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Wrestling Legend Ric Flair Opens Up About Alcoholism

Wrestling Legend Ric Flair Opens Up About Alcoholism

Recently, Pro Wrestling legend Ric Flair experienced a severe health emergency. But what you may not know is his problems were caused by years of heavy drinking. Now recovering, the 68-year-old “Nature Boy” is talking about his past boozing, saying, “I’ll never drink again. I never want to go through this again.” Let’s take a look at Ric Flair’s self-admitted drinking habits and see how they might relate to anyone.

Binge-Drinking: “It Was Just a Way of Life”

“But as soon as work was over, I went right to the mill.” ~ RF Like many other Americans, Flair regularly engaged in what is now known as binge-drinking – consuming large amounts of alcohol in a single setting. He estimates that he would have up to “20 drinks a day”. He never thought anything of it – it was all part of the ultra-masculine world of professional wrestling. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration gives a specific definition of binge-drinking:

  • Having 5 or more alcoholic drinks within a two-hour period (4 for women)

Ric Flair was WAY past that. In fact, his daily consumption was beyond the weekly limits of what is considered problematic heavy drinking. Flair says, “…it was just a way of life.

What’s the Problem with Binge-Drinking?

It’s a fact that I kept myself up all night and always had a good time.” ~ RF The vast majority of American adults—nearly 87%–have tried alcohol, and more than 1 in 4 have engaged in binge-drinking within the last month. Because drinking is such an acceptable social behavior, you might be tempted to wonder what the big deal is about Ric Flair’s once-wild lifestyle. The most obvious concern is the fact that binge-drinking leads to alcoholism. Neurochemical changes occur within the brain that make the person more susceptible to cravings for ever-increasing amounts of alcohol. These changes start happening with the very first drink But more than anything else, Flair’s recent medical problems highlight the serious damage that chronic excessive drinking does to your health. When he was placed in a medically-induced coma, Flair was given a 20% chance of survival. After he was admitted to the hospital, Flair’s fiancée, Wendy Barlow, updated concerned fans on Facebook, posting, “I took Ric to the hospital Friday night with severe abdominal pain. From that moment on it all seems like a nightmare … multiple organ problems.” The issues included the removal of part of his bowel, kidney failure, congestive heart failure, and the implanting of a pacemaker.

What Kind of Health Problems Are Linked to Alcoholism?

“Through my many years of partying, I also developed something called alcoholic cardiomyopathy, a weakening of heart muscles. I first detected that there was something wrong when my heart began skipping beats… Initially, I thought that steroids might be responsible, but the doctor dismissed this theory. My heart was fluttering from thirty-five years of hitting it hard.” ~ Ric Flair: To Be the Man According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 200 diseases and conditions linked to excessive drinking, including:

  • Cancer, especially of the:
    • Mouth
    • Larynx
    • Pharynx
    • Esophagus
    • Liver
    • Colon
    • Rectum
    • Breast
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Hypertensive Heart Disease
  • Ischemic Stroke
  • Hemorrhagic Stroke
  • Nervous System Deterioration
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Gastritis
  • Fatty Liver
  • Cirrhosis, Fibrosis, or Sclerosis of the Liver
  • Hepatitis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • PTSD
  • “Wet Brain” Syndrome
  • …and many, many others

While many of these conditions are tied to long-term heavy drinking, that’s not always the case. For example, even “moderate” drinking significantly increases the risk of breast cancer among women—up to 7% more risk per daily drink.

Denial Contributes to Continued Alcohol Addiction

“I didn’t think I was an alcoholic, but obviously I was.” ~ Ric Flair For Ric Flair, denial was the mindset that kept his addiction alive– as long as he didn’t have to acknowledge he was an alcoholic, he didn’t have to deal with it. There’s a reason why admitting that a problem exists is the First Step of Recovery. And, because alcoholism is a progressive disease, it continues to get worse – until the consequences are undeniable.

