Dr. Drew Pinsky is half clinical psychologist and half mentalist. With a skill honed by years and years of listening to the same unique problems over and over again, he is able to dish out advice to those who don’t even think they need it. It was a disconcerting talent that he employed several times Thursday night at the Arlington.
Pinsky came to town as part of New Noise Santa Barbara event, and the doctor aimed to provide insight into the celebrity culture that the music business no doubt touches. Yet he also came as guest of several support, rehab, and counseling groups in Santa Barbara. His meat and potatoes is addiction, which he defines as a disease in the same league as cancer and diabetes. To Pinsky, addiction — alcohol, meth, marijuana, is the most destructive disorder of our times.
And so to the audience questions, and Pinsky’s ability to cut to the chase. A girl raised her hand to tell us about her alcoholic boyfriend, his destructive behavior, and the loved ones who want to help but are ignored. Before you could say “denial,” Dr. Drew had determined and confirmed that the girl was the one who also needed treatment, that she had come from an alcoholic household, and that’s why she sought out lovers with the same problems. Chastened she agreed, stopped halfway through her question.
Next: the woman who had done the 12-step program, but found herself tempted since coming to Santa Barbara. No, the doctor divined, she really hadn’t completed her steps had she, really, come on? Yes, she sheepishly revealed. You can’t lie to the Doctor. I was waiting for him to hold up the seven of diamonds and ask if this was her card.
As a regular listener, during the ’90s, of Dr. Drew’s stint with Adam Carolla at KROQ’s love advice radio show Loveline, I was witness to Pinsky’s development. In the early years they answered relationship advice in terms of traditional advice columnists, with drug questions punted to Pinsky. But once they found their groove, most questions revealed themselves as cries for help from trauma and abuse that had manifested itself elsewhere. This was a generation of abused children. At the same time, Pinsky and Carolla were able to predict trauma in two sentences or less, based on word choice, delivery, and tone in their callers.
Humans are sadly predictable, especially when it comes to drugs and addiction. Or at least that’s the result of reading or listening to Pinsky. A brave woman in the audience spoke of her crack addiction and recovery, and Pinsky led her through the initial stages of addiction, knowing by instinct and example that she wound up in her closet, with tin foil over the windows, and convinced that police were hiding in the trees outside (In California, crack addicts see uniformed officers in palm trees.) He was right, she admitted, especially about the trees.
Pinsky also spoke at length on biology and addiction, going off at tangents sometimes, and descending into jargon that may have confused a lot. He pointed out that he doesn’t think of certain drugs as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ just how the addict reacts. He doesn’t like, however, how his profession is used to write prescriptions for medical marijuana, especially when any addictive substance may exactly the wrong thing for a patient.
The evening started 50 minutes late and wrapped up too early, with Pinsky speaking briefly to UCSB’s “hookup” culture, where man and women have one night stands in a state of inebriation. For men it’s to not feel bad about what they’re doing. For the women it’s so they don’t feel anything at all. The unhealthiness of the situation should be obvious.
This touched a nerve in a mother in the audience, who proclaimed that though her children has suffered trauma in their childhood (a gun to the head, I think she said), they weren’t the kind of people he described. “They’re born leaders!” she opined, “Not followers!” When Pinsky cut her short to say that even if so, they might be bringing home partners she didn’t approve of, she blurted out “They don’t date!”
In an evening of brutal honesty, the defensive attitude brought out much audience laughter, a moment that almost overshadowed the sobering truths elsewhere, no pun intended. If Pinsky appears pushy sometimes, it is because of the urgency of his message. We are a narcissistic culture, and hopelessly addicted.