DISCLAIMER: The incidents involving swimmer Ryan Lochte and alcohol are well-documented, and after the latest one, Lochte announced he was seeking treatment for his problematic drinking. Here, we use what we know about his personal situation to look at how it relates to the larger issue of Alcohol Use Disorder. It is our hope that this information helps someone who is dealing with similar issues right now.
After an early-morning drunken incident at a Newport Beach, California, hotel, Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte has announced that he is seeking professional help for alcoholism. Jeff Ostrow, Lochte’s agent, said this is in response to a problem the swimmer he has been struggling with for a very long time.
As reported by TMZ, Ostrow stated, “It was a minor nothing. But what matters most is Ryan is getting the help he needs. Ryan has been battling from alcohol addiction for many years, and unfortunately, it has become a destructive pattern for him.”
What Happened to Get to this Point?
According to multiple reports, at about 3 a.m. on the morning of October 5th, the Newport Beach Police were called to the hotel where Lochte was staying. Allegedly, Lochte was extremely inebriated and was trying to kick down the door of his room. No arrests were made.
But there’s more.
Perhaps significant, Lochte was also involved in a car crash in Florida around 18 hours after the incident in California. After leaving Newport Beach, he flew to Gainesville. At approximately 9:45 p.m., Lochte allegedly rear-ended another vehicle with his Porsche, sending the other driver to the hospital Lochte was not hurt in the accident.
The police report does not mention alcohol, but Lochte was cited for careless driving.
However, it is important to note that a meta-analysis just published this past August determined that the effects of heavy drinking linger on into the next day. This could mean impaired attention, coordination, memory…and driving skills.
Sally Adams, an Assistant Professor in the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology, authored the research and says, “Our findings demonstrate that (having a) hangover can have serious consequences for the performance of everyday activities such as driving, and workplace skills such as concentration and memory.”
LochteGate: A Pattern of Drunken Behavior?
“I overexaggerated that story, and if I had never done that, we wouldn’t be in this mess…(I) definitely had too much to drink that night…It was my immature behavior.”
~ Ryan Lochte
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that excessive drinking has gotten Ryan Lochte into trouble. During the 2016 Olympic games, he and some other drunken friends allegedly vandalized a Rio de Janeiro gas station bathroom. Supposedly, when the group found the door locked, they broke it down and destroyed both the soap dispenser and the toilet paper holder.
And rather than own up to their immature actions and face relatively minor consequences, the group lied and clumsily attempted to cover up what they had done. Of course, that only made matters worse.
Because while what really happened that night is disputed, some things are absolute fact—Ryan Lochte and his friends were drunk, Lochte has admitted to “immature” decisions, and he did lie about the events that transpired. In fact, Lochte blames his false statement on the fact that he was still intoxicated the next day.
In the aftermath, Lochte was suspended from competitive swimming and receiving financial support for 10 months. His marketability rating plummeted from 90% positive to 70% negative within 3 days. Lochte lost multiple endorsement deals and an estimated $5-10 million in future income. This highlights a fact that is often brought up in recovery—excessive drinking can cost a lot more than you think.
Can A World-Class Athlete like Ryan Lochte REALLY be an Alcoholic?
“I sent myself on a downward spiral. I think it was more of…of a sign than anything else. That I had to get something under control, whatever it was, I look back at that night and everything happened for a reason.”
~ Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps, discussing his DUI
This news may shock a lot of people. After all, Lochte trails only Michael Phelps for the most swimming medals in Olympic history. And because he has competed at a world-class level for 20 years, the general perception that Lochte must be in peak physical AND mental condition.
But that’s just the thing about addictive illnesses such as Alcohol Use Disorder—the condition ignores education, achievement, wealth, fame, race, age, gender, or any other boundary.
ANYONE can with struggle with AUD, even “successful” people who seem to have it all.
