Sam McDowell, a six-time All-Star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates seemed like he had a bright future as a professional baseball player. But underneath the glamour was an alcoholic in denial.  Recently, he sat down with Jodi Tarantino, LICSW and host of Airing Addiction to talk about his journey to sobriety.

“My life was typical, as any alcoholic goes through. I did have the alcoholic personality – OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and I was a narcissist,” he regaled. McDowell recalled that his OCD was the result of wanting attention from his peers, as was his habit to always go against the grain. When his peers thought it was cool to skip school, he had perfect attendance. When everyone was smoking cigarettes at age 16, he never touched one. Throughout his amateur baseball career, when his teammates were drinking heavily, he never picked up a drink.

“After the games, we’d go hide behind a clubhouse and they would drink and I never did. But I didn’t do it to be healthy, I did it to be different,” McDowell recalls. “That was my entire life, doing everything I could to get attention.”

It wasn’t until the major leagues that he picked up his first drink. In baseball, players need to earn their teammates’ acceptance and one day after winning a game against the Chicago White Sox, two team vets asked McDowell out for a drink.

“The first time I drank, I got drunk. I was up and running from that point on,” he explained on air. However, despite his excessive drinking habits, McDowell never considered that he was exhibiting the behaviors of an alcoholic. In fact, he thought his drinking was under control because he was “a periodic drunk.” He never got drunk every night or before the games. It was only after the games, where he would drink for three days straight and then stop.

High-functioning alcoholism is a common occurrence among career-oriented people, particularly athletes and other high-profile professionals, such as lawyers. The disease allows people to drink excessively, but continue their lives as if they weren’t under the influence. Many people do not even realize that someone with whom they work on a daily basis is constantly drunk.

Soon, the general manager of his team stepped up and let McDowell know that if he didn’t quit drinking, he was going to be fined. His teams tried sending him to see a psychiatrist and since alcoholism wasn’t as widely understood as it is today, doctors continued to prescribe him pills for depression, and eventually McDowell was going back to the doctors for more pills.

His alcoholism progressed and soon, he was thrown out of baseball.

To hear the rest of McDowell’s story and how he’s moved on to helping other athletes, listen below and subscribe to Airing Addiction on SoundCloud and iTunes.

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