Menus Subscribe Search
draper

Don Draper in Med Men. (PHOTO: COURTESY OF AMC)

Prognosis for Don Draper: Not Good

• June 26, 2013 • 4:00 AM

Don Draper in Med Men. (PHOTO: COURTESY OF AMC)

A study challenges the idea that “bottoming out” makes one more receptive to getting help for an addiction.

As all Mad Men fans know by now, Don Draper hit rock bottom Sunday night, as the fifth season of the justifiably acclaimed television drama came to a close. His second wife walked out on him, perhaps for good, just before his partners at the ad agency forced him into taking an extended leave of absence.

Draper’s self-destructive behavior—including serial philandering, arrogance bordering on contempt for his colleagues and clients, and propensity to self-medicate to avoid feeling shame—has finally caught up with him. He has reluctantly admitted to himself that surreptitiously adding alcohol to one’s morning orange juice is not sustainable behavior. So now he’s ready to get help. Right?

Maybe not. A 2007 study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence questions the commonly held notion that “hitting bottom” is a potent catalyst for getting one’s act together.

“The notion of bottoming out implies that intervention should not interfere with the disease process in that experiencing negative consequences leads to increased motivation to change.”

“Our findings suggest that motivation to change was negatively, not positively, associated with greater emotional distress and problem severity,” writes a research team led by Craig Field of the University of Texas School of Public Health.

Field and his colleagues surveyed 200 veterans who requested substance-abuse treatment at the Dallas Veterans Medical Center. (The group was overwhelmingly male and mostly middle aged; 59 percent were diagnosed as alcohol dependent, while 23 percent were hooked on cocaine.) They answered a series of questions designed to measure their level of addiction, their assessment of their condition and prognosis, and their levels of anger, depression, and anxiety.

The results “do not support the bottoming out hypothesis,” the researchers write. They found “negative associations between motivation to change and current distress,” suggesting that addicts who are in the depths of despair are often unable to summon the will to make the necessary changes in their lives.

“The notion of bottoming out implies that intervention should not interfere with the disease process in that experiencing negative consequences leads to increased motivation to change,” they note. “In contrast, these data suggest that early intervention and reduction of problems associated with substance use may increase motivation to change.”

Well, it’s too late for “early intervention” for Draper. But the study does give him one bit of hope: The researchers found a positive association between “recent life events” and readiness to make a change. So if he takes action quickly, while the twin blows of losing his spouse and job are still fresh, he might be motivated to do the hard work required. If he waits, his odds of success decrease significantly.

If Draper does achieve sobriety, can he stay that way? A 2009 study suggests it won’t be easy. In the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Alexandre Laudet and Virginia Stanick studied 250 substance abusers at the beginning and end of their outpatient treatment. They found that “among the strongest predictors of abstinence” are the level of confidence one has that he or she can can stay clean, along with the realization that a return to addiction threatens one’s health, job, and friendships.

Particularly problematic for Draper is their finding (echoed in other studies) that “the number of 12-step members in one’s social network” is an important factor in staying on the wagon. “Recovering persons consistently report that being around non-using peers is important to their recovery,” they write.

Does Draper have any non-using peers? He’d better find some.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Moly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


September 17 • 10:00 AM

Pulling Punches: Why Sports Leagues Treat Most Offenders With Leniency

There’s a psychological explanation for the weak punishment given to Ray Rice before a video surfaced that made a re-evaluation unavoidable.


September 17 • 9:44 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: Portlandia Is Dying

Build an emerald city. Attract the best and brightest with glorious amenities. They will come and do nothing.



September 17 • 8:00 AM

Why Don’t We Have Pay Toilets in America?

Forty years ago, thanks to an organization founded by four high school friends, human rights beat out the free market—and now we can all pee for free.


September 17 • 6:32 AM

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists’ appetites.


September 17 • 6:00 AM

The Grateful Dig: An Archaeologist Excavates a Tie-Dyed Modern Stereotype

What California’s senior state archaeologist discovered in the ruins of a hippie commune.


September 17 • 4:00 AM

The Strong Symbolic Power of Emptying Pockets

Researchers find the symbolic act of emptying a receptacle can impact our behavior, and not for the better.


September 16 • 4:00 PM

Why Is LiveJournal Helping Russia Block a Prominent Critic of Vladimir Putin?

The U.S. blogging company is showing an error message to users inside Russia who try to read the blog of Alexei Navalny, a prominent politician and critic of the Russian government.


September 16 • 2:00 PM

Man Up, Ladies! … But Not Too Much

Too often, women are asked to display masculine traits in order to be successful in the workplace.



September 16 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Brilliant 12-Year-Old?

Charles Wang is going to rule the world.


Follow us


How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

3-D Movies Aren’t That Special

Psychologists find that 3-D doesn't have any extra emotional impact.

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.