Bill Maher discusses Addiction Is a Choice

by Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D., on ABC’s “Politically Incorrect”


From Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher

Transcript of show broadcast on March 13, 2000


March 13, 2000                          [Image]


 Guests on this program were:


      Helen Gurley Brown

      Kim Coles

      Drew Pinsky

      Scott Weiland


 Bill's Opening


 Bill: Hi, I'm Bill Maher.

 Tomorrow, as you probably know, presidential

 primaries will be held in six Southern states.

 It's a day when, through the miracle of

 democracy, representatives of our great parties

 gather in their basements to choose the white

 guy with the meanest TV commercials --


 [ Laughter ]


 -- And give him the keys to our nuclear



 [ Laughter and applause ]


 And -- and tomorrow, we will be all over that

 here at "PI."

 But that's tomorrow.

 As for tonight, I would like to dedicate the

 next 30 minutes to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll



 [ Cheers and applause ]


 Three great American institutions, all ruined

 by David Crosby.


 [ Laughter ]


 Now, my guests tonight are a comedienne, a

 Stone Temple Pilot, MTV's resident sex doctor

 and the woman who founded "Cosmopolitan"


 So don't go away.


 [ Cheers and applause ]


 Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, the star of

 "Politically Incorrect" --

 Bill Maher!


 [ Applause ]


 Panel Discussion


 Bill: All right, let's meet our panel.

 He's the co-author of "The Drew and Adam book,"

 the co-host of "Loveline" and the man behind

 Dr. Drew Pinsky.



 [ Cheers and applause ]



 How are you, doc?


 Drew: good to see you.


 Bill: Good to see you, thank you.

 She's an actress, also a playwright and

 stand-up comedienne, who will be performing

 throughout the country this year, Kim Coles,

 ladies and gentlemen.


 Kim: Hey!


 Bill: Hey, you.


 Kim: Hello, bill.

 How are you?


 Bill: How are you?

 You look great.

 Thank you.

 She is the legendary editor-in-chief of


 international magazine.

 Her new book is "I'm Wild Again: Snippets From

 My Life and a Few Brazen Thoughts," Helen

 Gurley Brown, ladies and gentlemen.


 [ Cheers and applause ]


 Hey, you.

 How are you?


 Helen: Fine, thank you.


 Bill: Thank you for doing this.

 The band is the Grammy Award-winning Stone

 Temple Pilots.

 The CD is "Number four."

 And he is Scott Weiland, ladies and gentlemen.


 [ Cheers and applause ]


 How you doing?


 Scott: Good, how you doing?


 Bill: Good to see you.

 Thanks for being here.


 As advertised, this is a show about sex, drugs

 and rock 'n' roll.

 Helen, let's start with the sex.


 [ Laughter ]


 Helen: I thought you'd never ask.


 . . .


 Bill: All right.

 Let's move on to drugs in our triad here.

 There is a new book out called "Addiction Is A


 It's by George W. Bush.

 No, I'm kidding.


 [ Laughter ]


 Scott: I think that was Nancy Reagan.


 [ Applause ]


 Bill: That's ridiculous.

 Bush certainly couldn't write a book.


 [ Laughter ]


 Anyway, it's by Jeffrey Schaler, Ph.D, and I

 agree with this guy.

 He says, "All of addiction is a choice."

 That's the title of the book.

 "From heroin to coffee," he says, "it's a

 matter of free will and it's not a disease.

 And being hooked is a choice.

 Every time you make it, it's a choice."


 Drew: Who starts?


 Scott: You can go.


 [ Laughter ]


 I have a few things to say about this.


 Bill: Yeah, go ahead.


 Drew: That is somebody who's never dealt with

 the disease.

 One of the things we try to get people to

 overcome when they have this disease is even

 the sense that they could use their willpower

 in relation, other than getting them to


 The disease is an operation --

 it's basically a hijacking of the survival


 The survival drive, the survival reward

 systems, that then become focused on a

 particular drug as the requisite of survival.

 Is that making sense so far?


 Bill: No.


 [ Laughter ]


 Drew: No.


 Bill: It doesn't.

 It's not involuntary.


 Drew: To initiate it is not.

 And there's no doubt, in our culture today,

 people learn that the way they manage

 unpleasant feelings is sex and drugs and fast

 cars and money, and it doesn't work.

 But if have you a biological predisposition to

 condition --


 Bill: It worked for a while.


 Drew: You're still working on it, Bill, I

 understand that, but be that as it may, if you

 have a predisposition to condition your reward

 system, some drives begin operating that

 operate --

 that overwhelm your willpower very easily.


 Bill: He says the conventional wisdom is that

 once you use the drug, something changes in

 your body.

 And that change -- which has never been

 identified --


 Drew: -- It's worked out --

 plasmic changes has been worked out.

 It has been highly --


 Bill: But then how come so many people are able

 to quit?


 Scott: Let me -- come in for second.

 First of all, choice, I know a little bit about

 drug use.


 [ Laughter ]


 But I also --


 [ Applause ]


 But I also know about the other side of it as


 It's a choice when you -- to your teens,

 whether you want to pick up and start

 experimenting with drugs.

