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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Michael Phelps has a problem

Just saw an article reporting that Michael Phelps was arrested Monday night for DUI. He had been arrested for DUI once before, back in 2004.

Phelps was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a 9-year-old, and his success in swimming has often been framed as an inspirational victory over his ADHD. But really, his swimming didn't overcome his ADHD so much as just channel it. He expended all that extra energy in the pool, and, since he was built freakishly well for swimming and was a ferocious competitor, he became a champion.

But ADHD is not something that just leaves you when you win a bunch of medals. It's always going to be a part of you. So Phelps, when he is not swimming, is not the type to be able to just curl up with a good book and feel content. He's too easily bored, and by nature restless. He needs more active distractions, like poker, or golf, or women.

Or drinking.

The circumstances of this recent DUI were onerous. It happened on a Monday night, not a normal party night. (You'd think it would be a training day for him, meaning that he should be getting his sleep). He tested at roughly twice the legal limit. It happened at 1:40 AM, which means that when he starts drinking, he has a hard time just stopping. The worst part was that he was going 84 mph in a 45 mph zone, which means he can't handle his drinking: it either makes him feel invulnerable, or makes him sloppy. Either way, he becomes dangerous.

Granted, he's 29 and not a kid anymore. After all those years of being disciplined anybody would want to cut loose, especially if you're feted wherever you go. (He did seem to do a lot of partying in Las Vegas and elsewhere after Beijing.) And it's not as if he has anything left to prove in his chosen sport. But, partying doesn't have to mean getting out of control.

Sometimes I think that certain celebrities would be better off if they were less secure financially. If you know you have to report to work at 9 the next morning, you'd be less inclined to get drunk on a Monday night.

Sooner or later, we're going to hear about Phelps entering rehab.

In the meantime, the best thing Phelps can do is stick with competitive swimming, which will at least keep him on a somewhat straight and narrow path.

In fact, he'd be better off expanding his current repertoire to the 200 fly, which would require more training -- and sleep -- than he is currently getting.

Addendum, 10/5/14. It was sooner, not later. Phelps just announced he's entering rehab, although he didn't specify what sort of facility.


Anonymous said...

He probably has a problem. If he got busted twice already for drunk driving, he probably has driven drunk hundreds of times.

I got busted once , 2 days after turning 18 ....was probably fortunate I was caught before going to college. This was in 1987, and only drank and drove twice since that time.

I still have nightmares of being arrested for Drunk driving. Did pre-trial intervention,They gave me 5 years probation and took away my license for 3 months. Spent the night in jail because I did not want to call my parents, didn't want them to know...but it was soon in all the newspapers ....was very embarrassing but taught me a good lesson.

John Craig said...

Anon --
You're right on all counts. You got the full treatment, but it does seem to have taught you a lesson. Phelps had the same thing happen when he was a year older than you, and he had it reported nationally, but it didn't seem to have taught him anything.

I drove drunk, or at least after a few drinks, a couple times when I was young. (Back then DUI wasn't taken as seriously as it is now.) But it was only once or twice (I've never been much of a drinker), and what I remember was that I drove extra carefully, to the point of actually possibly being a better driver than when I was sober.

One of the things this incident has made me wonder about is how sloppy Phelps is: if you're drunk, you should take extra care when driving, not only because you don't want to cause any harm but because you don't want to get caught. So what does Phelps do? He drives 84 mph in a 45 mph zone. That's just begging to be caught. What was he thinking? Was he thinking at all?

ArthurinCali said...

Maybe he heard about the Ebola patient in Dallas and wanted to go out with a bang.

Pavonine99 said...

Is'nt it an oversimplification to attribute Phelp's every bad decision to his ADHD? Granted, I'm sure it's a factor, but there are plenty of people without ADHD who act like him, and plenty with it who don't. Neurobiology is fascinating, but people seem to think that it holds all the answers to everyone's behavior. No one ever says they feel "unhappy" anymore, they say they're "depressed". Survivors aren't "traumatized", they have "PTSD". People do all kinds of bizarre things, but they aren't ever completely attributable to disorders.

Anonymous said...

John, have you seen any connection between sociopathy and ADHD? Not that Phelps seems to be a sociopath, but is it true that people w/ADHD tend to be less able to empathize? I don't know about the consistency in folks with ADHD lack of remorse for hurting others, but I do recall a passage in "Making a Good Brain Great" (Daniel Amen) regarding a husband who induced heart palpitations in his wife because he liked to jump out and "scare" her.

Martha Stout talks about "early emotional frustration, caused by lack of mutual bonding during mother and child" and secondary to conditions such as premature delivery, low birth weight, and maternal substance abuse.

John Craig said...

Pavonine --
Good point. You're right, people are more than just their syndromes, and attributing everything to the syndrome IS an oversimplification. I was just making the point that Phelps has NOT overcome his ADHD, which, if you follow swimming closely, is what the press makes it sound like when they talk about his success. You'd think he'd somehow found a way to conquer it through swimming, which he hasn't. And if you look at the stuff he likes to do in his spare time, it all exudes ADHD.

John Craig said...

Anon --
No, I've never noticed that correlation. I'm not saying it couldn't exist, but I've never noticed it.

I've definitely noticed a very strong correlation between lack of maternal bonding and sociopathy, as well as maternal substance abuse and sociopathy. In fact, I'd say the former is the primary determinant of sociopathy, and the latter, which is often correlated with the former, is an extremely strong indicator.

I hadn't realized low birth weight and premature delivery were correlated, either, other than their being possible functions of matronal substance abuse.

Pavonine99 said...

You're right, it's dishonest to imply that Phelps "overcame" ADHD, especially since it may have actually helped him in his chosen career.

(To anon above)
ADHD corresponds to a number of things, sociopathy included, but if someone just has ADHD, they should have normal empathy, although they may have emotional problems (and in some cases personality disorders, if raised in bad environments) due to their more reactive temperments. That might make it seem that they lack empathy when in reality it's more likely that they just haven't considered the consequences of their actions.