Pfft goes the methedemic.

Media criticism.
July 21 2006 5:44 PM

Pfft Goes the Methedemic

The press underplays news of reduced meth use, plus the "Stupid Story of the Week."

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Note that the question doesn't define addiction.A strict definition would surely reduce the 1-in-5 number. By not asking if a medical professional ever diagnosed a family member as an addict, the survey leaves it up to the respondent to decide whether a family member was "addicted." My family can't agree whether my brother was an alcoholic in the period after his discharge from the Navy 35 years ago or just having too much fun on Scotch. If my sister were taking the USA Today survey, she might answer "yes," while I would answer "no." His drinking tapered off within a year of coming home, but not because anybody "intervened." He barely touches the stuff now.

Likewise, consider the imprecision of the screening question. It refers to "member of your immediate family, such as a spouse, parent" etc. (Emphasis added.) Gung-ho respondents might take "such as" to include grandparents or cousins if they served surrogate roles as parents or siblings. And there's enough wiggle room in the screening question's last clause to drive a tract mansion through. If a close cousin drank himself to a premature death, would that qualify as an "issue in your family"? Also, if your brother Davy smoked a lot of pot during summer break between his junior and senior years, and mom and dad went nuts over it, would that constitute an "issue" of "addiction" in the family? Once more, it would depend on which family member you asked: I might say no, my parents might say yes. (A former girlfriend thought I was on the road to alcoholism—an "issue" for her, I'm sure—because I drank two beers a night for several weeks one summer.)

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USA Today's survey isn't collecting addiction data, it's collecting people's subjective perceptions about addiction in their families.

Another quarrel with the survey's design: Its sample of 902 respondents who passed its screening question may be random, but its respondents won't reflect much about the nation at large if the designers don't take into account family size. Say a disproportionate number who passed the screening question come from large, long-lived families. They'd have more potential alkies and junkies to talk about than the unmarried and the childless, who might have only two or three qualifying family members. The answers provided by the big families would tilt the results. And vice versa.

The survey isn't completely worthless. It reveals that at the very least four of every five adults—or 80 percent of the population—report no addictions in their families ever! The actual percent of individuals with addiction-free families can only be higher.

I'll drink to that. Two beers, bartender.

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Has any member of your immediate family, such as a spouse, parent, brother, sister, son, or daughter ever consumed an illicit drug or taken more than one drink? Has drug or alcohol addiction never been an issue in your family because you're a Southern Baptist? Send your responses via e-mail to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.