Jon Jones was arrested early Thursday for driving under the influence, and other charges, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he lives and trains. When the news broke, social media predictably erupted. So many gleefully shared the news that the UFC light heavyweight champion was in trouble yet again.
It’s one of the many downsides of celebrity in our culture. As much as we love to build someone up, often inflating them beyond what they are, we really excel at tearing them down once they get into trouble.
I’ve never understood reveling in anyone else’s misfortune.
But what is troubling in this case is that a lot of the heat that Jones is taking is from his peers.
Many of them, like Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz, are in his division and have a vested interest. But it wasn’t just light heavyweights who let loose.
Jones has a list of legal issues and run-ins with the law as long as his left arm, so he’s brought a lot of his problems on himself, but this issue goes beyond that.
Clearly, Jones appears to have an addictive personality and often turns to drugs and/or alcohol in a misguided attempt to find a solution to his problems. Drinking one’s self into oblivion is never the correct answer.
But there he was Thursday, according to Albuquerque police, driving while under the influence and discharging a gun. He also had an open container of alcohol in his car, according to the police report, and didn’t have evidence of insurance.
We don’t know all the facts, and we haven’t heard from Jones or his team yet, but think about this: We are essentially in a nationwide lockdown and he’s supposedly out there in his car driving around while drinking. He allegedly fired a gun in the middle of all this, when police alleged that his blood alcohol content was twice New Mexico’s .08 legal limit.
While driving under the influence is horrible, reckless behavior, it doesn’t get much worse than firing a gun in public while intoxicated.
George F. Koob, Ph.D, who is the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told Yahoo Sports that alcohol usage damages the frontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for making decisions. The frontal cortex is the part of your brain by your forehead, above your eyes.
If you look both ways and wait until cars pass before crossing the street, that’s your frontal cortex helping you.
When cells in the frontal cortex are lost, they don’t grow back, he said.
“When the frontal cortex isn’t working right, you have problems with impulse control and you have problems making decisions,” said Koob, who does not know Jones, has never examined him or even met him. “You have problems delaying reward. Unfortunately, some of these kinds of deficits you’re seeing in individuals who have had pretty hard whacks to the head.
“It can be any sport. It can be from a baseball hitting your head to a crushing hit in football and in fighting, there are, I imagine, a lot of hits to the head. When concussions are repeated, there is often a loss of function in the same part of the brain. A combination of alcohol and concussions is probably not a good thing.”
During Jones’ interaction with the police, which was released to the media on Friday, he told the officer giving him a field sobriety test that he had difficulty with his short-term memory.
There could be many reasons for that, but Jones is a fighter who has been hit in the head plenty during a lengthy career.
“If you take a fall or have had damage in some way to your frontal cortex, alcohol is only going to make it worse,” Koob said.
Alcoholism is genetic and Jones exhibits many classic signs of addictive behavior.
Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D, an associate professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield, wrote an article in 2017 for Psychology Today in which he identified 10 patterns of addictive behavior.
He wrote, “Addicts often express a desire to quit completely, but are unable to follow through. Short-term abstention is common, but long-term relapse rates are high.”
Heshmat’s article seems to apply to Jones in many ways.
He’s an adult and he’ll have to face the consequences of his actions. This could land him in jail again or lead to him being stripped of his championship.
What he needs, though, is help, not to be mocked on social media.
It has to start with Jones, though. Koob said it must be treated, and he used the example of someone with high blood pressure or diabetes taking medications and altering their diets.
A person with alcohol-use disorder — the medical term for alcoholism — has that same burden to take care of their problem that an overweight person with a bad diet and high blood pressure does.
“None of this absolves an individual of responsibility for getting treatment,” Koob said. “If we consider addiction a medical condition, we also have to take into account that we have a responsibility to get it treated. Especially for sports, with an athlete, you don’t want to be mixing alcohol with something that is physically challenging your body. ...
“Treatment is the key. Detox is just opening the door to treatment, which can take months to a year, to two years, before someone stabilizes. Recovery is a long process and it requires diligence and active work for months and years.”
Jones is such a brilliant athlete that he’s succeeded over the years in arguably the most demanding sport there is despite what he’s done to his body. He’s a rare athlete and has a genetic gift, as each of his brothers has played, or is playing, in the NFL.
But that won’t last forever. Sooner or later, the drugs and alcohol will win without treatment. They always do.
Jones needs someone close to him to help him, and he needs that help now. Recognizing the problem is the first step toward conquering it.
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable,” is the first of Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 Steps.
There are plenty of alcoholics and other addicts who have succeeded greatly in life. And there’s still time for Jones to become one of them. But if he doesn’t make the choice to seek treatment and have loved ones to support him, he could easily lose everything he’s worked for.
It’s up to him.
But he doesn’t deserve to be mocked as he fights a very public battle against an extremely pernicious disease.
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