After a photo of him apparently smoking marijuana surfaced, Michael Phelps admitted Sunday to "bad judgment." (AP file photo / November 8, 2008)

"If you look at the numbers in studies, about 60percent of kids in the ninth grade have experimented with drinking and drug use," said Dr. James F. Mulligan, the executive director of Seabrook House, a nationally recognized inpatient drug and alcohol treatment facility in New Jersey. "When those kids turn 30 years old, between 12 and 22 percent have problems with addiction. ... It looks like [Phelps] handled it reasonably well, but only he and his family members are going to know if they should be worried about this guy. If someone continues doing it when they know it's wrong, then that's when they might have to ask themselves if there is a problem."

'By no means aberrational'
But if Phelps doesn't have a problem, is this all much ado about nothing? Most athletes take the Phelps approach to image repair and apologize for letting down teammates, fans and sponsors, which bothers Allen St. Pierre, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who called the Phelps story "bittersweet" for the pro-pot community.

"The bitter part is the immediate denial and refutation of an activity that he probably enjoyed doing," St. Pierre said.

At the same time, the NORML director is thrilled to see images of high achievers smoking marijuana.

"It mainstreams the issue and highlights the fact that incredibly successful people, whether athletically or intellectually, are cannabis consumers," he said. "Had this happened 10 years ago, Mr. Phelps would have been in trouble with his commercial interests. Today, it's almost a badge of honor among people 25 years old or younger. Michael is by no means aberrational."

What's clear is that Phelps is still adjusting to the reality that after winning eight gold medals in a single Olympics, almost everywhere he goes, all the eyes (and cameras) in the room are going to be on him.

Before the Olympics, while having dinner with a reporter at his favorite deli in Ann Arbor, Mich., Phelps was asked whether he felt like he could still have a private life, despite his growing fame. He quickly acknowledged that he couldn't.

"I don't think it's possible," Phelps said. "Everybody knows everything about me. I have no private part of my life. It's just a part of what I do. You can't hide anything. Everyone finds out everything anyway. And if they don't, they just make something up, and no matter what you say, people believe it anyway."

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