Functional Alcoholism: Hiding in Plain Sight

I never drank when I was working.” ~ RF Like a lot of with an addictive disorder, Ric Flair was able to maintain his self-delusion that he didn’t have a drinking problem because, in his mind, he didn’t fit the “stereotype” of an alcoholic – dirty, homeless, confused, and perpetually drunk. After all, wasn’t he one of the superstar main attractions in one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the world? He just COULDN’T be an alcoholic, right? Unfortunately, when it comes to alcohol addiction, being a success doesn’t matter. 75% of people who abuse alcohol or drugs have a job. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that there are over 3 million functional alcoholics in America right now. In spite of his wealth, the recognition within the world of wrestling, and the adoration of millions of fans, Ric Flair had a disease that was taking a huge toll on his life.×400.jpg

Drinking to Alleviate Pain

“I’ve never taken a pain pill in my life. I’d just take a shower, flip my hair back and go to the best bar in town.” ~ RF Pro wrestling is an EXTREMELY physically-demanding activity—part sport/part entertainment. But while the characters are exaggerated, the storylines scripted, the matches choreographed, and the outcomes predetermined, the injuries suffered are very real. As retired wrestler Diamond Dallas Page once said, “You can’t fake gravity.” Worse, there is little to no time to physically recover. Touring wrestlers may be on the road more than 300 nights a year. Reflecting on his nearly-40-year career, Flair says, “When I started in the business in 1972, we drove 3,000 miles a week, we drank beer on the road … threw cans out the windows and all the stuff…” This why many wrestlers have substance abuse problems, because they are attempting to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to ease the pain of their injuries and to alleviate the boredom and loneliness of the road. Self-medicating with alcohol is actually a pretty common practice outside the wrestling world, as well. According to researchers at Boston University:

  • 38% of study participants engaged in ANY heavy drinking within the past three months were self-medicating chronic pain.
  • 79% of participants who were “high-risk” drinkers used alcohol to treat their pain.

Alcoholism Is Just Like Any Other Addiction

“My vice was drinking. I didn’t have any pain issues, addiction problems, marijuana, cocaine, nothing like that.” ~ RF Another way that Ric Flair and the millions of other alcoholics like him rationalize their behavior is by comparing it to drug addiction. “I just drink. At least I don’t pop pills…smoke pot…use drugs…” They are missing the point. Alcoholics are just like drug addicts—both suffer from disorders that disrupt the reward circuitry in their brains, thereby reinforcing substance use as a positive behavior worthy of repeating. In other words, a drug-or-alcohol-addicted person is taught by their brains to STAY addicted. The American Society of Addiction Medicine lists the “ABCDE” symptoms of a Substance Abuse Disorder:

  • An Inability to Consistently Abstain
  • Impaired Behavioral Control
  • Increased Alcohol and/or Drug Craving
  • Diminished Capability to Recognize Problems Caused by Substance Use
  • Dysfunctional Emotional Response

A person with an SUD usually will not seek treatment for their disorder unless they are compelled to— by the Court, their family, or, as is in the case of Ric Flair, their health. Dr. Reef Karim, the host of Discovery Life Channel’s Broken Minds, says, “What’s the difference between alcohol and addiction? WORDS…”

What Can We Learn from Ric Flair’s Alcoholism and Health Problems?

“I crashed in an airplane and broke my back, I’ve been hit by lightning. But this is totally different. Anything I’ve been through before is nothing like this.” ~ RF The first takeaway from Ric Flair’s recent medical emergency should be a sobering realization of the damage havoc that unchecked alcoholism can wreak on a person’s health. And get this—Flair is lucky—he survived. The next lesson is that addictive disorders can happen to ANYONE – even “successful” people. A person can still struggle internally, even if they are high achievers on the outside. But the most important thing to remember is that it is NEVER TOO LATE to get help for alcoholism, with treatment for alcoholism, or drug addiction. If Ric Flair can make the decision to turn his life around, anyone can. There are reports that he may turn to motivational speaking to help others with similar problems. As his fiancée says, “We shall see who Ric Flair is without the drink. He will always be that man who cares.”