Author Archives: joeschrank

Removing the Shame and Stigma Associated with Addiction Treatment

There are many hurdles to accessing help. With more than 23 million people in need of treatment and less than 2 million receiving any level of care, there is something in the way. There are many theories out there about why this is. Of all the hurdles, to negotiate, there is likely none higher than shame. Consistently, people cite stigma as a major reason that prevented them from reaching out for help. In the midst of a fever pitch crisis, losing 160 people a day to overdose, there is a moral imperative to remove the shame and stigma.

Check out this new film featuring Joe Schrank in the subject of reversing the stigma:
Reversing the Stigma“.

Stupidity Session.

Jeff sessions and Steve Alford (R, Kansas) show their cards.

Attorney General, Jeff Sessions hates weed. He has made that abundantly clear throughout his checkered career. The question looms: “why?”. Logic never prevails with drug policy but Sessions attitude and behavior regarding cannabis has no logicial train of thought or maybe it does? Sessions is a conservative lawyer and former senator from Alabama. He has said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana” he has also said “marijuana to help the opiate crisis, give me a break!’ He is wrong on both statements. Good people do use cannabis, so do bad people, indifferent people, mediocre people, or as I like to call them, “people”. Millions of people use cannabis, it’s logical to surmise that in those millions is the entire bouquet of humanity. Sessions is an attorney requiring a high level of education and as an educated man, I would guess he could read simple research. The AG would do well to read, even skim, this study (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1898878). It gives compelling and substantial evidence that states with legal and accessible cannabis have 25% fewer overdose deaths. Again, Jeff Sessions is categorically wrong is his public statements about Cannabis. As a conservative, it would be logical that Sessions would respect the states rights drums which conservatives beat. Apparently, that value doesn’t extend to things to which one has an individual moral objection. Similar to the familiar conservative refrain of “small government and fiscal responsibility” the conservative position on Cannabis is at the minimum, head scratching. There isn’t larger or more wasteful government than the drug war. So what is it about Cannabis that Sessions hates so much? Likely it’s not cannabis but the people who use cannabis that he finds so abhorrent. While legalization would align with Sessions stated conservative values, it would make it more difficult to round up black and brown people and put them in a cage. Dogged by accusations of racism his entire career, I have to believe that at the least, Sessions opposition to cannabis comes from that place. Additionally, Sessions seems to view legalization as a potential political weapon. January, 1 saw California become the worlds largest legal market, creating industry and commerce. Deeply opposed to Trump and Sessions, what better way to flick the earlobes of the state than to flex federal muscle and mandate continued criminalization of the will of the people? Running neck and neck with the avocado as the favorite flora of California, cannabis will not go gentle into the good night of The Trump and Session racism show.

Sessions policy regarding Cannabis has a ripple effect. It resurrects antiquated and debunked theories about the plant. The original criminalization of the stuff was never based in science, it was always social control. It would be like having an objection to English people and a desire to control them by making tea illegal. Kansas State senator Steve Alford, perhaps emboldened by Sessions, went full Archie Bunker in a room full of white people. The lawmaker claimed that due to the character and genetics of black folks, they simply can not tolerate marijuana and thereby arguing against legalization. Oh, where to start? Let’s say this weak character idea were true, would criminalizing stop use? Don’t people of weak character break laws? It’s hard to imagine people like this guy were called “deplorable”. In a way, we owe a debt of gratitude to the senator because he overtly said what Sessions implies and lacks the courage to state. Why not just say what you mean, Mr. Sessions? For America to look like what it does in your head, you need license to disrupt and control black people. As a side note, Sessions heralds from Alabama. The good people there deliberate if sending a credibly accused pedophile to the US senate is a good idea. They have the capacity to dismiss the most egregious form of child abuse as “Courtin’”. Alabama is welfare dependent, poorly educated, obese and for a small fee and minimal paperwork, one can legally distill grain alcohol, a flammable poison with the capacity to explode. Yes, Mr. Sessions is right, we should all be “good” people like the fine folks of Alabama waddling to Walmart for supplies to distill alcohol.