Even Lochte’s close friend and biggest rival, Michael Phelps, has had his own problems with alcohol and drugs. In fact, there have been many elite athletes who have battled addiction in one form or another:
- Andre Agassi
- Oksana Baiul
- Vin Baker
- Len Bias
- Ken Caminiti
- Charles Barkley
- Miguel Cabrera
- Cris Carter
- Brett Favre
- Dwight Gooden
- Josh Hamilton
- Sugar Ray Leonard
- Mickey Mantle
- Johnny Manziel
- Todd Marinovich
- Lamar Odom
- Dennis Rodman
- C.C. Sabathia
- Darryl Strawberry
- Lawrence Taylor
- Thurman Thomas
- Mike Tyson
Work Hard, Play Hard: Athletics and Addiction
“It was very evident that there’s a strong relationship between alcohol and sport, particularly binge drinking…For the team sports, they seem to start drinking and using marijuana as a team activity.”
~ Laurie de Grace, University of Alberta
Recent research suggests that elite athletes may be at higher risk for substance abuse. There are several reasons why this may be the case:
- Social acceptance -the need to belong and feel like part of the team
- Normalization of alcohol and drug use within sports culture—the “everybody else is doing it” mentality
- Hyper-competitiveness -This can manifest as contests between teammates who try to outdrink each other.
- Machismo—where the ability to party is a measure of manhood
- Early initiation of use— Exposure as a teenager to substance abuse within the sports culture increases the risk of future addiction problems.
- Enabling by coaches, supporters, and owners—As long as they keep winning, they don’t care
- Freedom from supervision—Lochte likes “hitting a local pub and drinking with soccer hooligans”.
When intensive training is complete, athletes want to “blow off steam”. For example, Olympic Gold Medalist Greg Louganis said this of his experience at the 1976 Montreal Olympics— “Once events were over, our entire diet was caviar, vodka, and Russian champagne. It was crazy.” Significantly, Louganis was only 16 years old at the time.
When they win, they want to celebrate. When they lose, they want to drown their sorrows.
In society, alcohol fulfills all of those needs.
Addicted to Winning
“Most athletes do not have an issue with this, however in my experience some may revert to using drugs and alcohol as a way of reaching a balance in neurochemicals, which at first works, however when it continues can manifest in addictive behavior.”
~ Dr. Cameron Brown, a psychologist who specializes in drug and alcohol rehabilitation
For most athletes, sports provide a positive outlet that helps prevent substance abuse. This is because strenuous physical activity triggers a pleasurable dopamine release. After an exercise session or an athletic performance, they will naturally feel elated, almost to the point of euphoria. This is referred to in the term “runner’s high”.
Personal achievements such as scoring a goal, hitting a home run, winning a race, or becoming champion cause an even bigger dopamine surge. These unique achievements and the resultant rewards hyper-stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain.
This is significant, because as Dr. Brown says, “Physical exercise elicits a rise in midbrain dopamine tone in the same way many drugs like alcohol, methamphetamine, and cocaine do.”
“But sometimes, tolerance to brain excitation from sports may lead to a reliance on similar experiences to perpetuate these brain reward responses,” he continues.
In other words, some athletes can become addicted to the “thrill of victory”, which leaves them constantly wanting more. And because they can’t ALWAYS be competing, they turn to other sources—alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, etc. They need to chase that feeling.
Now imagine how many dopamine rushes Ryan Lochte has had over the course of his world-class, record-setting, 20-year career.
The Stress of Competition
“Athletes are extremists. When they’re training, it’s laser focus. When they go out for a drink, it’s 20 drinks.”
~ Olympic Gold Medalist Hope Solo
For most people, exercise is a way to release stress and anxiety. But this isn’t the case for high-level athletes, because sports is their job. And their ability to keep that job is dependent on their performance. This is true for collegians on scholarship, professional athletes, and it is even more so for mega-stars like Ryan Lochte, who rely on endorsements and sponsorships for most of their income.
Elite athletes experience tremendous levels of stress—from coaches, fans, sponsors, teammates, the press, and themselves. They pursue perfection, with virtually no margin for error.
Think about the world of competitive swimming. To reach the ultimate stage—the Olympics—athletes train for years, or in Ryan Lochte’s case, decades. And the difference between winning and losing can be measured in a few hundredths of a second.
