I am an Alcoholic and a Drug Addict and a Criminal.
This is James’s standard, oft-quoted definition of himself, and it is repeated several times in the book. It is a bald, hard sentence, with no commas to soften the blows between the words, and capital letters drawing attention to each term. Whether he meant to or not, James has completed the first and primary requirement of AA’s Twelve Step program: he has admitted that he has a problem with drugs and drink. At no point in the book does James deny this. He is passively placed on a plane, and when his parents meet him at the airport and drive him off to a clinic, he offers no objection whatsoever. He’s unhappy and unresponsive, but he puts up no real fight.
The part of this sentence that should probably be looked at most closely is the inclusion of the term “Criminal.” That James has a drug and alcohol problem is completely understood—but to lump in the word criminal takes the sentence in a whole new direction. To admit that you are an alcoholic and drug addict is to admit that you have a problem. To add that you are a criminal seems to imply, “I am also a dangerous man.” It is a show of bravado. It is this bravado that gets James into trouble several times in the clinic. The crimes, as well as the prison terms described in the book, are fictitious, and they are the very lies that caused Frey’s literary downfall in real life.