The New Zealand media need to leave All Black Zac Guildford and his family alone to aid his recovery from alcohol addiction, the head of the New Zealand Drug Foundation says.
The Crusaders' winger allegedly stormed into a Cook Islands' bar on Friday night, naked and drunk, and punched two men. The incident follows another in August, when Guildford broke All Black team rules by hitting the town after the All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup victory against Australia at Eden Park.
In September, the 22-year-old held a press conference promising to address what he admitted were alcohol issues.
Today (Monday), New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said Guildford needed professional help, rather than to be hounded by the media.
``The nature of addiction is an interesting one. Those of us in our sector understand addiction as a disease, as a health issue. And it seems [the media] see it as a moral failing and are quite happy to blast not just [Guildford] but anyone high profile who has problems, and any of their indiscretions are blasted on the front page. That's the last thing anyone with an alcohol or drug problem really needs. It's not going to help him in his recovery.
``Addiction is known as a chronic health condition. He needs trained people. The complicated thing with the nature of this is that people relapse just like diabetics and other people with similar illnesses.
``It's obvious from his behaviour that he has tried to get help and yet finds himself still drinking and getting in trouble. But that is just the nature of it.
``What he needs is professionals to help him out and probably for the New Zealand media to lay off him and his family.''
Mr Bell said Guildford will need to have a long-term plan with trained professionals, but the road will not be an easy one.
``There are a whole lot of things that challenge people who have a drinking problem. Just walking into a supermarket and having big piles of alcohol heavily discounted in your face is one thing. The culture we have around alcohol in New Zealand society is pretty in your face.
``Specifically for professional sportsmen, they win the World Cup and they celebrate with champagne.
``He's absolutely in a culture, generally in New Zealand society but specifically within rugby, where alcohol plays a key role. I would guess that if you are someone with the disease of alcohol dependency, that is also going to make your recovery extremely difficult.''
Mr Bell said there is not a cure for alcohol addiction, rather it is something that needs to be managed.
``You don't put the disease behind you _ you always have it. And for a lot of people the only way to manage their addiction is to stop using. It might well be that sports stars who have found themselves in trouble in the past and the reason they are not in trouble now is probably because they've stopped.''
The chairman of Guildford's boyhood rugby club also called for the public and media to give the winger some space.
Paora Ammunson said the former Greytown Junior Rugby Club player has faced ``the kind of fame, personal tragedy and intense public scrutiny that most of us will never know''.
``Zac was a seventeen-year-old schoolboy when he first represented NZ at age grade rugby, two years later we were burying his father Robert, by the time he was nineteen he had been named in the All Black squad,'' Mr Ammunson said.
``Zac is still a young man, with a long life ahead of him and a large, supportive family behind him.
``I look forward to seeing him in years to come back home in Wairarapa, sitting alongside us on the paepae of our marae and helping out down at the rugby club.''
If you or someone you know has an alcohol or drug problem, you can contact the free Government Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797.