For example, during the 2016 Olympics, Lochte finished 5th in the 200-meter individual medley, the first time he had ever failed to win a medal in the event. The difference between a Silver Medal 2nd-place finish and out-of-the-running 5th place was less than a second.
“…when they’d bring a drink cart through, we’d send it back dry.”
~ Olympic Silver Medalist Josh Lakatos
But to comprehend how this can happen to someone as talented and successful as Ryan Lochte, we first have to understand what alcoholism is—and what it isn’t.
AUD is a disease of the brain that is chiefly characterized by uncontrollable drinking that causes the person’s life to become more and more unmanageable. And as the disease worsens, the problems and consequences likewise get worse.
- Incurable—An alcoholic will always be vulnerable, for the rest of their life. But as with other chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes, a person with AUD can still learn how to manage their disease and return to a full, productive, and happy life. This is what recovery really is.
- Chronic—AUD does not go away, and without proper care and constant vigilance, there will be flare-ups and recurrences of resumed drinking.
- Progressive—Without specialized care and support, AUD ALWAYS gets worse. Eventually, excessive drinking takes a tremendous toll—socially, financially, physically, and mentally.
- Alcoholism is NOT:
- A personal choice
- A moral weakness
- A shortage of willpower
- A reason to blame
- Just a “bad habit”
- A phase
What Causes Alcoholism?
“It’s really easy to tell if you have a problem: If you can’t change your behavior to meet your goals, but you change your goals to meet your behavior.”
~ John Lucas, former NBA player and the head coach who now helps athletes beat their addictions
Addiction experts have long known that genetics is the largest contributing factor influencing a person’s vulnerability to problematic substance use. 60% of that likelihood is directly attributable to their biology.
But that only offers a partial explanation. Other factors include:
- Environment—These are common to most residents of the community
- High unemployment
- Limited opportunities for economic advancement
- High availability of illicit drugs and alcohol
- Peer pressure
- Community attitudes about substance use
- Local prevention campaign
- Individual factors– These are unique to the person.
- Exposure as a child to parental substance use
- Child abuse or neglect
- Adverse Childhood Experiences
- Academic difficulty
- Poor social skills
- Psychiatric disorders—anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, PTSD, etc.
- Suicidal behaviors
- College-age risk factors– These are issues appearing during young adulthood:
But these factors DO NOT make addiction inevitable.
At least in the beginning, it is the person’s personal behaviors that influence the activation of their vulnerabilities. For example, the person must choose to experiment with alcohol or drugs in the first place. But more importantly, it is when the substance use is repeated that the brain changes associated with addiction begin occurring.
The Development of an Addiction to Alcohol
“Because their bodies have become sensitized to alcohol, once they have taken that first drink the tissues of the body cry out for more and more, until sufferers find that they cannot control the amount of alcohol consumed. – One drink is too many, a hundred, not enough.”
~ John G. Cooney, Under the Weather – Coping with Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
All substance use disorders exist on a spectrum that has complete abstinence at one end and out-of-control, late-stage addiction at the other.
- In the beginning, a person experiments with alcohol. This may include incidents of heavy or binge drinking. Over 86% of American adults have tied alcohol at some point in their lifetime.
- Most move on to occasional use. 70% of adults have drunk within the past year.
- 56% are regular drinkers, consuming alcohol at least once monthly.
- Alcohol abuse is the next stage—risky binge or heavy drinking. Within the past month, 27% of adults report binge drinking and 7% drank heavily.
- Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as a man consuming 5 or more drinks in a single 2-hour sitting. For women, the threshold is 4 drinks.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines heavy drinking as binge drinking on 5 or more occasions within the past month.
- But regular drinking—especially excessively—changes the brain so profoundly that the person can become dependent. In other words, they physically and psychologically suffer when there is no alcohol in their system.
- Someone who has reached this stage will have experienced negative consequences of their problem drinking, such as DUIs, relationship issues, difficulties at work, or health problems.
