Boxing champion Oscar de la Hoya has 10 world titles and one Olympic gold medal to his name but says you could put all of the opponents in the ring at one time and it wouldn’t be as challenging as his fight against alcohol and drugs. He even revealed in an interview with the Spanish-language network Univision, that he has contemplated suicide. “This is the biggest fight of my life,” de la Hoya said. “I could put all my opponents in one ring and battle all of them, but this monster is going to be the toughest fight of my life.”
Dr. Jason Hershberger, a psychiatrist at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., said de la Hoya’s struggles could be linked to his public profile inside and outside the boxing ring. “Being famous and in the public spotlight is a pressure,” Hershberger said. “Often what happens in depression is there’s a feeling you’re not meeting the expectations of people around you. And fame can just heighten those feelings.”
Alternatively, Hershberger said success might make it easier for some famous people to deny that they have a problem regarding depression or substance abuse.
De la Hoya said he used alcohol and drugs as an escape route from the pressures of his life. “They took me to a place where I felt safe,” he said.
Depression and substance abuse “are two horses that often run together,” Hershberger said. “Tough men in America are often reluctant to get help for depression, even desperate depression that can lead to suicide. So they often self-medicate and do things to feel better,” such partaking in alcohol or drugs.
But the irony of that connection is that substance abuse can make depression worse by creating an imbalance in the brain’s chemistry — specifically in the neurotransmitters that send information from one cell to another. For example cocaine causes the brain to stop recycling dopamine, locking it out into the synaptic cleft. When that initially happens extreme euphoria and sexuality spikes (especially in men for which dopamine is a precursor to erections). This would not necessarily be a bad thing were cocaine not so physically addictive. Most of the common antidepressants like St. John’s Wort and Prozac work in the same manner, albeit with the serotonin, and are not addictive. de la Hoya’s other addiction, alcohol, causes his brain to download GABA a relaxing feel-good neurotransmitter. Alcohol also happens to be a central nervous system depressant that slowly poisons the body via acetaldehyde, the cause of hangovers. Acetaldehyde also binds to proteins to form adducts that are linked to organ disease. Prolonged exposure to acetaldehyde is a significant organ irritant and probable carcinogen.
De la Hoya is undergoing depression treatment and has joined Alcoholics Anonymous.