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April 28, 2013 blog

She was fifteen, ready to party, and got so drunk she passed out.

When she finally woke up she knew something was terribly wrong.

Her vagina was throbbing with pain. Looking down, she was horrified to see pen drawings on her abdomen with arrows pointing downward.

The next school day, there was a hushed group looking at pictures on someone’s phone.  From the smirks and furtive looks, she knew they were pictures of her.

She called her mother to come and get her.

Then she hung herself.

She had known her rapists since junior high; they were classmates.  How could they do such a dehumanizing, degrading thing?

Simple answer: They were drunk.

Alcohol abuse and the mayhem it wreaks are epidemic in our colleges, high schools, and even in our middle schools.  Our only hope to stem this destructive tide is to educate our young people before they experience tragedy, and to make alcohol less available by:

  • taxing it
  • restricting how it is sold
  • restricting where it is sold.

In the next few months, I will offer suggestions as to how we can all help at our local level.  Stay tuned.

March blog


No father ever loved his son more than Tito did Daniel. Strong as that love was, it wasn’t strong enough to keep Tito from drinking himself to death, leaving Daniel an orphan at ten years of age.

Everyone agreed Tito was a wonderful man, husband, father, and worker. He drank a fair amount, exclusively beer, but seemingly no more than most of his friends. Five years ago he began drinking every day. Three years ago he was drinking around the clock.

Sonya left him and took Daniel to California, praying he would stop drinking. He did and rejoined his family. Daniel idolized his father, and it was bliss to have him back again. After two months, Tito went back to his beer.

It takes an enormous quantity of beer to destroy a liver. It helps if you neglect your diet as Tito did.

Three months ago, Tito’s eyes turned yellow. He was constantly nauseated, undoubtedly from toxins his failing liver could not eliminate. Then came the uncontrollable diarrhea, and Tito’s abdomen swelled with ascites fluid secreted by the scarred liver.

He never stopped drinking.

Sensing how sick he was, Daniel clung to him.

A week ago Tito fell and could not get up. Sonya called 911.

From his hospital bed, in a lucid moment between hours of coma, Tito drew his family close. Hugging his beloved Daniel, he wept. Go to school, he said, study hard and make something of yourself. And, don’t ever drink.

Shortly thereafter, Tito lapsed into a coma. His liver failing, the ammonia building up in his bloodstream, his kidneys failed, and he took two final gasping breaths.

Tito died two nights ago. He was thirty.

How can it be that an addiction can cause a man to disregard everything he loves and holds dear?

Because the alcohol craving takes over one of the oldest parts of the brain, the limbus or midbrain where reside our most primitive urges. Somewhere in the dark recesses of that ancient brain, there is a hierarchy of needs. Breathing, drinking, eating, sex, fighting to survive, love: they are all are arranged in an order of priority. Alcohol corrupts that hierarchy; it stages a coup and becomes number one. The single most important thing, more important than love or life itself, is taking that next drink, until it is the last.

The term “addiction” doesn’t do justice to the profound obsession alcohol causes. Addiction comes from a latin word meaning “to favor”. That hardly describes Tito’s circumstance. A better word would be possession

Welcome to the Sobering Truth Blog

In the coming weeks and months I will present to you the truth about alcohol like you have never known it before.

I will divide my posts into Sobering Truth Facts and Booze in the News. The former will describe new medical or sociologic studies on alcohol, historical facts of interest, and political and governmental issues relating to alcohol. The latter will keep you up to date on the the ongoing tragedies of alcohol in daily life. We need the former to keep reminding ourselves that the world is wrong for glorifying alcohol, praising its supposed health benefits, and acting like it is not the huge social problem that it is. We need the latter to transform it from the abstract to the concrete, to see the senseless insanity of people making idiots of themselves on a daily basis, and the media’s relish for recording it digitally and in print.

In many ways, this blog will serve to continually update the information presented in my book, The Sobering Truth, and the presentation I made enumerating the health hazards of alcohol called “Informed Consent” which is presented on the DVD of the same name.

If you have children or friends who need to hear this message, send them a link to this blog. When it comes to alcohol it really is true that what you don’t know can kill you.

Jeff Herten, M.D.

Local physician bolsters student awareness of health effects of alcohol

Local physician Jeff Herten, M.D., is working to spread national awareness about the grave but often overlooked effects of alcohol consumption. His book, “The Sobering Truth,” outlines the health risks of drinking alcohol from a doctor’s, as well as a former alcoholic’s, perspective.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic,” said Herten. “I feel a calling to try to communicate with young people to steer them away from what are some of the incredible social and health hazards of alcohol consumption.”

Herten, while holding on to his professional life, used to be what he calls a “high-functioning alcoholic.” He said that he managed to hide his growing addiction to alcohol by drinking only at night and in the privacy of his home. Eight years ago, and after several unsuccessful attempts, he overcame his addiction and committed to writing a book about alcohol and its effects.

Herten currently runs a dermatology clinic on Santa Rosa Street, and has lived in San Luis Obispo for over 30 years.

“He’s an esteemed dermatologist from the area,” Dane Howalt, M.D., said.

Howalt is also a local physician and is certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine. He said that Herten is qualified to write a book on the health effects of alcohol because “Herten’s a board-certified physician, and has taken many years of medical school that have to do with the workings of the human body. Before one becomes a dermatologist, they are trained in the whole field of medicine. He certainly has both the undergrad and graduate training in the biochemistry of how things work.”

A key aspect of Herten’s book is that the long-term health effects of excessive drinking often go unpublicized. These secondary effects include an increased risk for over eight types of cancer, as well as depression, osteoporosis and fetal alcohol syndrome. And, “those effects are usually totally unknown,” he said.

Herten’s goal is to stop alcoholism before it starts by helping young adults make more informed choices. He is putting the information in “The Sobering Truth,” and his currently in-progress documentary, to be implemented in health programs at various universities and high schools across the country.

“Basically, he’s trying to educate youth,” said Jane Broshears, teacher at the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education and editor of “The Sobering Truth.”

Herten is funding the production and distribution of the book, and presented aspects of it to over 30 Cal Poly students Saturday morning. Delta Chi Vice President Matt Slette attended the event.

“My whole impression I guess is I’ve been to a lot of alcohol awareness events,” Slette said. “He wasn’t trying to use scare tactics. He was backing up all his claims with medical facts.”

Some students, however, remained skeptical.

“It seems like when people want to drink, they’re going to anyway. It seems like they don’t take the effects too seriously until something happens to someone they know,” architecture major Erin Osberg said. “They take it with a grain of salt.”

The National Institute of Health states that alcohol problems are highest in the 18-29 age group.

“I thought it was really informative, and it makes you think twice about some of the decisions we as college students make,” senior civil engineer Tanner Bennett said. “We’re in an environment where drinking is perfectly sociably acceptable. It’s the norm. But he’s a doctor, to be able to explain such things in such depth. The guy knew what he was talking about.”