- Alcohol addiction is characterized by an overwhelming compulsion to drink in spite of those consequences. The person may want to quit, they may have tried to quit, but they are unable to.
- Late-stage alcoholism usually means that the person’s drinking has gone so far beyond their control that their life has become completely unmanageable. For example, they may have lost their job, become alienated from their family, been arrested, or suffered severe health consequences.
How is Alcohol Use Disorder Medically Diagnosed?
“This exaggerated reward center stimulation by expectation of alcohol may put the [individuals with family history] at greater risk of alcohol use disorder and could be a risk factor in itself.”
~ Dr. Lawrence Kegeles, MD, Ph.D., Columbia University
According to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, AUD has identifiable symptoms. The person may:
- Consume large quantities of alcohol over a long period of time—Lochte’s agent says that the swimmer has had a drinking problem for “many years”.
- Be unable control how much or when they drink—The 2016 incident in Rio de Janeiro incident happened while Lochte was representing the US Olympic Team.
- Suffer alcohol-related health problems—On his reality show, Lochte was filmed showing up for practice while hung-over.
- Engage in dangerous behaviors—The Rio incident is a prime example.
- Unsuccessfully try to cut back or quit—Lochte considered rehab in 2016.
- Elicit concern from friends and family members—Ostrow calls Lochte’s drinking a “destructive pattern”.
- Experience negative consequences—The Rio incident led to a lengthy suspension, terminated endorsements, and a significant loss of income.
- Continue to drink despite those consequences—As bad as 2016 was, Lochte had another public incident just two years later.
Why is Alcohol so Addictive?
“The emerging science shows this is a brain disease. It’s got the same genetic transmutability as a lot of chronic illnesses. And the organ that it affects is the brain, and within the brain it is motivation, inhibition, cognition, all those things that produce the aberrant, unpleasant behaviors that are associated with addiction.”
~Dr. A. Thomas McLellan, Ph.D., former Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
Like all other substances of abuse, alcohol affects the regions of the brain associated with reward, pleasure, learning, memory, motivation, decision-making, and impulse control. And according to a recent study conducted by the University of California San Francisco, the brain is affected from the very first drink.
Whenever a person performs any action necessary for survival, such as eating or sex, the brain releases a surge of dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure. They are rewarded for the behavior. They soon learn to associate the action with the reward and are so motivated to repeat the action.
Alcohol tricks the brain into releasing a dopamine surge that is longer-lasting and faster than more natural behaviors.
In other words, people CHOOSE to drink alcohol because it makes them FEEL GOOD.
However, with repeated use, this artificial overstimulation overtaxes the brain’s reward system, leading to diminished alcohol response. This tolerance means that the person must drink increasing quantities of alcohol to get the same pleasurable effect.
But the biggest problem occurs when the person tries to quit drinking or alcohol is not available. The dopamine disruption means that the person cannot feel normal levels of motivation or pleasure.
And when an alcohol-dependent person is not drinking, they may start experiencing alcohol withdrawal—painful physical and emotional symptoms that can be extremely dangerous. At best, alcohol withdrawal can be so distressing as to possibly push a person back into active drinking. At worst, it can be fatal.
At this point, they have completely lost the power of choice. They HAVE TO drink, to keep from FEELING BAD.
What is the Difference Between a Drinking HABIT and a Drinking PROBLEM?
“So like, I do like to go out, I like to go out, have some drinks with my friends, go dancing. I have another life outside of the sport of swimming…”
~ Ryan Lochte
It is a valid question. For millions of Americans, alcohol is nothing more than a social lubricant that helps them have a good time. So how do you know when a line has been crossed?
For starters, the amount you drink matters.
Per the NIAAA defines risky drinking as:
- Binge drinking 5 or more times during the past month.
- Daily/Weekly drinking
- Men: 5+ drinks/day or 15+ drinks/week
- Women: 4+ drinks/day or 8+ drinks/week
Of special relevance, just 2% of people who drink below those thresholds develop AUD.
Next, the consequences matter.
A habit becomes a problem when it negatively impacts your life.
