An Alcoholic Chases the Stanley Cup!

Can the best performer in a field for an extended period be called an addict?

Posted Jun 04, 2018

The website “Ranker” created the list, “Athletes who are drunks.” The first name is Alexander Ovechkin: “NHL player Alexander Ovechkin has been photographed drunk in public on numerous occasions.”

Ovechkin, who is Russian, is regarded as perhaps the greatest hockey player in the world. He is captain of the Washington Capitals, for whom he has played his entire 12-year career in the National Hockey League (NHL). The Capitals are in the finals for professional hockey’s championship Stanley Cup.

Can someone at the very top of his or her profession over an extended period be termed an alcoholic or an addict? The term “functioning alcoholic” was coined to identify supposed alcoholics who maintain their jobs and families. But is it possible for an alcoholic to excel at an extremely physically demanding sport for a dozen years?

A cottage industry has developed to identify extremely successful people who are alcoholics.  Perhaps its premier example is Winston Churchill, who guided Britain through World War II, was a leading politician for 60 years an excellent painter, noted journalist, soldier, and historian. He lived to be over 90, had an exceptional marriage for nearly 60 years (his wife Clementine died the same year as he), and raised five children.

Meanwhile, in An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine, medical historian Howard Markel reports that Freud, the father of modern psychology, and Halsted, the founder of modern surgery, led lives addicted to cocaine. Although Freud quit, Markel reckons that his long distinguished career was marred by delusional cocaine flashbacks.

Freud, after escaping Nazism, was productive until his death at 83. He was married to Martha Bernays his whole life and had six children.

Halsted, Markel reckons, never quit cocaine–along with morphine–over his remarkable career (among the surgical practices he pioneered were aseptic technique and anesthesia).  

The psychiatric manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) requires of anyone who is diagnosed with any disorder demonstrate that he or she be impaired.

Can Ovechkin, Churchill, Freud, and Halsted be considered impaired?