Tiger Woods vs Brittany Horschel: Facing addiction

Mar 20, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Portrait of Tiger Woods. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Portrait of Tiger Woods. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports /

Tiger Woods and Brittany and Billy Horschel have faced the problem of addiction. The Horschels are talking about the process they went through openly and honestly.

Tiger Woods and Brittany Horschel have put prescription drug abuse and alcoholism into the golf world’s conversation in the past month. These are never comfortable topics, not for the family dinner table, not for the HR office, and certainly not for the sports press. Yet Tiger and Brittany have made it impossible for us to sidestep these addiction conversations.

First, the facts. By the latest estimates, about 15 million Americans abuse prescription drugs and about the same number abuse alcohol. (I’m not going to venture into the technical psychopharmacological distinction between abuse and addiction.) That’s between five and fifteen percent of the American population, depending on a lot of technical variables that are not worth digging into here, but in raw numbers, we’re talking about a lot of people.

Tiger Woods – where did it all begin?

Just to recap Tiger’s situation: In the early morning hours of Memorial Day Tiger Woods was arrested by Jupiter, Florida police and charged with DUI. As the story unfolded over subsequent days, Tiger issued a series of statements apologizing for the incident, stating that alcohol was not involved and, finally, admitting that his impaired condition was the result of an unanticipated prescription medication interaction. But that’s not where Tiger’s story of addiction started.

It didn’t start with the 4th of his back surgeries earlier this year. It didn’t start with his efforts to manage chronic pain. It didn’t start with his propensity to push his body beyond normal limits in order to achieve what most of us regarded as impossible athletic achievements.

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It didn’t even start back in 2009 when he crashed his Escalade in a domestic drama that included confrontations about his infidelities and Elin’s fury-fueled attack against Tiger and the Escalade with a golf club, although that’s when the golf world first sniffed the aroma of addiction in the air around Tiger Woods. Following that very public unraveling of his private life Tiger secluded himself in a sex addiction treatment facility.

The golf world waited and then welcomed him back to the game. What we would not learn until very recently is that in the following year, 2010, Tiger checked into treatment again, this time for an addiction to Vicodin and Ambien.  (For the uninitiated, Vicodin is a narcotic commonly used to treat chronic pain and Ambien is a popular medication frequently used to treat insomnia.)

The moment last May when Tiger’s addiction came to public light has been a long time in the making and while Tiger is again receiving treatment for his problem, the end of his addiction story has yet to be told or written. In reality, both the beginning and the ending of any individual story of addiction and recovery is open-ended because the only sure cure is abstinence.

Brittany Horschel – how did it all begin?

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Which brings me to Brittany Horschel and her surprising public announcement of her struggle with alcoholism. Husband Billy, who had just won the AT&T Byron Nelson didn’t know she was going public, although he’s been deeply involved in supporting Brittany through treatment and into her recovery.

The Horschels are as insightful when they talk about Brittany’s alcoholism and the impact it has on their family life as they were photogenic during the 2016 Masters Par 3 contest, when they were already dealing, as a family, with Brittany’s alcoholism. But then, addiction isn’t a condition that’s immediately apparent. Only a small percentage of alcoholics and drug addicts sleep under bridges and in homeless shelters.

As she explains in the Horschel’s Golfworld podcast, Brittany struggled with the impossible challenge of trying to be perfect:

"Trying to be the perfect wife. Molding myself into those categories and never finding happiness. I just slowly started losing myself. I got into a bad depression and that led to a lot of drinking and a lot of alone time. It was just a really sad, scary time, and all the while my life looks like it’s a party every day and it’s awesome. So it was a lot of hiding."

And Billy Horschel, 2014 winner of the FedEx Cup, was left to manage their family and his career when Brittany checked into treatment.  As Billy explains, success didn’t keep the Horschel family safe from the vagaries of addiction.

"Obviously we’ve been very successful and we have all this money. But money doesn’t solve problems. Money doesn’t buy happiness."

Billy and Brittany Horschel are brave to open up their private life and share with us not only the struggle but also the joy they’ve both gained through Brittany’s recovery. We owe them a debt of gratitude for putting a public face on what is far too often a dirty little secret.

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And this is the fundamental difference between Tiger Woods and Brittany Horschel. Tiger continues to try to keep his struggle secret. If you’re worried that you or someone you love may be struggling privately with addiction, check these signs and symptoms. If you’re looking for help with addiction, this NIH site is a good starting point.