Best of luck Mr. Sessions with your ill conceived crusade. Cannabis, like guacamole and surfing are here to stay and the political clout and money of California, say so. As for Alford, well, I kind of like people like him. He’s one of those offensive idiots that incites eye rolling by the younger generation at Thanksgiving dinner. I can easily imagine a chess game to see what exactly I could get him to say, apparently, that’s not hard. Stick with wheat senator, leave Cannabis to us.

“A New High” Proves AA Is Not The Only Road to Recovery

When most Americans think of addiction and overcoming it, Alcoholics Anonymous, more commonly known as AA comes to mind. For most of the country, AA is often seen as the punch line of a joke and conjures up images of a meeting in a church basement with a circle of chairs and complimentary coffee in paper cups. But as the new documentary “A New High” shows, there’s a new recovery program that’s hoping to give AA a run for their money.

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“A New High” is a documentary exploring the idea of rehab in a non-traditional way. The film chronicles the lives ofthose addled by addiction, some with shattered lives who have had multiple unsuccessful attempts to rebuild their lives and themselves. These people have found themselves in the care of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission and dynamic former Army ranger, Mike Johnson. Johnson recruits a group of addicts to climb the 14,400-foot Mount Rainer, in hopes that the climbing of the physical mountain will help them to be able to climb and overcome their own personal mountains within.

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“This climbing thing, it gives them a chance to write a new story, a story of success, a story of hard work, the chance to be part of the team,” says Johnson. “It’s up the mountain, or it’s down into the grave.”

Johnson isn’t exaggerating the severity of the situation these people are in.

“The only thing that’s going to happen if I ever relapse is death,” said one of the climbers. “It’s not the way I was raised, it’s not who I am.”

Johnson’s program is so exciting, because it is potentially offering new opportunities to addicts who feel that rehab at AA may not be the right path for them. A growing movement is mounting, rejecting the idea that AA is the only road to recovery and millennials might be the leaders of this charge.

Recovery That’s Outside The Box

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Creative, entrepreneurial, and accepting, millennials have made the gay/straight question about as exciting as left-handed or right-handed. They are playing jazz with tired definitions and assigned boxes and they seem to be doing the same with recovery.

According to AA there are 2,040,629 active members worldwide. In the grand scheme of a problem like addiction that number seems low. According to a study done in 2014 by the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Service (OASAS), there are 23.5 million Americans who describe themselves as being “in recovery”. That’s roughly 10% of the American population and 21 million more than AA’s global membership. That proves that AA must not be the only treatment available.

“You just feel so different from everyone else,” said another one of the climbers. “I just never did anything like this, I never thought I could.”

But this documentary begs the question; can an alternative program like this one work? Dr. Scott Bienenfeld, MD, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction says he thinks it can.

“Setting a goal to reach the summit of a mountain would require many of the things we suggest for people attempting to stabilize an addiction,” says Dr. Bienenfeld. “Vigorous physical activity, commitment, accountability and above all, peer support are all necessary requirements.”

Dr. Bienenfeld, who founded Rebound Brooklyn, a medical recovery program for people with substance abuse problems and addiction treatment, goes on to explain more about why AA’s success varies depending on the person.

“The reason AA works for some people is because they are doing something with other people and without intoxication,” says Dr. Bienenfeld. “Being a part of a team, training, goal setting and reaching those goals with other sober people is the kind of mutual help that can keep someone clean.”

Be a part of something bigger

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It appears that the reoccurring theme and key when it comes to recovery is to feel like you are a part of something bigger than you. Reading a book in a church basement doesn’t seem to have a monopoly on active participation.

“AA is a great organization but it only works if it works for you,” says Dr. Bienenfeld. “If it doesn’t work, find something else that does.”

