Josh Hamilton: Recognizing the Disease of Addiction

josh hamilton relapse

Just this month, Major League Baseball luminary, Josh Hamilton, returned to his home field with the Texas Rangers after recovering from both a shoulder injury and an unexpected drug relapse. 

Hamilton has been of great focus in the press since his baseball career took flight in 1999—when he was selected as the No. 1 overall draft pick by the then-Devil Rays. Four years into his stardom, Hamilton (who had never touched drugs or alcohol in high school) spiraled into the dark realm of addiction, and was banned from baseball from 2003 to 2005 for his abuse of alcohol and crack cocaine. The professional baseball player resurfaced into the major leagues after several stints in drug rehab, and emerged as a five-time all-star player for the Rangers.

There was great buzz about Hamilton’s comeback after 2007—not because of his drug abuse problem, but because of his multiple trips to the World Series and his title as MVP. He became a great success story for those battling addiction. He was open about his drug problem, about how he came crashing down, and about his ability to find hope through it all. But his mission was, in a way, overshadowed by his success. No one recognized his fragility as an individual in recovery, not even the Angels when they signed him to a $125-million contract. They failed to see that Hamilton, just as all addicts, was still at a risk for relapse when they continued to push his career (and the coinciding pressures that came alongside it).

Hamilton’s time with the Angels was largely a disappointment.  Numerous injuries led to an extended absences, and when he did play, his stats ranked “average”. The stresses to be the all-star he once was became overwhelming. He became a disappointment to many figures in the league. And then there was this:

This past February, Hamilton admitted to a cocaine binge during his time off. For his fans, his team, and the media, it came as a major surprise when he self-reported his recent drug abuse to MLB officials. It was as though the world forgot about his past, and disregarded the fact that he was being drug-tested three times a week in order to keep playing the game he loves. They seemed to forget that a strong athlete can still have weaknesses, and that addiction could again get the best of him. Fans believed he “threw away” his entire career for drugs. Officials saw him as disloyal, and his team “braced for the possible penalties.” Articles across the board wrote of Hamilton’s awaiting “punishment”—how long of a suspension, how big a fine.

Everyone saw his story through the lens of baseball. His addiction story was left to the wayside, a story that could touch thousands of recovering individuals today. His struggle could teach a lesson, if only someone would project it. In truth, Josh Hamilton’s relapse isn’t about baseball; it’s about the power of addiction and the fight that afflicted individuals undergo to keep it off.

"It's like someone who is missing a limb — it's not there anymore, but every once in a while you feel like you have an itch,” Hamilton explained to The Los Angeles Times of his urge to drink, "The thing is, you can’t scratch it."

In April, the League declared that Josh Hamilton would not be suspended from playing. They ruled that his most recent relapse did not violate his treatment program, and he could again play with the Texas Rangers. Now the media is booming.  This drug-using, mediocre player is getting paid like a superstar and getting away with substance abuse, as though his addiction is a choice.

While it takes one choice to initiate drug use, substance addiction is a disease, and can be chronic for those who do not receive proper drug treatment. Josh Hamilton, a storied baseball player, is still human and many would rather see his career take off than see his health improve.

As he returns to the field this month, newspapers are concentrating on whether or not Hamilton is truly ready to play again—not health-wise, but game-wise. The media’s attention is on his performance and capabilities after being off field for so many months. They believe he will not be the player he used to, because of his injury, and that his performance will only replicate his dissatisfying time with the Angels. Bleacher Report writes that “So little is expected [of Hamilton] that if he becomes an off-the-field problem again, sheering ties with him will be simple and relatively inexpensive, if there happens to be any cost at all.”

The cost of relapse could be great for Hamilton, says a long-time friend, Roy Silver. "He has never handled expectations well,'' Silver expressed in an interview with USA Today. “If he's still dealing with all of these mental and emotional challenges, it's not going to work.''

Drug treatment is essential in abstinence and true recovery because it addresses all aspects of addiction. Treatment programs are not just detox programs, they teach an individual how to cope with withdrawal, with relapse triggers, and use life-skills to make better choices for the future.

Unfortunately, there are ramifications if an MLB player chooses to enter a drug treatment program. Baseball’s joint drug agreement states that players can only retain their full salary for the first 30 days of an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. Between days 31-60, they are eligible to receive half of their salary. Any days in retention following, their salary is forfeited.

If we can take anything away from Josh Hamilton’s relapse, it is that certain policies and perspectives on substance abuse need to be readdressed, to reduce the stigma of addiction. No one, celebrity, neighbor, or loved one, should be punished for an addiction. They should not be “kicked out” or pushed away. Rather, they need support from their biggest fans-- From you.

Call Turnbridge at 1-877-581-1793 today for more information on our inpatient drug treatment program for young men.