By all appearances, the life of Tiger Woods is somewhere amid a long, painful unraveling that began some seven years ago and has so far claimed his marriage, many millions of his dollars, some of the tissue inside his body, his golf game, and, in the early Monday hours, his clean arrest record.
There is a case to be made that Woods has succumbed, as so many young prodigies do, to the temptations and discombobulation of ego that come along with fame and wealth. Woods made this very case for himself in 2010 when explaining to the public why he couldn’t stop cheating on his wife.
“I felt I was entitled,” Woods said. “I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules. I brought this shame on myself.”
Woods checked into rehab for sex addiction after all that. And it could be that Woods’ arrest Monday represents a continuation of that same self-destructive behavior, transferred from one dopamine-releasing activity (sex) to another (prescription drugs). Or it could be that Woods was telling the truth when he said he had an unexpected reaction to the medications he takes for his various injuries and, despite whatever other problems he might be facing, is not abusing any substances.
But unless you know Tiger Woods, or have some expertise in addiction medicine, you’re not qualified to diagnose him with a drug addiction.
Ostensibly done out of concern for Woods, statements like these accomplish little beyond signaling their author’s nobility and virtue to whoever might be reading.
Yet armchair-diagnosing someone with a drug addiction, absent much evidence, isn’t virtuous at all, no matter how feathered the verbiage. It’s the sort of thing you expect to see on Real Housewives, except at least on there the accused has a chance to splash a glass of pinot grigio off the face of the accuser.
Woods made a reckless choice to drive under the influence of a cocktail of medications that, according to the police report, made him confused, disoriented, drowsy, and unable even to complete the battery of field sobriety tests to which he was subjected. Officers found him asleep at the wheel of his running car, which had damage to its wheels and some of its body panels. This all was without the aid of alcohol, which wasn’t found in his system. Rather, Woods said he had taken Vicodin, an addictive opioid painkiller, mixed with Torix, an anti-inflammatory medication, and “Soloxex,” which the Drug Enforcement Agency told Fox Business it can’t even identify. He also said he had a prescription for (but was not using) Vioxx, which hasn’t been on the market in the United States since 2004.
What Woods did was dangerous and illegal, and he’s deserving of the criticism he’s received. But for the sake of fairness and dignity, it has to be said that people who are not addicted to drugs or alcohol frequently do things that are dangerous and illegal, especially when they are using drugs or alcohol. Getting behind the wheel is unfortunately one of the most common of those choices, but it isn’t, in and of itself, proof of an addiction.
Woods has had a rough decade so far. His reputation cratered when his affairs were exposed, and his body, frontal hair follicles, and golf game weren’t too far behind. Now this. What he hasn’t had, as far as anybody in the general public can tell, is a series of incidents indicating he has an abusive relationship with drugs. If Woods did simply replace sex with drugs, he wouldn’t be the first addict to switch poisons before hitting rock bottom.
But none of us is in a position to say that’s the case. Doing so is a signal of something, but it isn’t virtue.