Both the baseball community and the addiction industry were impacted earlier this week when New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia announced only a few days before the post-season that he would begin seeking treatment for alcoholism. While the surprising element of Sabathia’s announcement has been most focused on, industry experts say leaders should be looking at how prevention, the treatment of high-profile patients, and sobriety maintenance can be collectively improved upon.
Joe Schrank, an interventionist who runs a Brooklyn sober living facility called The Williamsburg House, says that most likely without knowing it, Sabathia did a tremendous amount to help encourage others struggling with substance abuse to come forward.
“He is powerful enough to have said ‘elbow assessment’ and nobody would have been the wiser, but CC practiced recovery tenets: he owned his behavior, was honest and forthcoming, and asked for help,” says Schrank. “His celebrity status showed [others that] vulnerability and accepting help are nothing of which to be ashamed.”
Former baseball star Darryl Strawberry, who has battled his own problems with alcohol and drug addiction, weighed in this week to applaud Sabathia's decision. “I don’t even care about baseball; this is about his life,” Strawberry said to the NY Daily News. "I am very proud of him for taking that first step. It’s not easy.”
While having the courage to speak up and reach out for help can save lives, there’s still a great deal of stigma surrounding substance abuse. When it comes to prevention, Schrank says addiction professionals need to provide more screenings before a crisis hits and engagement after traditional treatment has stopped.
“People in remission from cancer have a maintenance level of care for a minimum of five years,” he says. “Addiction is a chronic condition that we deal with only in acuity, and this is just simply wrong.”
Treating high-profile clients such as Sabathia can be challenging. Schrank says there are often binary systems in treatment centers where wealthy, famous clients can be assigned tasks of labor to teach them humility. This is not right, he says.
“The truth is, all humans have challenges in life,” Schrank adds. “What CC will need in terms of help, support settings, and the ability to follow a treatment plan may be different, but working within the context of an individual life is key.”