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Alcoholism in Antarctica (funraniumlabs.com)
180 points by ph0rcyas 1366 days ago | hide | past | web | 32 comments | favorite

My father spent 13 months there while in the Navy in 1963. He just gotten married and two weeks later went off. In return the Navy let him pick any assignment for three year stint which was Bermuda. Talk about a long thawing seeing that I wasn't born till some years later.

He told me stories about the drinking and the bleakness etc. It's even worse at the Amundsen–Scott Station where he was frequently sent over the 13 month period.

I do wonder if he developed his alcoholism while being down there because of the environment or it was a trigger. He no doubt had long hidden problems and alcohol was his way of self-medicating.

He's gone now so I will never know but this article brought back a lot of memories of our conversations about his experiences down there.

The interesting part of this story, for me, was how Antarctica is for some the ultimate, final destination for people escaping from themselves. If anything, this only highlights the need to improve awareness and treatment of mental illness in the United States.

It is obvious to anyone who has first-hand experience with these issues that you can never outrun your own problems. Some people flee for a while before realizing this, someone just keeps taking the delusion to its logical end. What is really needed is an acceptance that it's okay to have issues and that in most cases, they can actually be treated.

Actually you shouldn't totally dismiss fleeing. It modifies the environment and that is a major component in a mental change.

That doesn't mean there isn't an active role you have to play in making yourself better. Moving may get you over a hurdle of feeling hopeless, but if you aren't active in pursuing self improvement you'll quickly find yourself in the same spot.

Of course it doesn't, that is why it's just a component of the change. And it's not only about getting over of feeling hopeless. Change in environment helps you to break routines and create new ones. Hopefully ones which guide towards a better path.

The problem with Antarctica is that you cannot stay there forever. It's not an effective way to flee.

Along these lines is the (wonderful) Werner Herzog documentary, Encounters at the End of the World.


There's also another great documentary from Werner Herzog called Happy People: A Year in the Taiga. Very genuine and profound. Werner is a master of being in the moment.


I loved that. It's a striking representation of nature and people.

The casual reference to "hypothyroidism in Antarctica" got me curious. Apparently there's a link with working in low temperatures, and research on it, e.g. http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/86/1/110.full

P.S. also bumped into yesterday's jwz post http://www.jwz.org/blog/2013/06/how-to-drink-in-antarctica/

Time has a different meaning at the South Pole if you are working with offsite people, as is typical of the science winter overs. "Day" is when the internet connection is working. "Night" is when it is not. There is only satellite coverage for half the day.

This post reminded me of an antarctica blog I stumbled on years ago: http://www.bigdeadplace.com/welcome-to-the-program/

The Q & A bit here ("what are things you wish you brought?") seems to list a fair amount of booze/booze related items. http://www.bigdeadplace.com/ask-an-antarctican-2/

It's worth noting that Nicholas Johnson, author of the book Big Dead Place [1] and editor of bigdeadplace.com, committed suicide [2] in 2012. He had just been rejected [3] from another contract in Antarctica.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0922915997/

[2] http://www.albedoimages.com/blog/2012/12/06/death-of-antarct...

[3] http://feralhouse.com/nick-johnson-rip/

That is very sad.

> You may believe that you are only going to Antarctica for one season. Though that may be true, it is not. Antarctica will pierce you in the heart, and even if you don’t come back, you will think about it off and on, probably for the rest of your life.

Doing satellite tech/eng stuff overwinter in Antarctica is one of my dream jobs (along with obviously doing the same thing for Mars, which would be even better).

9 months isn't that long, and I can't imagine wanting to spend all the time drunk, rather than learning about all the interesting science going on. Plus, obviously, Internet.

In fairness though, and this is mentioned briefly in the article, you'd be there to do science. Many of the people passing out in a bar alone by 8pm are doing physical labor and not interested in or qualified for the science.

I'd be support staff (running the satellite network, or maybe other IT stuff). That falls in the "support" vs. "beaker" camp. I just happen to also like science more than most forklift operators or electricians do, I think.

