Professional athletes admitted to a rehabilitation center for drug or alcohol abuse go through a steady schedule of counseling and self-examination while being treated, according to the director of one of the nation's highly regarded clinics.
"The treatment process is a look at yourself," says Pat Mellody, executive director of The Meadows, a drug rehabilitation center in Wickenburg, Ariz., who added that athletes are treated no differently than less-famous patients.
"We look at chemical dependency as a generic thing. There are different symptoms. Heavy cocaine users, for example, become reclusive or paranoid. Alcoholics are (paranoid) to some extent, but not as much."
The Meadows has treated many professional athletes, such as the St. Louis Cardinals' Darrell Porter and reliever Steve Howe, starter Bob Welch and outfielder Ken Landreaux of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Welch, a reformed alcoholic who has written a book about his past difficulties, remembers of the Meadows' program, "The toughest thing there was waking up every morning."
Mellody said The Meadows' program, which is open-ended and involves five weeks of in-patient care on the average, begins with a routine physical, followed by psychological testing. "All of this is a screening process to see if the problem is more than chemical dependence, or to see if (the individual) is suitable for treatment at all," Mellody said.
Once admitted, Mellody said, "(Patients) start getting into group therapy; this lasts for about three hours a day. They start to talk about 'What I'm really like.' The big fear is, 'Do people really know me?' There is a lot of self-hate in chemical dependency.
"The morning of every day is spent with a family counselor, talking about growing up in dysfunctional families . . . Around the third or fourth week (of treatment), we bring in a patient's family. We believe that this is a family disease and that everyone in the family is adversely affected. We believe if there is an addict in this generation than there probably was in the last generation, too. We try to break that cycle."
Mellody said negative-reinforcement treatment is not used at The Meadows. There is further individual counseling: "That's where we try to get the patient involved in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or Narcotics Anonymous.
"The thing that exacerbates the (professional athletes') problem is their rapid rise from, say, a middle-class background to what seems to them to be immense affluence. Now, they can afford anything in the world they want," Mellody said.
After sitting in on sessions with troubled professional athletes, Mellody said, "With all of the glamor in sports, I thought their lives would be much more exciting. These (players) talked about all of the free time, sitting in hotels, airplanes or terminals. There is a lot of boredom in spring training in baseball . . . So they turn to things that might make them feel better . . . If I'm alone and I'm bored, I've found a friend in drugs--and that's what it is, a type of love or trusting friendship."