Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


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, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 31 • 4:00 PM

Should the Victims of the War on Drugs Receive Reparations?

A drug war Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of post-apartheid South Africa is a radical idea proposed by the Green Party. asks their candidates for New York State’s gubernatorial election to tell us more.

October 31 • 2:00 PM

India’s Struggle to Get Reliable Power to Hundreds of Millions of People

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known as a “big thinker” when it comes to energy. But in his country’s case, could thinking big be a huge mistake?

October 31 • 12:00 PM

In the Picture: SNAP Food Benefits, Birthday Cake, and Walmart

In every issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.

October 31 • 10:15 AM

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

October 31 • 8:00 AM

Who Wants a Cute Congressman?

You probably do—even if you won’t admit it. In politics, looks aren’t everything, but they’re definitely something.

October 31 • 7:00 AM

Why Scientists Make Promises They Can’t Keep

A research proposal that is totally upfront about the uncertainty of the scientific process and its potential benefits might never pass governmental muster.

October 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.

October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”

October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.

October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.

October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.

October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.

October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.

October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.

October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?

October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.

October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.

October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.

October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?

October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.

October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.

October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.

October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.

Follow us

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

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