- Legal difficulties
- Problems at work or school
- Relationship issues
- Health concerns
- Financial woes
Most of all, your ability to control your drinking matters.
If you want to cut back or quit drinking – but CAN’T – then you may have lost control. Have you:
- Promised yourself or someone else that you would stop drinking?
- Drunk more than you meant to?
- Drunk when it was inappropriate or unsafe?
- Driven a car after drinking?
- Missed work or another obligation because of drinking?
- Spent bill money on alcohol?
- Unsuccessfully tried to “limit” your drinking—only on weekends, beer instead of liquor, not when your kids are awake, etc.?
The Different Kinds of Alcoholics
“Alcoholism is an addiction – it’s just one type of addiction. When you break out the specific things that someone who is suffering from alcoholism contends with…they are no different from any other type of addict.”
~ Dr. John Sharp, M.D., faculty member at both Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles
Again, because AUD is a progressive disease that exists on a spectrum, several different alcoholic subtypes have been categorized. This is very important because proper identification allows for individualized treatment plans.
Young Adult Alcoholic Subtype (32% of all alcoholics)
Young adult alcoholics:
- Are typically in their early 20s
- Have a low rate of alcoholism within their family,
- Rarely have other simultaneously-presenting mental illnesses.
- Do not typically seek specialized professional help for their drinking.
Young Antisocial Alcoholic (21%)
Young antisocial alcoholics:
- Are typically in their mid-20s.
- Usually, have a family history of AUD (over 50%).
- Have high rates of co-occurring mental illness—anti-personality disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, etc.
- Seek treatment at a rate of about 1 in 3.
Functional Alcoholic Subtype (20%)
- Are typically middle-aged, well-educated, and possessing of both a stable home life and a good income.
- Often suffer from major depression – approximately one-fourth meet the criteria for a medical diagnosis.
- Have higher rates of AUD within their family—roughly one-third have a close relative who is an alcoholic
Intermediate Familial Alcoholic Subtype (19%)
Intermediate familial alcoholics:
- Are typically middle-aged.
- Are often depressed—50% meet the criteria for a medical diagnosis.
- Have higher rates of obsessive-compulsive or bipolar disorders—approximately 1 in 5.
- Frequently also use marijuana and/or cocaine.
- Seek treatment at a rate of 1 in 4.
Chronic Severe Alcoholic Subtype (9%)
Chronic severe alcoholics:
- Are most often middle-aged.
- Initiated alcohol use during their mid-teens.
- Have extremely high rates of AUD within their family – up to 80% have a close relative who is an alcoholic.
- Consume more alcohol than any other subtype.
- Drink 248 days a year, on average.
- Binge-drink almost 70% of the time.
- Have high rates of comorbid mental illness.
- Divorce at a rate of about 1 in 4.
- Have the highest rate of treatment seeking. 2 out of 3 will get specialized care for their alcohol addiction.
It is important to understand that these categories are not absolute -they represent tendencies. This means a person can show traits from multiple subtypes. It is also possible to change classifications over time.
Substance Abuse Issues within the Family
“An officer stopped him. Lochte was stumbling. They conducted field sobriety exercises and he was charged with a DUI on the scene.”
~ Officer Ben Tobias, Spokesperson for the Gainesville Police Department
Given Ryan Lochte’s apparent struggles, it’s not at all surprising to learn that he has other close family members who have their own substance abuse problems. Again, addiction runs in families.
In 2010, his father, Steven Lochte, was arrested in Florida for Driving Under the Influence. And this seems to be more than merely a case of “a few too many”— Lochte was extremely inebriated. He was swerving all over the road and ran his vehicle up against the curb with such impact that several of the vehicle’s tires were blown.
The official police report describes Mr. Lochte as having a “strong odor of alcohol” and noted that he had “very watery bloodshot eyes and very mumbled and slurred speech.” When he took an on-site breathalyzer test, Lochte blew 0.217—over two-and-a-half times the legal limit.
Then in 2012, Ryan’s younger brother, Devon, was busted for selling two grams of marijuana to a confidential police informant. Devon, then 22, was once also an aspiring swimmer who hoped to one day join Ryan on the Olympic swim team.
