Sheldon Killpack’s recent DUI arrest created a lot a buzz on Utah talk radio shows these last few days. On January 15th a Utah Highway patrolman spotted Killpack driving in an erratic fashion in the Millcreek area. Killpack was pulled over, failed a field sobriety test, refused a breathalyzer test, and was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail.

What is so shocking about this arrest?

Killpack is Utah’s Republican Senate Majority leader (he has since resigned).

Killpack is a member of the LDS church.

Killpack is a married man with 4 kids, ages 11 to 20.

Killpack’s father was killed by a drunk driver several years ago.

Killpack has been an advocate for Mother’s Against Drunk Driving

People are scratching their heads and asking, “Why!?”

As a psychologist and someone who has studied the characteristics of addiction, I’ll give an answer.

Addiction (or dependence as it is often called in clinical circles) has two dimensions. There is (a) physical dependence and (b) psychological dependence. Most people who become addicted to a substance, food, lifestyle, and behavior must learn to cope with these two facets of dependence. 

Physical dependence is short-lived, in most cases lasting only a few days to a few weeks. In the case of alcohol/ethanol dependence, physical dependence is short-lived, usually ending after the ethanol has completely left the body. If Killpack wasn’t drinking on a frequent basis, then I doubt that physical dependence was his problem.

It is more likely that Killpack has a serious problem with psychological dependence. Psychological dependence is a strong emotional attachment to a substance or activity. Psychological dependence can last a very long time, sometimes years and even a lifetime. Its length and severity varies significantly from one person to another. This type of dependence is what causes people to relapse into old habits. 

They say, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” This saying is a stark warning of the dangers of psychological dependence. In the case of Killpack, it was apparently strong enough to make a politically successful conservative LDS family man screw up in a major way. 

I wish him all the best in overcoming his problem.

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