcohol consumption, it's still fair to call him an alcoholic. Was he a raging or out-of-control alcoholic? I think alcoholism by its very definition is something out of the alcoholic's control. They simply can't help themselves, can't stop on their own, and may not even want to. Da's own justification for using alcohol suggests that it wasn't something he could control, that he was "forced" to drink for the sake of his spiritual work. Was it "raging" alcoholism? That depends on one's definition. It certainly would be fair to say that anyone consuming two fifths of bourban a day for any period of time was "raging". It would also be fair to say that anyone who is an alcoholic is probably going to do and say things that one could rightly call "out of control", including acts of violence or unhibited sexual libido. Those are common among alcoholics, and the stories surrounding Adi Da certainly fit that pattern.

So the whole issue of slander that Mr. Happy brings up simply seems to have no basis. Daists will admit that Da drank a helluva lot for many years, but they will cringe at the use of the term "alcoholic" to describe him, even though the definition fits. It's really not for someone like Mr. Happy, who has no personal knowledge of Adi Da or life in Adidam, to accuse anyone of slandering Adi Da by calling him an alcoholic. Adi Da or his personal representatives, or people who have been close to Adi Da for many years, could certainly make accusations of slander in regards to his alcohol consumption, but they never have. Why is that? Why is Mr. Happy making accusations of slander when not even Adidam does?

Now I would be happy if anyone out there would like to correct the above account. I've talked to many insiders about this, and yet if I've made mistakes in any way, please correct me and I'd be happy to update this post. I don't see any reason to condemn Adi Da as a human being simply because he had a long-lasting drinking problem. Many people do. Even many spiritual figures have been heavy drinkers in the past. Chogyuam Trungpa died of alcoholism. It's a serious illness, and needs to be taken seriously, not made the object of derision. But it also needs to be accepted as one of many facts about Adi Da, and people need to take it into account in evaluating his fitness as a Guru. For some it may not seem a big deal, for others it may. I don't have a problem with either interpretation. What I have a problem with is denying the simple facts, or pretending that keeping the facts from people will help protect them from things they just aren't ready to understand about Adi Da. That attitude simply has no place in this discussion.


Anonymous said...

i still wonder how anyone can believe in frankie, when the guy has a habit of losing control and flying into a rage. that right there tells me that frankie is bullshit.

how did you justify his flights into rageville and did his raging have anything to do with breaking the frankie spell for you?

Anonymous said...

Met one of Trungpa's inner circle, and he had a definitve take on this. Even though he gave every possible nod to the depth of Trungpa's knowledge of the dharma, he always said the bottom line was that he had a drinking problem. It was the controlling factor in his life.

Anonymous said...

Marijuana is "of course very safe and healthy"?

Interesting take on the subject given your history!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your expose, but please, read the following appendix. Sorry for it being a bit lengthy.


Dr Brian Boettcher Consultant Psychiatrist Shelton Hospital, Shropshire’s Community & Mental Health Services NHS Trust, Bicton Heath, Shrewsbury, SY3 8DN

The drug induced psychosis seen when Cannabis is the main substance being abused is distinct phenomenologically from other psychosis. It is unusual for such a psychosis to occur without other drugs being involved to some extent and so it is difficult to tease out the differences between the effects of Cannabis and other drugs.

However it is misleading and dangerous, to our youth in particular, to label Cannabis as “soft”.
In fact the serious adverse effects of Cannabis have been known for some time now and Hall and Solowij in the British Journal of Psychiatry sounded warnings in 1997 about such issues as dependence on Cannabis … developmental problems, permanent cognitive impairment as well as involvement in and the development of psychosis.[1] There are suggestions that in a small number of cases Cannabis is capable of precipitating psychosis, going on to the chronic picture described below, in people who have had no family and personal history of psychiatric illness. There have been suggestions that such people may be the ones who have started Cannabis in their teens and caused disturbance to neural connectivity. However, it seems Cannabis can precipitate or exacerbate a schizophrenic tendency in a characteristic manner.[2]