Devon was charged with possession and intent to sell. Under Florida law, those are a misdemeanor and a felony, respectively.
These incidents involving Ryan Lochte’s family members helps frame his own problems.
Enabling and Unchecked Vanity
“Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret. Lochte is one of the best swimmers of all time. They had fun. They made a mistake. Life goes on.”
~ Mario Andrada, official spokesperson for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro
There’s a certain amount entitled behavior that is expected with superstar athletes. Because of their accomplishments, they are celebrated everywhere they go and bad behaviors are excused. It’s all-too-easy to get an overly-inflated opinion of one’s self.
32 at the time of the Rio Games and 34 now, could Lochte’s actions really be considered that of a “kid”?
But in some ways, Ryan Lochte’s behavior goes beyond the usual run-of-the-mill vain actions of other sports figures. For better or worse, Lochte became an expert in marketing his favorite product—himself. In every event, he is ALWAYS a topic of conversation.
- His instantly-recognizable hair color.
- His $25,000 diamond-encrusted red, white, and blue grill.
- His fabricated story about the Rio incident that made him out to be both victim and hero.
- His “Listen to Ryan Lochte” and “Google Me” T-shirts.
- His not-at-all penitent endorsement of Pine Bros. cough drops.
- His eponymous TV show, “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?”
And in many ways, the self-promotion worked, because Lochte is worth an estimated $6 million. But in other ways, the ego and enabling and entitlement may be contributing to what resembles another condition—Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Narcissism and AUD
“…it is entirely impossible to try to diagnose someone from afar, but that doesn’t change the fact that what quacks like a duck sometimes is a duck—and there are a lot of self-adoring ducks in the world of sports.”
~ Jeffrey Kluger, “Is Ryan Lochte a Raging Narcissist?”
While there is no publicly-known information about any such diagnosis involving Ryan Lochte, Kluger, who wrote The Narcissist Next Door, thinks there are symptoms that look like apparent-yet-undiagnosed clinical narcissism.
This psychological condition, which affects millions of Americans, cannot be determined by any laboratory test. It can only be diagnosed by a psychological evaluation during which symptoms are identified.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder it is characterized by:
- An over-inflated sense of self-importance
- Extreme self-obsession
- An almost-pathological need to feel approved and admired by others
- A profound sense of entitlement
- A lack of empathy for other people
- Belittling of others
- The tendency to take unfair advantage of other people
- Hidden low self-esteem
- A disregard for authority or rules
This last symptom is evident in Lochte’s behavior right now. Currently, Lochte is serving a 14-month suspension from competitive swimming by the US Anti-Doping Agency for receiving a “prohibited intravenous infusion”.
Of particular relevance to the situation, nearly two-thirds of people with clinical narcissism of use drugs or alcohol. Likewise, 12% of people with addictive disorders also have NPD. Among the general population, the rate is only 6%.
Alcoholism and Stress: The Biological Link
“Alcoholism is a complex disorder with many contributing factors, one of which is stress. By targeting a particular system that’s associated with stress, we can better understand the interaction of alcohol and stress in the brain.”
~ Dr. Maureen Cruz, Ph.D., the Scripps Research Institute
Per a recent study published in Neuron, acute stress alters the brain on a neurological level, causing a person to consume more alcohol.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that specific neurons within the brain’s reward center that regulate moderate drinking are “flipped” after acutely-stressful events. In other words, the brain erroneously incentivizes increased drinking.
It is theorized that the ability of those neurons to turn off and on is an evolved biological trait that helps humans overcome trauma or physical injury.
This dovetails nicely with earlier research conducted by the Scripps Research Institute, which identified a specific “stress peptide”—CRF—as a key factor in the progression from alcohol use to alcohol abuse. CRF is produced in the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with anxiety, alcohol abuse, and withdrawal.
The Scripps study also made a potentially-positive discovery.
Nociceptin, another peptide, does just the opposite. It controls anxiety and alcohol consumption. And the good news is that when both are present, nociceptin completely blocks CRF. Even better, it can reverse the effects even after CRF has had a negative impact.