With the millions of American families, individuals and communities decimated by addiction when it rears its ugly head, certainly mountain climbing can’t be the solution to a complex and ancient problem. The take away from the film is inspiration, but Johnson sums it up the best:

“I choose joy. I’ve never found myself able to give up on anybody, because I believe in change. Because I saw it. You can do this and if you do, you will never be the same.”

A NEW HIGH will be screened on Saturday, Nov 14, at 9:15pm as part of DOC NYC at the IFC theater. Tickets available at www.docnyc.net.

This post originally appeared on MillennialMagazine.com

Black Lives Do Matter, Even for Privileged White Parents

black-lives-do-matter“He won’t listen to me, I’ll call him but you need to call him”. The voice on the other end of the phone stern, with a “wait until your father gets home” tone, fraught with worry and activated concern was coming from 6ft blonde, stunningly beautiful former Fox News anchor, Laurie Dhue. She was talking about our son, our black son, who had just posted an incendiary comment about the latest young black man gunned down by police. Laurie wanted the post down, and really so did I, and not because we thought Andrew did anything wrong but because it causes us more worry than it should and that worry is real. Our kid is taking an interest in politics and social change and as a Jesuit educated young man, he is supposed to do that and have a commitment to social justice. When you’re black in America, the stakes are higher and when you have white parents enjoying white privileges, the whole thing can get muddled into a big family drama. “I don’t disagree, yes, black lives do matter, why do you think we have made so many efforts for your black life”?  I found myself saying to Andrew. To a college freshman, being told by your parents to take something off Facebook is met with eye rolling and ridicule, typical and appropriate late adolescent behaviors but is it crazy to ask when nearly 200 young black men have been killed by police in 2016?

Student protest is nothing new, it’s something I fully support, standing up and being heard, working to right wrongs, and striving for social justice are all values instilled by the Jesuit education with which Andrew has been blessed. His participation in activism is what he is educated to do. I never realized that part of white privilege is sending your kid off to an elite university without worrying about them being shot. Of course all parents worry and parents of freshmen worry acutely with the newness of a child stepping into the world but suburban white people don’t have to worry about their suburban white son being shot by police walking back to his dorm carrying “something” that “looked like a gun”. White parents don’t worry about their white son being tagged as a “militant” for participating in campus politics. White parents of white children don’t have the achievement of elite university acceptance tarnished by the unspoken assumption that he was admitted to fill some quota. “Oh, well, sure he got in” with the unspoken “because he’s black”. Of course elite universities are looking for black students but the 4.0 and AP courses don’t hurt either. White parents do have to worry about drunk and inappropriate sexual activity but not at the same level as parents of black boys. Any misstep and the consequences can be life altering. I sent Andrew an app called “we consent”. It documents that any sexual activity was consensual. I was relieved when he said “I downloaded the app”. “Good, use it” was my reply. A big believer in generational boundaries I don’t want to hear any dorm gossip of who is sleeping with whom but I want to do what I can to negotiate these early days free of exploding land mines. All parents should worry about the binge drinking blurry boundary undergrad culture that can lead to severe consequences but I promise, suburban white parents don’t have the the same stakes Laurie and I have with Andrew. When you’re black in America, you don’t have to actually do anything to be found guilty of something. All that has to happen is a white person has to say you’re guilty. Take a look at “To Kill a Mockingbird” for an example.

Here’s The Paranoid Liberal Problem, Clashing with Realistic Concern

Maybe I’m a paranoid liberal? It’s possible. I’m a walking cliche, I live in Brooklyn, I’m divorced, I write a blog, I live among hipsters and they cheer me on at Soul Cycle like they would their own dad. We dwell among cold brew coffee and artisanal crafted everything. When Andrew first came into our lives, I made big bold statements at his his high school, St. Francis Xavier in NYC, about racism and equality. A wise Jesuit priest said “let’s worry about algebra for now”. For some reason, I didn’t worry too much about Andrew in NYC. For 12 hours a day he was at Xavier, a rigorous boys Catholic School comprised of more than 1/2 non white boys, more than 1/2 non Catholic and the first Catholic school to offer the “gay/straight alliance” as one of the student organizations. Xavier is as diverse as NYC and as committed to an egalitarian environment as there can be. Our limousine liberal Brooklyn neighborhood tapped into my ego with constant congratulatory adulation at our eclectic family. Andrew’s admission to Georgetown was the crowning achievement that made a powerball odds idea, a reality. Then we are left with the current climate of race relations in America.