Drug taking is often denied, or the amount that is admitted by the patient is so little that one cannot say that this accounts for the current symptoms. Worse still, patients may not even consider Cannabis as an illicit or dangerous drug and so do not mention using it. Hallucinations are vague and delusions may be transitory with little in the way of thought disorder. There is often a lack of volition and a history of gradually deteriorating social ability and contact with others, including significant others... There is often a depressive component with suicide attempts in the past but nothing recent or, if there is, then they are only ineffectual pleas for help. The person has usually lost his or her job some months or weeks before due to their poor performance at work. There is often very poor memory and concentration, which may be marked at the time of presentation. Paranoid delusions may be present and quite severe which can be the most alarming psychotic feature and result in hospital admission… There is a slow and gradual effect of cannabis and the symptoms continue to worsen for some time after the person stops using it. Thus by the time of presentation the person may be so disorganized and confused that they can’t even arrange their next “cone” or “joint”... Symptoms such as the paranoia, hallucinations and depression fade until the patient is allowed to go on leave from the hospital and, a worsening of the symptoms may follow this. More often than not the nursing staff are the first to become suspicious that drugs have been taken when the patient is on leave from the hospital. It could even be that the drug screen only indicated small dose drug taking or even absent. The International Classification of Disease indicates the following symptoms due to Cannabis.

“There must be dysfunctional behavior, as evidenced by at least one at of the following:
(1) Apathy and sedation
(2) Disinhibition
(3) Psychomotor retardation
(4) Impaired attention
(5) Impaired judgement
(6) Interference with personal functioning.
C. At least one of the following signs must be present:
(1) Drowsiness
(2) Slurred speech
(3) Pupillary constriction (except in anoxia from severe overdose, when pupillary dilatation occurs)
(4) Decreased level of consciousness (e.g. Stupor, coma)
F12.0 Acute intoxication due to use of cannabinoids F12.0 DCR-10
A. The general criteria for acute intoxication (F1x.0) must be met.
B. There must be dysfunctional behaviour or perceptual disturbances including at least one at least one of the following:
(1) Euphoria and disinhibition
(2) Anxiety or agitation
(3) Suspiciousness or paranoid ideation
Paranoid Ideation

Because paranoid ideation is a symptom rather than a diagnosis, it may be seen in a range of nonpsychotic and psychotic conditions. Paranoid ideation is the belief that one is being harmed, persecuted, harassed or treated unfairly.[1] The imagined persecutors may be family members, acquaintances, strangers or even the physician.

The perceived harmful behavior may be relatively indirect (glances, slights, maligning gossip) or of delusional proportions. For example, the patient may believe that direct injurious action has taken place, such as a conspiracy, slanderous radio transmission or poisoning such as with the doctor's medication.
Paranoid delusions may be systematized - organized into consistently held, interrelated beliefs, often of longstanding duration. In some cases, these delusions are encapsulated and held apart from most of the patient's other thoughts, thereby causing little disruption in his or her daily routine. Alternatively, some patients, especially those with acute paranoia, may change beliefs rapidly and may readily misinterpret new experiences.[2]
Occasionally, paranoid delusions constitute an isolated finding. More often, however, they are accompanied by additional symptoms, such as other kinds of delusions, hallucinations, incoherent speech, blunted or labile affect, disorientation or agitated behavior, depending on the diagnosis. These accompanying symptoms may disrupt the patient's functioning more than the paranoia does.


Answer at least two broad questions at the onset, because of their implications for treatment.

First, do the patient's paranoid ideas reach delusional proportions (which usually indicate a psychotic disorder)?

Second, is an organic process causing the paranoia?
For a paranoid belief to be considered a delusion, it must constitute a significant departure from reality rather than a minor distortion that involves relative judgment. Also, the paranoid belief must be sustained despite the beliefs of others and evidence or proof to the contrary.[1]
Thus, the difference between a paranoid idea and a paranoid delusion may be largely a matter of degree, although qualitatively unusual or bizarre content may be an even more specific indicator of delusional thinking. This difference is often obvious and may even be pointed out by the family. At other times, the physician may distinguish a subtle degree of difference through detailed discussions with the patient. The physician should try to answer the following questions: How reasonable is the possibility that the patient's fear are real? Is the patient consistently logical when he or she describes these fears?

Occasionally, paranoid patients attack their imagined persecutors or try to escape from them. Because of this tendency, these patients should always be asked if they have had thoughts of harming themselves or others. If they admit to such thoughts, adequate supervision and prompt referral to a mental health specialist are necessary. If they do not admit to these thoughts, that fact should be documented in the record.
Numerous disorders of endocrine, toxic, metabolic, infectious, nutritional and neurologic origin may be accompanied by paranoid delusions.[4,6]

In addition, the abuse of alcohol and cocaine[7] has become a common etiology of paranoia. Some patients with an organic cause for paranoia also display impairment in memory, abstract thinking, judgment, attentiveness and orientation, but many patients have few or no such deficits.[1] The sudden onset of paranoia in any patient necessitates careful consideration of organic causes.
Patients with paranoid delusions are more likely to be diagnosed as having a schizophrenic, affective or delusional disorder (Table 2 through 7). The correct diagnosis is dependent on a thorough mental status examination and a complete medical history, which may have to be elicited from the family because of the patient's inability or unwillingness to provide it.[8]