I've been on Kerguelen island (which isn't quite Antarctica, but not that far either, and rather isolated too with four or five ship passages per year).

You wouldn't "fall in the support vs. beaker camp", you would be firmly in the beaker camp. It's more of a "somewhat intellectual" vs. "manual" camp (also vs. "military" in our case, but it might not be the same for US stations). I was right between beakers and support myself, by the way.

In our case, alcoholism was a problem for some of the manual labourers, but it never went as far as what I read from this article (I didn't read everything though), probably in part because they had more restrictions on alcohol consumption than the others, and because they were only there for shorter (three-six months depending on available transportation) missions, while most everyone else have 12-14 months missions.

Yes, but

- You can't go see a movie at the cinema

- There's no new bars in town

- You can't go for a walk, ride a bike, go to the gym, go shopping, etc

- There's nobody besides that (small) group of researchers. People you'll have to see/tolerate every single day.

- Food is pretty much the same always

Really? That's not for me

A great friend of mine did a few summers and winters at McMurdo as support staff.

> You can't go see a movie at the cinema

There are tons of DVDs and projectors around, never mind laptops.

> You can't go for a walk, ride a bike, go to the gym, go shopping, etc

My friend would cross-country ski over to some other countries' base (China, I think) a few times a week, snowshoe regularly, and of course there is always body weight exercises for the gym component. She would also go out with people and practice their climbing/rescue skills in crevasses.

> Food is pretty much the same always

She said it was perfectly fine, tons of vegetables.

All-in-all she absolutely loved it, and I'm still trying to find a way to get there.

> tons of vegetables

Wow really? On Kerguelen island vegetables were a rarity. We had fresh fruit for one, two weeks after a resupply (from Reunion island, they were actually among the best fruit I have ever had, and not only because they were the first after and before several months of no fruit at all) but apart from that, fruits vegetables were most of the time limited to potatoes, onions and increasingly bad apples and oranges (and that's when they didn't mistakenly put the fruits and vegetables in the -20°C storage). Really, I'm not sure how they could keep vegetables much better than we could.

(Delicious fresh meat and fish all year round though, but that's because we were not in a place as extreme as Antarctica)

Otherwise, I had much the same experience, with a dedicated "cinema" actually - just a building with a rather good projector and a computer with large storage.

But some people simply cannot imagine life outside the full society with all the amenities their are used too. It's fine, and much better for everyone if they already know it before leaving.

EDIT: oh right, "a few summers". Summers have all kind of things available that you really miss in winter. Our chef actually tried to limit the amount of good things he'd cook during the summer so the overwintering personnel would have it rather than those who were there for just a few months.

Summers and winters.

I'm pretty sure all the vegetables were frozen, but IMO that's still fine.

The food at the South Pole was actually quite good. On par or better than most local dinner food I can get around my house. Our luck with veggies was not so good. Depends a lot of flights, weather, timing, etc.

Have you read any Kim Stanley Robinson? He's written novels set in Antarctica and Mars. I love the "Red Mars" triology.

I wonder what kind of effect legal marijuana would have on the same crowd if it were available as a nice alternative to Alcohol

This is a fascinating look at the stations.

I'm tempted to add alcohol to my local install of Mars Simulation Project. (http://mars-sim.sourceforge.net/)

I've spent time in Antarctica, specifically at the South Pole and not during the winter. Even in the summer months, there is a lot of drinking.

Antarctica was a great experience and I would do it all over again, but honestly the novelty wears off after only a couple weeks. McMurdo might be a bit better since it is on the coast and has a much larger community. The South Pole is just cold, white, dry and flat in every direction. Feels a bit like mild sensory deprivation after a while. There is not much to do besides work, drink, and sleep.

Good to hear that you found it a great experience even if the novelty doesn't last really long. I've always thought it would be.

I've applied for ASC tech jobs but have never gotten an interview. I keep trying even if part of me thinks I have to crazy to want to go.

I'd love to spend a winter at McMurdo ... but I have no idea how to get there without being a scientist :(

Try being an alcoholic?

Great punchline: >even one friend that isn’t a bottle is a better than none.

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