When blow hard boorish embodiment of American stupidity, Donald Trump, speaks about black people, white privilege allows for easy tune out of his comments. Not so when you think “hey that hooker-marrying-spray-tanned wing nut is talking about my kid”. Trump’s rhetoric is made more insulting by his “show us your papers, boy” mission to find Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Mitt Romney’s family was deeply involved in a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism in Mexico and yet, no call for Romney’s birth certificate from Trump. Do any of us really know where Romney was born? Why didn’t Trump investigate? Listening to Trump talk about black people in a room full of white people leads me to want to scream “9/10 of the poorest, most welfare dependent states with highest rates of gun violence vote for YOU!”  Why is there no mention of social problems among white communities? We love talking about “the inner city”. While ignoring that white communities have similar problems as some black communities. Where is the “inner city” anyway?

Some years back, Obama said “if I had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon”. I have two boys, neither of them look like me. Nobody looks at Andrew and says “I’ll bet he does well at Georgetown” they say “does he have a gun?” “Should we call the police?” “Is he going to rob me?” Worried? You bet we are and with good reason. One of the things that white privilege allows is the denial of white privilege. Think it’s not real? Adopt a black kid and find out.

Recovery Rangers

It’s national recovery month, you must have seen the news coverage. You didn’t? That’s because there isn’t any. For a condition that has plagued man since forever, that has destroyed families and communities, and spawned an us winnable drug war, we as a culture, don’t pay much attention to the reverse side of the addiction coin. Recovery. Consider that the NFL wears pink cleats for breast cancer, and well they should, but where is the support for the issue of addiction and recovery? In a small but very important way, it’s alive and well in the Texas Rangers clubhouse.
Recovery Rangers
I have long regarded the Texas Rangers as the top sports franchise for recovery. While I have tried to ask why, I haven’t had much luck with a sit down with team head honcho, Nolan Ryan. Some years back, the Rangers manager, Ron Washington, tested positive for cocaine in a routine drug screening. He promptly issued a statement and gave his resignation to the Rangers. It was then that the Rangers demonstrated their understanding of addiction. Nolan Ryan rejected the resignation of Washington and opted to work with him. It was a bold statement of compassion and understanding of how addiction works and how recovery can work.

Supporting Team Members During Addiction Recovery

The Rangers won the AL West and it was met with the usual dog-pile merriment. It’s a major accomplishment, it might be one of the hardest things in sports to accomplish. Among the Rangers current roster are Jeremy Jeffress and Matt Bush, two young guys who are recovering alcoholics. In a bold move and departure from the usual callus disenfranchisement of alcoholics, the Rangers went the opposite way buy supporting Bush and Jeffress and their recovery. Instead of spraying champagne, the Rangers opted for ginger ale, a small but important gesture. There are two outcomes if the Rangers didn’t support these two, relapse or isolation. Bush and Jeffress would have either been swept up into the group norm of drinking or they would have sat isolated from the rest of the team.

Sports is a powerful system. It has the power to shift the culture in many directions. The recent media frenzy over Colin Kaepernick shows just what a loud voice sports has in American life. The sports world is rife with is sure regarding alcohol and other drug use, it’s a daily occurrence if one looks. Seldom, if ever, do we see the victories and that’s too bad. Additionally, we don’t see nearly enough of good drug and alcohol policy that can genuinely help people. MLB has pink bats for breast cancer, they are major participants in “stand up to cancer”, almost every night at an MLB stadium has some kind of advocacy attached to it. I have been to “dog day” at the Mets home Citi field to raise money for shelters, autism speaks, special olympics, veterans causes, all noble and worthy endeavors, but what about recovery? Why isn’t there a night for recovery month at any MLB park?

