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Mark Judge’s alcoholism is a disease, not a moral standing

A glass with wine being poured into it.
Reuters/Regis Duvignau
Just a drink.
  • Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Christine Blasey Ford says that she and Brett Kavanaugh were not alone when he assaulted her in 1982. Kavanaugh’s longtime friend, Mark Judge, was in the room, as well, egging him on and laughing, according to Ford.

Both men say the assault never happened, but Judge has been conspicuously absent from the national spectacle over the allegation and what it should mean for Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court. “As a recovering alcoholic and a cancer survivor, I have struggled with depression and anxiety,” Judge wrote in a letter sent by his lawyer. “As a result, I avoid public speaking.”

When Kavanaugh testified on Sept. 27, he referenced Judge’s alcoholism as a means of discrediting him. Sen. Patrick Leahy brought Judge’s book about his excessive drinking in the 1980s, which included a character named Bart O’Kavanaugh who is widely believed to be the Supreme Court nominee. Kavanaugh scoffed. “He developed a very serious drinking problem, an addiction problem that lasted decades and was very difficult for him to escape from,” Kavanaugh said of Judge. Later, Kavanaugh accused Leahy of making fun of Judge’s addiction, suggesting it was a very serious medical condition.

Kavanaugh’s attitude toward alcoholism demonstrated two major and common misunderstandings about the condition. First, he implies that being an alcoholic discredits one’s word. Second, he implies that it somehow makes Judge too fragile to endure any sort of stress. Republican senators reiterated that line of thinking, claiming that they weren’t calling Judge to testify about the alleged assault because the stress of rigorous questioning could cause him to relapse.

Alcoholism is a disease. It is a dangerous physical addiction that often results from individuals trying to cope with equally mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. People suffering from mental health conditions often turn to alcohol or other drugs as a way of self-medicating.

Tragically, using any substance to try to subdue a mental illness can backfire: In some cases, individuals may be more susceptible to developing an addiction based on family history or other unrelated health issues. It’s impossible to say who may become addicted, and who won’t. If a person does become addicted, their body builds up tolerance to the substance, which means that a person will have to start using more and more to feel normal. Ultimately, this does more serious physical and emotional harm.

The fact that Judge is an alcoholic has nothing to do with his ability to withstand stress or his credibility as a witness. Instead, it shows that he has a physical disease that was likely spurred by an undiagnosed, untreated mental health condition. It is part of his health; a medical issue. Health has no bearing on anyone’s moral standing. As Olivia Goldhill has written for Quartz, “Mental illness affects both criminals and saints.”

On Friday, Sept. 28, Judge told the FBI he would cooperate with any investigation, as long as it’s kept confidential.

Correction: This story previously mixed up the names of Christine Blasey Ford and Mark Judge in the second paragraph. It has been corrected.

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