Monsters & Critics / Dr. Akikur Mohammad

Perfectly Addicted? Michael Phelps’ Bad Behavior Maybe More Than A ‘Drinking Problem’

October 22, 2014


US Olympian Michael Phelps’ second DUI may be raising a lot of eyebrows, but it is also raising a number of questions: Does the Olympic champion have more than just a “drinking problem”?

Are we driving our athletes to addiction with a combination of at-the-ready access to prescription drugs and an unceasing demand for perfection?

From my perspective as an addiction medicine physician, Phelps has all the classic signs of an alcoholic in need of medical treatment. His internal perfectionist, coupled with an external pressure to meet those unreasonable standards, can be a lethal combination for anyone but especially for the superstar athlete who is paid to win.

When a person is thrown into the world of a professional sport, if he or she is genetically wired with an addictive personality, it doesn’t take much to start spiraling. Michael Phelps’ most recent DUI confirmed for me that that there is a deeper issue at play than just drinking too much, “occasionally.” Although the media enjoys playing out another episode of Olympians-gone-wild, sadly, this is Phelps’ reality, not reality TV. We are dealing with addiction, a serious disease, and as such, it requires immediate attention and treatment.

Lance Armstrong is the poster child of athletic prowess gone wrong. Live Strong? Remember the bracelets? The sentiment may prevail, but the tragedian behind the message no longer triumphs. Phelps’ boy-next-door looks and super-hero status convinced the public that he was above reproach, but twenty-two medals and two DIUs later, we have been forced to reevaluate our calculations.

Alcoholism is a complex condition comprised of biological, social, and psychological components. While there is a role for 12-step, AA program is useful for some patients, it should never be the exclusive treatment, since we are dealing with a chronic disease that involves a strong genetic component. Consequently, substance use disorder is a multifaceted illness, requiring both pharmaceutical and behavioral treatments.

I can’t help but wonder if Phelps will be getting the right kind of treatment–evidenced-based medicine. Unfortunately, all rehab treatment centers are not created equal. 90% of all addiction treatment centers in the U.S.– including some of the poshest — scandalously do not offer any treatment under medical supervision. Mr. Phelps should not assume he’s getting medically and scientifically sound treatment just because he’ll be paying a lot for it.

The dedication demonstrated by an Olympic athlete or a professional athlete is at once admirable and at once concerning. . In fact, Curtin University of Technology in Australia has a number of psychologists researched this very topic, [highlight only one word, e.g., “topic] and discovered that the level of “all or nothing” thinking was an indicator of how well perfectionists were able to manage their lives. The researchers had 252 participants fill out questionnaires and then rated their level of agreement with 16 statements. Needs one more sentence here about the conclusions reached by the study, e.g., “Those the highest on the perfectionist scale had the least ability to manage their daily lives successfully.”

Any way you slice it, obsessive dedication to a sport could itself be a tell-tale sign of an addictive personality. When an addict is also a perfectionist in a business like the Olympics, where the path to gold is paved with perfect scores, the underbelly of the perfectionist personality can be treacherous. That same drive to be perfect, which works so well to propel them towards the basket, the goal, and the end zone, can wreak havoc on their lives when they turn to alcohol or drugs, and end up losing at a losing battle.

Another study conducted by researchers Petra K. Staiger, Nicolas Kambouropoulos, and Sharon Dawe from Deakin University and Griffith University in Australia, investigated the question “Should personality traits be considered when refining substance misuse treatment programs?” According to their findings, “the data suggest that personality influences treatment outcomes.” identification of certain personality traits, including, for example, perfectionism, can make addiction treatment more effective.

The trickle-down effect happens even before professional sports begin, out on the playing fields at high schools across the country, and perhaps even earlier. If you know an athlete who is clearly a perfectionist, who exerts unrealistic pressure on him or herself, and tends to drink in order to alleviate pressure, don’t be afraid to recommend proper treatment facilities to those who are suffering. We must all take heed, as happy hour can become a slippery slope towards seriously unhappy consequences.

About our guest editor: Psychiatrist and Prescription Detox Expert Dr. Akikur Mohammad, founder of Inspire Malibu,  is Board Certified in Addictionology, Psychiatry & Neurology. He is an Associate Clinical Professor at USC Medical Center.  Inspire Malibu is directed by Dr. A.R. Mohammad who is America’s leading Detox Expert and award-winning Addictionologist. Dr. Mohammad is Board Certified in Psychiatry, Neurology and Addiction Medicine. He has been practicing Addiction, Psychiatry, and detox protocols for 15 years. Dr. Mohammad is on the cutting edge of addiction medicine and is a pioneer in addiction treatment.

Original Article

Dr. A R Mohammad