While they may not know, the Texas Rangers are the top team in all of sports for dealing with issues of addiction and recovery. They have shown they support people who are actively using and those who are in recovery and want to stay there. When a public system like a professional sports franchise is faced with issues and recovery, often times they spin the issue until it dies a news death. That needs to stop and the Texas Rangers are leading the way. Well done to Bush and Jeffress and well done to the Rangers. Should they win the World Series I hope they make a very big deal out of showering each other with ginger ale instead of champagne.

Recovery Madness. Can Recovery and Legalization Coexist?

“Recovery” is a broad definition but only if you look. On the surface, the accepted cultural definition is “totally abstinent person in AA”. As an added bonus “became a drug counselor and now helps others”. It’s a beautiful story and representative of almost nobody, there are a few outliers and exceptions but for the most part, that story is a cliched folk lore. Abstinence is a nice ideal, especially for the people around the individual who “needs to be sober” but in the grand scheme, like most ideals, it’s rare. The recovery community is much like the tea party, rigid, opposed to science, locked in their beliefs with no room for interpretation. When the framers wrote the constitution “we the people” meant “we the white male people” it’s been centuries and many growing pains to expand that definition to include everyone else. Recovery is the same. At the moment “recovery community” means “totally abstinent folks in AA” While AA claims “2 million members”, SAMHSA says “20 million Americans are in recovery”. Who are these other 18 million people?

Founded in the 1930s AA has changed little if at all since then. The beat goes on, knowledge has increased, medications can help, other forms of treatment exist but AA remains it’s stagnant and judgemental self. The reliance on a “spiritual shift” and denial of “requiring a belief in God” is but one of the holes through which one could drive a truck. There are many others and yet millions claim AA saved their life, the great irony is, I am one of them. AA has been a great experience and organization for me to which I owe much. One of the things I think I owe AA is unmerciful honesty and the truth is, AA is like the orthodox Jewish enclave on the south side of the Williamsburg bridge, the difference being, Williamsburg Jews aren’t claiming their way of life is the only way of life. So while AA works for me, that doesn’t mean it works or can work for all. I’m also a devout Catholic but 700 million Hindus don’t quite see it my way. They aren’t wrong and neither am I. At the moment, AA sits in judgement and futility, effectively asking millions of Hindus to join their party and believe that a virgin gave birth to God.

Marijuana Legalization and Harm Reduction

One of the cultural trends in the recovery community is to demonize legalization of marijuana. It’s like folks who are pro life, rather than focusing on how to reduce abortions, they chose to focus efforts on criminalizing abortions. Same with drug policy. The truth is, we could reduce the use of lethal dose substances with the legalization of a substance with no known lethal dose. Whatever one thinks of marijuana, it is categorically not crime. Like skateboarding, “weed is not a crime”. Maybe it’s a good health decision for some conditions, maybe it’s not but crime it’s not. Maybe people like to get high and like Pope Francis “who am I to judge?”.

20 years ago, I gave up intoxication in all forms. It was the right choice for me although there are days I wonder if that is true. While Monday morning quarterbacking goes nowhere, I can say that I have had an amazing life, rife with adventure, fun, highs and lows. In terms of lives, mine is a great one, far from perfect as the average 12 stepper will claim, but I have much for which to be grateful and I am. One of the hardest aspects of my weird life is having to watch people knuckle under to the plague of heroin addiction. It’s heart wrenching as anyone who has experienced will tell you. The hopes of “being better” with the rug pulled from under the hope. Sadly, many don’t make it out of the mire of opiate addiction. I have experienced it, I’ve watched people drink themselves to death and then listened to the “danger” of a dispensary rhetoric with no mention of a bar. Huh? What did I miss? In America, 120 people a day drop dead of an overdose, ZERO of them while using cannabis. Where is the compassion of the recovery community? Where is the advocacy for saving lives even if ones version of recovery doesn’t match mine?

