Alcoholic Scientist Manages To Kick His Habit By Drilling Holes In His Brain


I love this guy Frank Plummer. What an incredible story. I think a lot of people don’t feel bad for addicts the way they do for cancer patients. It’s an outdated stigma, but I know many people feel that addiction stems from a lack of discipline or a weakness. You have to put the bad shit in your own body—unlike cancer, which finds you—so why can’t these people just stop drinking/popping/smoking the poison? “I can stop myself after two beers, no problem.” Well Bob, not everyone is wired that way. Some people are dealing with crazy shit in their lives, and sometimes, two beers doesn’t stop the dogs from barking in your head.

Take Frank, for example:

One Zero–  For years, Frank Plummer was dependent on alcohol, drinking 20 ounces of scotch a day. An infectious disease scientist who worked in Kenya at the height of the HIV epidemic, Plummer turned to alcohol in the 1980s to deal with the stress of his job, and also the grief that came with witnessing the devastation of AIDS firsthand.

Frank was at the center of the HIV epidemic in Kenya, trying to figure out how to stop the disease from wiping out a country. Now, 20 ounces of scotch a day is definitely a lot. I can only grit my teeth and not wince in pain after four sips of scotch. From there, everyone knows I’m a bitch. But Frank was drinking it like GoGurts because he was in Kenya trying to corral this disease at the height of the outbreak. Makes sense that he needed a drink or 12 after a day of work.

His addiction stuck, sadly, and rehab and AA didn’t work. “I was basically on a path to death,” said Frank. Until…

Then he learned about an experimental treatment for alcohol use disorder that would require drilling two nickel-sized holes into his skull. There was no guarantee it would work, but Plummer decided to sign up for a small study in Canada to test the treatment. In December 2018, surgeons opened up his skull and placed two tiny electrodes deep in his brain. The electrodes deliver steady pulses of electricity, like a pacemaker.

A few weeks after Plummer’s surgery, researchers turned on the electrical current. Plummer can’t feel the stimulation, but he thinks it is helping. Since getting the implant more than a year ago, he says he doesn’t crave alcohol as much as he used to. Though he isn’t completely sober, he thinks the implant is allowing him to moderate his drinking. He doesn’t drink every day, and when he does, he has no more than three or four drinks. “I still drink a little bit, but I think it’s under control now,” he says. “It’s not ruining my life.”

I find this incredible. If you watch Gary Gulman’s tremendous HBO special The Great Depresh, he talks about undergoing electroconvulsive therapy to treat his depression. A major hurdle, he says, was overcoming the fear of such treatments, as his understanding of such treatment was informed by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when Jack comes back to the ward in a vegetated state. That’s how I felt about it too, but clearly, we’ve made some major strides from the “bite down on this ladle” days.

Best of luck to old Frank here. Pretty ballsy move to sign himself up for an experimental brain-drilling treatment in Canada, but I guess that’s as good a place as any for experimenting.