 It's a choice once you're able to get detoxed

 -- for a person who is an addict or an

 alcoholic, it is a choice --

 once you do have some distance from it -- if

 you want to pick up again, once you're free

 from it -- but once there's something that

 happens -- and Drew was saying this -- there's

 something that happens.

 If I were to go and pick up and try to have a

 glass of wine or a Rum and Coke or whatever,

 there's a phenomenon of craving that takes

 place that doesn't happen with everybody else.

 There's something that happens where --


 Bill: But the craving is still a matter of free


 Unless you're shooting smack in your sleep --


 Drew: It's a hijacking of the survival


 So the brain -- not -- with thought.

 This is the part of the brain that doesn't have

 language and logic or language, but it believes

 that it won't survive without the drug.

 That's the intensity of the craving.


 Helen: That is so fancy and so complicated that

 I'm not sure I know what you're talking about.

 I think --


 [ Laughter ]


 [ Applause ]


 Not to be disrespectful, there are all kinds of

 addictions, and you're talking about drugs.

 My sister was an alcoholic.

 And she was absolutely convinced that it was

 systemic or indigenous and I say [ bleep ] --

 excuse me --


 [ Laughter ]


 You have a means of saying no, and there's

 shopping addiction and sex addiction -- and I

 have a fudge brownie addiction -- but I can say

 "No" if I really insist on it.

 I just think it's a matter of choice.


 Scott: Well, it's not a matter of choice,


 Here's the thing --


 Kim: I don't think it is for everybody.


 Scott: With shopping even -- all right --

 someone who is a shopping addict, you're okay

 and you don't have to go on a $50,000 in

 two-day shopping binge if you don't start.

 You know?

 But once, like, you get into that mode of,

 you're there on Rodeo Drive -- I don't know.

 That's probably where you shop, I would've



 [ Laughter ]


 And you start buying, something happens.

 And, I think, a lot of it, too, is like -- it's

 not just a physical thing, it's also like, a

 three-pronged kind of thing.

 It's like, also, there's a mental thing.

 It's like something that happens for whatever

 reason, from this big up to this big, you don't

 feel right about yourself -- and you start to

 learn that through medicating -- medicating the

 way you feel, it starts to make you feel like

 you think everyone else feels, like a whole


 And so when you're left with those empty

 feelings and there's nothing -- you're not

 treating it with any kind of way, no kind of

 program --


 Drew: You can't.

 Your brain won't let you.


 Bill: But at some point, you made the choice

 not to.


 Drew: You didn't make a choice.


 Scott: With the help of other people --


 Drew: With the help of law enforcement.


 [ Laughter ]


 Scott: Yeah, law enforcement.

 Enough distance --


 [ Applause ]


 Bill: But many people have.

 Many people have.

 I quit smoking.

 Smoking was a bitch.


 Drew: You're not an addict.

 You're dependent on tobacco, but it's different

 than addiction.


 Bill: Tobacco, they say, is harder to quit than



 Scott: Oh, it is.

 It is.

 But there's a difference.

 There are people who go through periods of

 their life, went through heavy drinking binges.


 Bill: If you made that choice at one point,

 that choice -- it means, was always available

 to you at any point.


 Drew: I wish --

 May I speak liberally, please?


 Bill: Yes, definitely.


 Drew: I had the opportunity to see Scott when

 he was in the throes of his disease -- and --

 I'm delighted that he is alive.

 And I told him --


 [ Applause ]


 I told him if I could just put him in a room

 and lock the door, in 30 days, the biology

 would be different, and he would be able then,

 to begin making choices.

 But in the throes of the biology, there was --

 he couldn't make sense of his behavior or



 Scott: There literally -- there literally is

 something that happens --


 Kim: Are you gonna keep on making excuses for


 Is that your -- the possibility that it might

 be genetically programmed or genetically


 Or is it that you're afraid that people are

 using that as an excuse?

 Is that what it is?

 Or, you know -- because there are people who

 can quit.

 There are people who fight that addiction.

 I do think it's --


 Drew: Way off.


 Kim: No, not at all.

 It can be done, but I don't think it should be

 used as an excuse.


 Drew: All that is controlled early in their



 Helen: But food can be an addiction, also.


 Scott: I have an eating disorder as well.

 I know about that.

 I know about that.

 It's like, when I start --


 Helen: But that's not genetic, it's because you

 don't have any willpower.

 You don't know how to pass up --


 Scott: No willpower?


 Kim: I think the root of it is self-esteem.

 I don't know, you're the author, you tell me --


 Scott: Check this out, all right.


 When you're in the throes of being strung out,


 And you're trying, you're trying to like, stop,

 you're trying to stop.

 The insanity that goes on inside your brain is

 so overwhelming that no matter what

 consequences are staring at you right in the

 face, you cannot look at it as any reasonable

 reason to stop because you're just craving that

 relief from that chemical so intensely.


 Drew: Again, the brain believes it will not

 survive the craving.