Rehabs are largely AA indoctrination camps, while some are progressing away from the act of providence model, most aren’t. Patients are told 12 step life is their way out and while it may be for some, for most it isn’t. On the off chance that someone finds their way into an AA meeting post treatment, he likelihood that they stabilize for life is negligible. There are land mines all over AA, one of them is finding a sponsor who refutes medication. “My sponsor says I have to come off my medication” is an all too familiar refrain I have heard often times from young guys looking for leadership. “Your sponsor? The plumber? Tell your sponsor you’ll follow advice of your doctor, the doctor” is my general response.

Harm minimization is the kryponite of the AA zealot. They hate it. It’s counter to their deeply held belief but the truth is, harm minimization saves lives. If someone shoots dope, binge drinks, or is caught in the holy trinity of death: cocaine, Xanax, and alcohol, and they switch to and maintain with marijuana, that’s a big win in my world. Who among us who has lost someone to addiction wouldn’t take that person back if they maintained with marijuana?

The recovery community needs to face some realities. Marijuana legalization is here and demonize get it wont change that. It’s also time to be honest about the potential strength that marijuana has to be an exit drug, exit from the looming death of egregious drug use. As an interventionist and a person in long term recovery, I am supposed to follow the herd and hammer the belief that total abstinence is always the goal but I won’t do that. It may be the best for some, others may benefit from an interim step on the way to total abstinence. As always, all drug policy is effective to the degree that it is infused with honesty. The honesty is, legalization is good drug policy at a macro and micro level.

Paul LePage: Government Archie Bunker

paul lepageThis much is true, Paul LePage, governor of Maine has likely had better weeks. The stanch conservative governor has a reputation of having the tact and demeanor, not to mention the beliefs, of Archie Bunker. LePage is riddled with cartoons. He is an overblown embodiment of a racist republican blowhard, verbalizing what liberals surmise people like Lepage are thinking. Governor LePage ditches pesky euphemisms and just lobs grenades anywhere he can. It’s what makes him oddly endearing.

Last October, the governor made national news when he was lamenting all the”drug dealers from New York delivering heroin and impregnating white girls” to his beloved Maine. Lepage became America’s filter-less uncle embarrassing us at a holiday dinner while trying to impress a new girlfriend. His press office scurried about to come up with a statement but what can you say after a statement like that?

Read the rest of this article on EpicTimes.com.

Strawberry Field of Dreams

Nothing turns off an addict like feeling judged and nothing fuels active using like shame. So why is it that those are the main arrows in the quiver? A well meaning Darrel Strawberry made some very inflammatory comments about Doc Gooden, and while the intention may have been “tough love” my sense of this is, it didn’t help.
Darrel Strawberry & Doc Gooden

The Pathology of Addiction

After Gooden missed a personal appearance, Strawberry called Gooden a “complete addict junkie” reinforcing all the negativity that addicted folks are bad people. While the behavior certainly is frustrating, it is the pathology. Expecting someone in active addiction to act differently is like complaining the lake is wet. When someone is in the mire of addiction, their behavior will be poor. That doesn’t mean Gooden should skirt consequence, quite the contrary. It may be the consequence that brings him to a point of being willing to try. What he doesn’t deserve and what won’t help is a public flogging, asking Gooden to wear sac cloth and ashes for his “sin”. Addiction isn’t sin, it’s pathology. Not to mention: “get thee to a nunnery” Mr. Strawberry.

There is no zealot like the converted. One of the problems with modern recovery is that people who have stabilized take leave of empathy and compassion for an evangelical mission. Like the tea party, that road is too narrow for many people. Strawberry sits in judgement of his buddy because he “won’t listen”. That may be true or it may be true that the message Strawberry delivers doesn’t resonate with Gooden.

So what would be better? Compassion goes a long way. “Doc says he missed the event because of a health issue, that is true. My best guess is the health issue of which he speaks is addictive disease. My hope is Doc reaches out for help, if not from me, then from someone”.

