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MIT must face addiction problems

I am writing to raise a question for the student body and the larger Institute community: Can we look at the concerns raised about sexual harassment, alcohol and other drug use, and overwork all in one light: that of addiction?

The first behavior is unacceptable, the next sometimes accepted but often problematic, and the last rewarded, if controversial. Despite the significant differences, these behaviors have some common effects in people's lives -- if nothing else, the person involved often denies that it is a problem. Do they perhaps have a common origin?

MIT is taking important steps to overcome denial concerning sexual harassment. If we look

at harassment, alcohol and other drug use, and overwork all as addictive or potentially addictive, we see a larger picture. In it, the challenge is how to avoid inappropriate or impulsive behaviors ourselves and how to confront those behaviors in others.

Perhaps, when we acknowledge the feelings -- helplessness, anger fear, loneliness, whatever they may be -- that lead us into addictions of all sorts, we can, then, take steps to develop healthy patterns of appropriate emotional dependence on each other in place of controlling and aggressive relationships or chemical dependence.

As individuals and as a community we must go beyond "Just Say No" and "When to Say When" and talk about How To Say No. There have been Institute colloquia on How To Be Different and How To Be Right. Why not, in cooperation with the Safety Office, which already presents seminars to the community, organize an Institute colloquium, or a series, on addictions and recovery? Everyone -- students, faculty, and staff -- should be required to attend. If harassment, alcoholism, and family life concerns are not safety issues, what are they?

Much current literature on family and social systems describes the abuser as only one of the afflicted individuals. For every addict there are several co-addicts whose drug of choice may be denial. We keep saying, "It's not that bad," and all the while it keeps getting worse.

In my struggle to help my oldest son start on his path to recovery, after more than two years of drinking and drugging, I came to some painful realizations about my childhood and myself.

My father, Richard L. Odiorne '36, who was editor of The Tech as a student here, was nicotine-and alcohol-dependent. Yet because smoking and drinking were socially accepted, in fact encouraged, at the time, he did not have to face his disease.

At the age of 49 he died of a heart attack, partly as a result

of his "disease of choice." The behaviors that get me into trouble are spending money I don't have and eating food I don't need. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that our addict society encourages both, and I know I need help to make positive choices.

MIT prides itself at being on the leading edge in many challenging fields. I have not found any endeavor more challenging than looking at habits of feeling, thought, and behavior in my life and making changes.

Eve Odiorne Sullivan->

Senior Editorial Assistant->

Laboratory for Nuclear Science->