 It won't survive those impulses unless they're


 And what happens is, thinking gets distorted

 into "I'll just get high this moment, and then

 I'll be okay."


 Bill: But to call it a disease, I think, is not

 fair to people who have a disease where they

 have zero choice.

 If you have diabetes or cancer or any disease



 Scott: But it's categorized in the mental

 illness category.


 Drew: What is a disease?

 Define "Disease."

 Let's define --


 Bill: Something over which you have no choice

 that just strikes you.


 Drew: Something that strikes you.

 But it's -- so, if a piano falls on your head



 Bill: And you can't quit cancer, Doc.

 You just can't quit cancer.


 Drew: But you can choose not to get treatment.


 Scott: Yeah.


 Helen: Well, that's not an addiction.


 [ Applause ]


 Scott: It's like you have -- you know about

 clinical depression and bipolar disorder and

 all these sorts of other mental illnesses.

 I mean, there are other ones that are much more

 drastic than those, and those can be


 A person who doesn't get treated for that can't

 stop that kind of thinking.

 Can't start feeling, "I know I'm feeling

 depressed right now and I want to kill myself,

 but I'm gonna make a decision not to feel this

 way right now."


 Drew: That's right.


 Bill: Well, I'm addicted to commercials.

 We have to go away for a moment.


 [ Cheers and applause ]


 Bill: All right.

 We were talking about addiction.

 And Helen --


 [ Laughter ]


 I wanted to ask you, do you think you could

 become addicted to orgasms?

 Do you think you could have just so many

 orgasms, one after another, Earth-shattering --


 Helen: What?


 [ Laughter ]


 Bill: Well, I mean "Cosmo" -- orgasm is such a

 natural question.


 Let me -- you also mentioned --


 [ Laughter ]


 Your sister was in A.A.

 This doctor who wrote this book -- I love this

 -- he compares A.A. to a cult, which I would

 think is probably fairly true, because I think

 the addiction to total sobriety is the most

 dangerous of all.

 He says, "My concern is that A.A. has become a

 tool of the state.

 The state arrests people for drunken driving


 don't I know it.


 [ Laughter ]


 -- "And then orders them into alcoholics

 anonymous, and that's a violation of the first

 amendment, separation of church and state."

 I would agree with that.


 Scott: Well, you know what?

 If that cult is able to put people's lives back

 together and people's families back together

 and people's careers back together, then hail

 the cult!


 [ Cheers and applause ]


 Drew: There's a misconception here about the

 whole notion of higher power.

 Isn't that what you're taking issue with, is

 the advocacy of higher power?

 Higher power really is, as a concept, just to

 get people out of, frankly, trying to use their

 will and their brain to overcome something that

 is deeply -- deep in their brain function.

 And giving them faith that just something

 outside of themselves is going to make things


 Now, people choose to have a very developed God

 concept, but they don't have to.

 They just need to get out of their own head and

 have faith that things are going to be okay if

 they do.

 That's the whole purpose.


 Helen: Nobody in our family was an alcoholic.

 So --


 Drew: What's your ethnic background?

 Because if there's Irish, Scottish, North

 American Indian, the ethnicity suggests the

 probability that --


 Helen: I don't even know what we are.


 Bill: You're saying us Irish are drunks now.


 Drew: 50/50.

 It's about 50/50.


 Bill: And proud of it, I'll have you know



 [ Applause ]


 But this author, he says A.A. says they have

 the truth about addiction, which is absolutely


 It would be like saying Judaism has the truth

 about addiction.


 Scott: All that A.A. says -- all that A.A. says

 is that we men and women have found a way that

 has enabled us to get our lives back and start

 participating in society and enjoying the lives

 that we're meant to enjoy.

 And by doing that, it's simply relying on the

 other people in the fellowship for strength.

 And that is like a higher power.

 And all of us together are more powerful than


 You guys all try to hold me down in a chair, I

 can't get out of the chair.

 That's greater power than I am.

 And that's what the group relies on as a

 stronger power.

 Not just necessarily the God concept, but the

 group helping each other through and helping

 getting their lives back together.


 Helen: But I believe all alcoholics feel that

 they couldn't have helped it, that there's

 something in them in their bodies that is

 susceptible to one drink.

 And that just isn't true.

 They've -- they didn't get to be alcoholics

 because of some failure of a gene.

 They got to be alcoholics because they liked

 the taste of alcohol.


 Scott: I think a lot of people like the taste

 of alcohol.


 Helen: They like what happens after they taste



 Bill: Right.


 Scott: Well, you should -- you should have been

 around for a few of my Rums after -- you know



 Helen: But do you think that you --


 [ Laughter ]


 Do you think you --


 Bill: What are the chances that would have

 really happened?


 I got to take another commercial break.

 We'll be right back.


 [ Cheers and applause ]


 Bill: All right.

 I'm glad you're alive, too.

 Heroin never hurt my record collection, but I'm

 glad you're around.

 Oh, tomorrow is -- oh, the big primary day.

 We'll be here and boy, we're gonna cover it.


 [ Laughter ]


 [ Applause ]




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 Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher


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