October 13, 2008

Has McCain Been Suffering From What The DSM-IV Classifies As Caffeine Intoxication?

Mccain Starbucks

“(F)or someone with a busy, stressful job, little stresses elicit big responses on caffeine, and big stresses elicit huge responses.” Lane once did a study in which he compared caffeine’s effects on type-A versus type-B personalities. “Caffeine tended to make type Bs into type As,” he says. “Their blood pressure went up. They rose to challenges.” The type As didn’t get any more ambitious; they just became more excitable.

from: The Coffee Junkie’s Guide to Caffeine Addiction (NY Mag)

Is it just coincidence John McCain is often depicted with a jumbo-sized Starbucks in or at hand?

People I've mentioned it to tend to write it off to the fact Mac is always being photographed.  That said, however, I don't see other people in McCain's entourage clinging to the java, and I don't see those Ventis littering the Obama pics.  (And then, I don't remember when another candidate telegraphed this kind of obsession with such attention-grabbing motorcade trips to Starbucks, either.)

In terms of just the recent visual data,  take a look at this shot from two weeks ago, of Cindy boarding the flight to the first presidential debate.  (Maybe something to note, as well, given Cindy's history of substance abuse — despite the media's hesitancy to bring it up.)  And then, there was this photo-op of McCain in his Arlington office just a few days later.  The pic above, by the way, was taken yesterday, at McCain's campaign HQ.

As I've been writing throughout the campaign, I think McCain's touchiness and erratic behavior is part of his nature.  However, the penchant for caffeine certainly can't be doing anything to contribute greater balance of stability to an already hyperactive and jittery personality like McCain, who can hardly stand or sit still.  In fact, in a post from the Concord Monitor blog back in June, McCain himself cites his caffeine intake as a problem, disclosing how its been a factor — at least, during the Republican primaries –  in his debate performance.  (In the recent presidential debates, in particular, there has been speculation about McCain's curious habits and disinhibition.)  As the Concord Monitor quotes McCain:

"I have really learned that one of my biggest problems is I was having two or three cups just before I start," he said on his campaign bus this morning. "(I was) trying to talk too fast, to get too much out, and you can see that I did that in the first few debates consistently, so I was cut off of caffeine," he said.

Giving additional fuel to the concern is the fact that McCain, rather than toning down the intake, instead indicated he had to be cut off.

I recently read in a throw away line — I believe, in a recent NYT article — that McCain, besides downing coffee all day, hardly eats.  That led me to this passage by Chris Jones written last February.  Jones was traveling with the McCain campaign during the presidential primaries and published his trip diary, "John McCain’s Last War," in Esquire.  (The Buchanan referred to is McCain's press secretary Brooke Buchanan.)

McCain stirs. Buchanan worries aloud that he hasn’t been eating enough. Apart from this morning’s fritter and coffee, he’s had a handful of potato chips and a can of Red Bull. (The barbecued chicken that came on board the bus in Des Moines was a shade of salmonella pink that could have derailed the candidate for days.) There are trays of chilled Chinese food stashed up front, fallout-shelter eats that are now dug out and served in plastic boxes on plastic trays. McCain picks at a bit of fruit, chokes back a cold egg roll. “I really don’t eat well,” he says. “I eat junk. I kinda get pumped up at these things and don’t have much of an appetite.”

Coffee and Red Bull?  (Not to mention the sugar chaser.)  Again, by McCain's own words, he has a habit of "getting pumped up" (although it's not clear how much, or to what extent, he's getting pumped up for or from public appearances).  Either way, however, this account suggests that McCain has been regularly using not just coffee but stimulant drinks.

I understand Americans have a love affair with coffee.  At the same time, this country — in tandem with massive direct-to-consumer advertising by the pharmaceutical industry — is consistently in denial about its reliance on drugs and alcohol (ranging from recreational drugs, sleeping drugs, sex performance drugs, athletic performance drugs and, yes, caffeine).  When it comes right down to it though, substance abuse is substance abuse, whether the dependency involves caffeine — caffeine intoxication being a clearly designated mental disorder in the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) –  or some other substance.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying John McCain is an addict, but it is interesting to consider the effects of the disease as compared to McCain's observable behavior on the campaign trail, with intoxication characterized by restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, muscle twitching, a rambling flow of thought and speech, irritability and psychomotor agitation, and actual overdose exhibited by mania, depression, lapses in judgment and disinhibition.  (And then, this is besides the issue of the pathological effects of caffeine abuse on both the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular system — especially in a man of McCain's age.)

Over all, it's one thing for American's to consider whether to elect a man as hot-headed and erratic as McCain.  It's even more worrisome, though — especially as we're reminded through these regular, visual telegraphs — that the man, through his penchant for this readily available drug, is consistently pouring oil on the fire.

Update 5:42 pm PST:  Hmm.  This just came across the wire showing the McCains departing this afternoon from Reagan Airport.

(click for full size)

(image: Carlos Barria/Reuters. Arlington, Virginia, October 12, 2008.  image 2: Carlos Barria/Reuters.  Arlington, Virginia October 13, 2008.  linked image: Brian Snyder/ Reuters. Arlington, Virginia September 27, 2008)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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