BRUCE BLOCK, M.D. clinical associate professor of psychiatry and chief psychiatrist at the Erie County Medical Center at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
CYNTHIA A. PRISTACH, M.D. assistant professor of psychiatry and attending psychiatrist at the Erie County Medical Center at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Academy of Family Physicians
(4) Temporal slowing (a sense that time is passing very slowly, and/or the person is experiencing a rapid flow of ideas)
(5) Impaired judgement
(6) Impaired attention
(7) Impaired reaction time
(8) Auditory, visual or tactile illusions
(9) Hallucinations, with preserved orientation
(l0) depersonalization
(11) derealization
(12) Interference with personal functioning
increased appetite
dry mouth
conjunctival injection

[3] DSM IV also has similar but less complete information under the heading of Cannabis Induced Psychotic Disorder and refers the reader to a general description of “ SunstanceInduced Psychotic Disorder”. That is the difference in the phenomenology of Cannabis Psychosis and other substance induced psychosis is not made, however this is now rather dated being 1994 when published.[4]
It can be seen from this that the range of symptoms is quite extensive and not confined to the core symptoms mentioned at the beginning.


Patients are left with the well-recognised and permanent symptoms of memory loss, apathy, loss of motivation and, paranoid ideation. These symptoms known as “ the Amotivational Syndrome” in the past are usually permanent.[5] If Cannabis using resumes then the acute symptoms redevelop. The chronic state can also be arrived at without a preceding psychotic episode. After Cannabis started to be widely used about 20 years ago, for permanent damage to occur it was felt by some that Cannabis had to be heavily used over at least three years [6]. However, there is accumulating evidence that smaller amount will do damage also and in animals “ deficits on tasks dependent on frontal lobe function have been reported in cannabis users” [7]. It is very difficult to conduct research in this area, as it is not acceptable to harm humans by doing trials with damaging substances such as Cannabis. However there is accumulating evidence of the psychological consequences of using Cannabis [8]. It is logical that to get the permanent “ Amotivational Syndrome” small amounts to damage have to accumulate incrementally. All this is in addition to the recognised danger of a recurrence of a pre-existing illness, such as Schizophrenia or Manic-depressive disorder. There are suggestions that Cannabis “ caused schizophrenia in young people and (or) enhanced the symptoms, especially in young people poorly able to cope with stress or in whom the antipsychotic therapy was unsuccessful”. [9] Caspari found “patients with previous cannabis abuse had significantly more rehospitalizations, tended to worse psychosocial functioning, and scored significantly higher on the psychopathological syndromes "thought disturbance" (BPRS) and "hostility" (AMDP). These results confirm the major impact of cannabis abuse on the long-term outcome of schizophrenic patients”.[10]P


[1] Hall W, Solowij N, “ Long-term Cannabis use and Mental Health “ 1997 British Journal of Psychiatry, August, 171:107-8
[2] Hall A, Degenhardt, “Cannabis and Psychosis” Australian National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Presented at The Inaugural International Cannabis and Psychosis Conference 1999 , Melbourne 16-17 February 1999
[3] World Health Organisation, Geneva, (1992) “ The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders”
[4] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , Fourth Edition, American Psychiatric Association,1994
[5] Schwartz RH “Marijuana: an overview”. Pediatr Clin North Am 1987 Apr;34(2):305-17 .
[6] Boettcher B, Medical Journal of Australia 11/25 December 1982 “Marijuana and Apathy”
[7] Jentsch J D, Verrico C D, Le D, Roth RH, “ Repeated exposure to dleta9-tetragydrocannabinol reduces prefrontal cortal dopamine metabolism in the rat “ ,Neurosci Lett (1998) May 1;246(3):169-72
[8] Hall W, Solowji N, Lemon J, The health and psychological consequences of Cannabis use. National Drug Strategy Monograph Series no 25. Canberra: Australia Government Publishing Service, 1994
[9] van Amsterdam JG, van der Laan JW, Slangen JL, “Cognitive and psychotic effects after cessation of chronic cannabis use “ Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd 1998 Mar 7;142(10):504-8
[10] Caspari D, “Cannabis and Schizophrenia: Results of a follow-up Study” Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 1999;249(1):45-9

Dr Brian Boettcher Consultant Psychiatrist Shelton Hospital, Shropshire’s Community & Mental Health Services NHS Trust, Bicton Heath, Shrewsbury, SY3 8DN
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