Strawberry has a very specific brand of faith based recovery. Which is great, but only if it’s great for you. Often times faith based people feel at odds with science based advocates. The truth is, we are closer than we think. Isn’t scientific inquiry and working toward knowledge a God given gift? Even the AA big book says “we know but a little”. Certainly God would expect man to put in some effort toward understanding.

I don’t think Strawberry meant any harm, I think he meant to help his buddy the best way he knows. More than anything, when public people demonstrate dynamics in a large scale media forum, it offers the culture a chance to have a dialogue. The dialogue here is: what does tough love really do? If it’s the way to go, why are the rates of recovery so abysmal? One of the unyielding tenets of recovery is “when nothing changes, nothing changes” and that’s what we do. We yell, we shame, we judge all with the intent that the addicted person will “come to their senses”. Logic never applies, so stopping that tactic would seem prudent at this point.

Doc Godden has a long history in his sparring with addiction, it’s widely known. What Strawberry did do well was bring the issue into honesty, he didn’t enable and that’s a great strength when trying to slay this beast. One of the best helps is forming an alliance, and “junkie” won’t do that. Strawberry is living in fantasy if he thinks it will.

Ryan Lochte, Booze Just Isn’t For You

Ryan Lochte and Alcohol AbuseIn a refreshing respite from Trumps latest gaff, the news cycle was dominated this morning by something else. Unfortunately, it’s was a sad tale of scandal involving Ryan Lochte and two other young men from the U.S. Olympic swim team. Its seems that after some kind of issue at a gas station after a night of partying ended in a fabricated story about being held at gunpoint. A convenient way to sweep poor decisions under the rug and blame bad behavior on a dire economic condition in Brazil. Clearly this was a situation that got out of hand and the intention to get out of it, went awry.

Ryan Lochte’s Pattern of Alcohol Abuse

Lochte has a history of these types of incidents. He has previously been arrested for disorderly conduct and public urination. None of this displays inherent criminality, it’s low level stuff, but as a famous athlete, his stakes are higher and scrutiny is closer, making the behavior worse. One of the diagnostics for a substance abuse issue is “consequence with a willingness to do it again”. So in other words, if it were a bad decision and a young person learned their lesson, it’s not really pathology, it’s youth. The treatment plan for being 19 is being 25 and we all have to take our lumps with that experience. That’s not what Lochte is facing.

At 32 years old, Lochte no longer gets the latitude of “young and dumb”. There is a clear pattern of things going wrong when alcohol is added to his composition. This latest debacle is part of a larger pattern where Lochte acts in ways he wouldn’t in the absence of drinking and partying. Most concerning in the unfolding story is Lochte seems to have led younger teammates then left them holding the bag. That’s the integrity of someone who is actively impaired with a drinking problem. It’s unlikely, though possible, that Lochte has organic mental illness that would lead him to these situations. It’s more likely that when he drinks, these things can happen. That is what alcoholism is. That’s the definition of it. Most are looking for volume and frequency to explain the pathology and that’s only a small data point. More relevant is what happens when someone drinks.

Finding Help for Alcoholism

At the moment the media is consumed with what happens in Rio. Once this unravels, it’s very likely that the public flogging of Lochte will begin. Does Lochte deserve this? Partially he does, he acted poorly and needs to be held accountable. He also deserves empathy, he meets criteria for alcoholism and that requires treatment and compassion. Shame only fans the flame. Perhaps Lochte should speak with teammate Michael Phelps who, after numerous consequences, went into treatment and it seems to have worked, he’s doing well and is vocal about his recovery.

Were Lochte my son or my charge here is what I would advise he say and do: “I have had numerous consequences when I have been drinking. While I am not asking for my behavior to be excused and am willing to accept the consequences, I will be entering treatment to learn more about my relationship with and reaction to alcohol”. Clear, simple, and appropriate. Give me a call, Ryan, I can help you out.