Substance Abuse Counselor Weighs in on Michael Phelps DUI


After Michael Phelps was arrested last week, I asked Brian Davis of Directions Counseling, one of Columbus's most respected substance abuse professionals, to chime in. I sent Brian a NYT Op/Ed piece and here is his response:

Brad, I think this NYT article is a pretty good. As you know, so much of people's substance use in their 20's is a chapter in their developmental psychology. Phelps may look like a completely different person (for the better) in 5-10 years even without one minute of professional treatment. That being said, his current DUI details are pretty ugly – lucky someone didn't die – should be feeling some big consequences like this. I hope the 6 weeks treatment are in a context where he can look at who he is without all the fame and success. I tend to agree with the author here. But that is just a drop in the bucket if much of this is about his personal development and discovery… matter how you slice it I think it will take a lot longer than 6 weeks for him to figure out who he is.

Another way I reflect on it is this – if he has compulsive use of alcohol (or other) the therapy/ treatment should spend quite a bit of time on that and how he can sober up AND how he can grow up. But it could very well be that he doesn't have a predisposal to addiction, in which case if he was my client we would probably talk about substance use less than 20% of our time together. Sadly, if it is true that this is more about his development than about an addiction, his 6 weeks in treatment could largely miss the whole point unless he is in a treatment center with a wider lens than "substance rehab". Ironically then, if he doesn't treat the bigger non-substance issues, continued abuse of alcohol, etc. could be ongoing themes in the chapters he is writing for his 30s, and beyond. Hope not!

A final caveat to my opinion is that we are discussing this at arm's length, not really knowing what all lies underneath Phelps's behavior. While we can talk about it in a general sense it really is impossible to make specific clinical judgments based on snippets from the media. There is just no substitute for interviewing and getting to know a client's detailed history first, then making life-improvement or therapeutic plans around who they really are.