It's What You Do That Counts

It is difficult for anyone to stand up and admit a drinking problem. The decision is not made any easier when your job depends on a public vote, on how many people like you and believe in you.

Yet recently three Los Angeles elected officials--state Sen. Bill Greene, state Sen. Art Torres and City Councilman Richard Alatorre--have all stated publicly that they are recovering alcoholics. Their forthrightness is to be commended.

Although obviously each man has been wrestling with his own personal problems, all of them said that they denied the alcoholism at first with the usual familiar excuses: "I can handle it; no one can tell I've been drinking; it's not really affecting me; I just want to relax a little."

Soon enough, however, Greene, Torres and Alatorre discovered what 2 million others who are treated annually for alcohol or drug abuse have realized: Alcoholism can be treated successfully, but people need help to beat it. Until the alcoholic acknowledges the problem, there can be no break in the cycle that destroys so many lives behind closed doors and on the road. In addition to the individual tragedies, society suffers too--research indicates that alcoholism and alcohol abuse cost the nation as much as $117 billion a year in lost productivity and medical bills.

Greene, Torres and Alatorre share something else in common: They are hard-driving legislators who have spent many years in the state capital. Although the routine of political life can not be cited as a cause of excessive drinking, the endless stream of fund-raisers, deal-cutting breakfasts and lunches, and cocktail/lobbying receptions creates an atmosphere where drinking too often goes hand in hand with the business of government.

Many politicians, lobbyists and journalists have been heard to joke that they needed a drink just to get through the lobbying sessions and fund-raisers that they were obliged to attend. And sometimes, even when it became evident that a lawmaker had a drinking problem, too many have looked the other way.

The two state senators and the former assemblyman turned city councilman have all entered treatment programs. They have faced their addiction. They are best judged, to use Torres' words, by the actions they take "from this day forth."

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