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Peter Griffiths Daily Herald Column 1996


Alcohol And Horse Blinders

Daily Herald August 10, 1996

I become upset when I hear of people using alcohol as an excuse to avoid being fully responsible for their behaviors. I think some defense lawyers have done our country a big disservice. They used the intoxication defense in an attempt to get a man off a murder charge, or have other charges reduced, because he was drunk at the time of his offense.

A man may try to tell me that he isn't responsible for what he did, because he had been drinking. I will tell him that I can only accept that as a valid excuse under one condition. That is, if he shows me pictures of him, showing he was held down spread-eagled on the floor, had a tube shoved down his throat, and had to drink the alcohol that was being poured down that tube, or else he would have choked. And I doubt if I'll ever see one of those pictures!

Alcohol does not arid should not let us off the hook for our actions. "I was drinking" is not an excuse. It is a refusal to accept responsibility for one's actions. Many men have told me that they don't remember what they did because they had drank so much that they had a black-out" A black-out is merely acute alcohol poisoning of the brain. If a man had a total black-out, he would pass out and be totally, unconscious. Despite Hollywood movie scripts, unconscious people don't do anything. They just lie there, out cold.

Alcohol acts like horse blinders. Whether horses are on a race course, or in older days were pulling milk wagons, bread wagons or ice wagons, the blinders prevent them from being distracted or startled by what happens on the edges of their field of vision. Alcohol reduces the periphery or scope of our vision, physically, emotionally and morally. The more we drink, the less clearly we think and behave, the more narrow (arid usually foolish) our view of things becomes. The more we drink, the less we see the consequences to our behaviors. The more we drink, the more we get tunnel vision. We still see things, and are aware of some of what is happening around us, but it gets less and less, the more we drink. With every further drink, the blinders angle in a bit more towards the middle.

It's like driving a car and still being able to see the white line on the road, physically, emotionally or morally; but slowly and progressively not being able to see the ditches, the shoulders, the other lane, and eventually, yourself.

What many people refer to as an alcoholic black-out, I describe as reaching the point when those blinders have pulled together so close together that all you see is a very narrow sliver of reality. And very drunk people usually don't even see that very clearly. So when all that people have to guide them is a narrow slit of perception, which may be very fuzzy as well, no wonder they maintain they didn't know what they were doing.

Some human behavior is triggered by severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia. In these cases, a person has no control over the brain in chemical changes that occur. But, people choose to drink alcohol For some people, who are alcoholic, only one drink is more than one too many. But alcoholic or not, everyone is responsible for deciding whether or not to take that first drink. And, if they do, the blinders will start to close in.

Return to 1996 Index of Daily Herald Columns


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