Depression, Addiction a One-Two Punch for Oscar de la Hoya

Report by ABC News Medical Unit’s Carrie Gann:

Boxing champion Oscar de la Hoya has 10 world titles and one Olympic gold medal to his name. But  this week  he said he’s fighting his toughest opponents yet: depression and addiction.

In an interview with the Spanish-language network Univision, de la Hoya, 38, revealed his recent struggles with alcohol and cocaine addiction, amitting he had even 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. De la Toya is undergoing treatment and said he had joined Alcoholics Anonymous.

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. 

Hershberger said that while de la Hoya’s problems could be exacerbated by his place in the spotlight, “depression doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t seem to matter who you are.”