These findings may potentially lead to advancements in how Alcohol Use Disorder is treated in the future.
These study strongly support the disease concept of addiction, which links problematic substance abuse to many contributing influences – genetics, environment, peer pressure, trauma, personal habits, mental illness… and now, stress.
They also highlight the biological reason why people feel compelled to “self-medicate” with alcohol when they feel overly-stressed. Unfortunately, however, self-medication too often progresses to abuse, tolerance, dependence, and finally, alcoholism. And the chaos of active alcoholism contributes to even greater levels of stress.
Is Ryan Lochte in Denial?
“He’s not in a treatment facility.”
~ Jeff Ostrow
It may come as a surprise to some people that Ryan Lochte hasn’t checked into a residential alcohol rehab program. That in itself isn’t a problem, because according to his agent, Lochte has been evaluated by professionals who don’t think that such a step is necessary.
But there are still reasons for concern.
First, Ostrow is rather noncommittal when asked if Lochte plans to give up alcohol, saying, “Ryan will make that decision.” That response is troubling because the most effective alcohol rehab programs follow an “abstinence-only” approach.
Moderation management—the idea that an alcoholic can learn to control their drinking—is in stark contrast to the accepted the idea that alcoholism is a disease, rather than a personal choice.
In fact, However, a recent study in Sweden concluded that treatment goals – total abstinence vs “controlled” drinking – may be the largest influencer of successful recovery. Among alcohol rehab patients who agreed with their providers:
- 90% of those patients striving for total abstinence remained completely alcohol-free at a 30-month follow-up.
- But just 50% of those patients who tried to control their drinking were successful in at the follow-up.
Dr. Kristina Berglund, an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Gothenburg concluded, “Our study shows that, regardless of agreement on goals and methods, in the end, it is more difficult to stick to controlled drinking than to give it up entirely.”
Next, Ostrow mentions counseling, rather than a structured program, and that is worrisome. Alcoholism is a complicated disease that requires extensive treatment services. Counseling alone usually is insufficient to help someone successfully regain their sobriety.
Outpatient Alcohol Rehab
The good news is that if Ostrow misspoke and Lochte is in fact in an outpatient alcohol rehab program, then he has a better chance of a positive outcome. Although counseling is a part of rehab, there are many other evidence-based strategies to employ.
For example, a premier Intensive Outpatient Program may offer the same services as a residential facility, including:
- Medical supervision
- Individual behavioral counseling
- Peer group therapy
- FDA-approved medication assistance
- Relapse prevention and response planning
- Couples and family education
- Nutritional information
- Treatment for any co-occurring disorder
- Stress reduction techniques
- Healthy coping skills
- Improving communication
- Recognizing and avoiding triggers
- Resolving conflict
- Mindfulness meditation
Here’s the best part—the success rates of inpatient and outpatient alcohol rehab programs are almost identical. What matters most is that the strategies are based on empirical evidence and that treatment is of sufficient length for the lessons and the habits of recovery to take hold. Experts agree that treatment should last a minimum of 90 days.
Learning from Ryan Lochte and his Struggles with Alcoholism
“We often see sports stars as infallible and role models, however, we don’t see what happens behind the scenes and that they are humans like the rest of us. Increased social demands from fans, sporting bodies and clubs can lead to athletes hiding their drug use until the damage is so extensive that it is difficult to rectify”.
~ Dr. Cameron Brown
The biggest lesson is that ANYONE can battle alcoholism and other addictions—even successful people like Ryan Lochte.
After that, the biggest takeaway is that recovery is ALWAYS possible. Ryan Lochte has finally admitted that he has a problem, and that is the first step to getting better. From this point, recovery needs to be his first priority, but with professional specialized treatment and support, he has an excellent chance to regain his sobriety and his balance.
As his agent says, “Ryan knows that conquering this disease now is a must for him to avoid making future poor decisions, to be the best husband and father he can be and if he wants to achieve his goal to return to dominance in the pool in his fifth Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.”