Part of alcoholism is denying that you have a problem. And many people can't shake their alcohol dependency without help from others. These are not idle speculations but well-developed medical facts drawn from centuries of human experience.
And both should be kept in mind when evaluating the sad case of Anne Arundel County Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. who was arrested early Tuesday morning in Pasadena after a county police officer observed him driving erratically, smelling strongly of alcohol, his eyes red and glossy, face flushed, speech slow and slurred.
The delegate failed several field sobriety tests, admitted to drinking and was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and more than a dozen traffic-related violations. It was bad enough that the officer who pulled him over, who had been transporting a prisoner at the time, was so alarmed by Mr. Dwyer's driving that he intervened and called for backup, fearing for the public's safety.
This was not the delegate's first run-in with the law. Mr. Dwyer was convicted last May on a charge of operating a boat while drunk. In the incident (which took place almost exactly one year ago), Mr. Dwyer plowed his powerboat into another, injuring seven including himself. Tests showed his blood alcohol was .24 or three times the legal limit.
After the accident, the delegate admitted he'd made a mistake but he also questioned how harshly he should be judged by others. "Who in this room hasn't ever made a mistake?" He asked reporters at one point. "Who in the public hasn't ever made a mistake?"
Looking back now on those words and recognizing that the delegate — who faces sentencing for the drunken-boating conviction in just a matter of weeks — could behave so recklessly now, one has to wonder if he is truly able to face up to his problem or even recognizes that he has one.
We can't pretend that Delegate Dwyer is our favorite legislator in Annapolis. On matters from same-sex marriage to abortion rights, immigration policy and gun control, we usually hold an opposite view. He is not a politician given to compassion for others. As recently as July (a mere seven months after the Newtown, Conn., mass murder), he held a raffle of assault-style weapons to raise money for his re-election campaign.
But this isn't about politics. It's about the welfare of Mr. Dwyer and those around him. He has proven himself incapable of dealing with his problem, and that poses a threat to his own safety and that of the motoring public. What are the odds that Tuesday was the first time the delegate ever drove his car after drinking too much?
Drunken driving and drunken boating are a serious business. They cost lives. Nearly 10,000 people die in alcohol-related crashes each year on the highways or on the water. In Maryland alone, the number of drunken-driving fatalities was 162 in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available. There were 24 drunken- boating deaths in Maryland the same year.
We join Mr. Dwyer's colleagues from both sides of the General Assembly aisle in asking that he seek help in some appropriate residential treatment program. He should also resign from office. It's clear enough that the burden of public life is too much of a distraction for the delegate and may well be what's preventing him from fully appreciating his grave circumstances.
We take no joy in this development. The path to sobriety is seldom an easy one or without setbacks. Nor do we necessarily fully understand the personal demons and difficulties that may have contributed to his circumstances.
But we do know this: Such behavior is unbecoming a state legislator. Current state law, which does not give the state legislature authority to remove Mr. Dwyer from office nor for his District 31 constituents to seek his recall, is once again proving itself inadequate in the matter of a lawbreaking elected official in this state. It is up to the delegate to do the right thing.
The incident should also serve as a reminder that there is still much to be done to curb drunken driving in Maryland. One of the first actions to be taken is to require more people found guilty of alcohol-related offenses (whether it's for the first time or not) to have an ignition interlock device installed in their cars. These devices prevent a vehicle from being driven unless the driver passes a breath test, and at a minimum, the innocent people who use Maryland's public thoroughfares deserve that level of protection from the Delegate Dwyers out there.