Prevalence of Drug Use in Sports: Reasons Why Athletes Use Drugs

Prevalence of Drug Use in Sports: Reasons Why Athletes Use Drugs

Prevalence of Drug Use in Sports: Reasons Why Athletes Use Drugs

Athletes appear to be the epitome of health. We see them performing feats of strength, endurance, and skill on a regular basis. We draw the assumption that they must be taking exceptional care of their bodies. But it’s often because they’re held to a higher performance standard that they fall prey to habits that can cause harm. This is why drug use in sports has become increasingly common.

Why Athletes Use Drugs

Professional and amateur athletes may turn to performance-enhancing or recreational substances to help them cope. They do so whether they feel pressure to compete, trying to manage stress, or are attempting to recover quickly from an injury.

In recent years, we’ve witnessed world-class champions admit to their struggles with addiction. Olympic gold medalist, Michael Phelps, has stated, “I wanted to push myself really to see what my max was,” and admitted he had his first bout with depression shortly after he won his first gold medal. [1] That same year, he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

We’re accustomed to hearing stories about athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids and growth hormones. We must know that athletes are also at high risk for becoming addicted to recreational drugs, such as alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. While professional and amateur athletes receive excellent care for treatment and rehabilitation of physical injuries, they may try to hide signs of depression or other mental illnesses so as not to appear weak. [2] Additionally, athletes sometimes succumb to a “work hard, play hard” ethic that tempts them to overindulge. [3]

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Drug Use in Sports Among High School and College Athletes

Drug use among athletes can begin as early as high school. At this age, some players begin to shape their identity around sports and feel intense pressure to achieve. Coaches and mentors may be blind to the problem or ignore signs of drug use because they are so entwined in the culture that elevates athletes as heroes. [3]

An athlete who competes at the college-level will likely feel even more intense pressure to succeed. Paired with a campus culture that sanctions drinking and drug use can lead students – athletes and non-athletes alike – to participate in risky behavior.

In fact, the NCAA conducted a survey among more than 20,000 student-athletes and found that student-athletes are more likely to binge-drink than non-athletes. Specifically, 20% of male student-athletes reported having 10 or more drinks when they went out. Another 30% of student-athletes experienced blackouts due to excessive drinking. [4]

The NCAA survey also reported that student-athletes are less likely to use marijuana than the general college population (22% versus 30%). However, college athletes are more likely to be prescribed pain medication than their non-athlete fellow students. That makes sense because athletes are prone to injury. Although it’s concerning that student-athletes have easy access to pain medication since it’s so highly addictive.

Because the transition to college is a particularly stressful time, it’s not surprising to see that psychological problems are most likely to surface during freshman year. Depression rates are seen as high as 22% in college students overall. [5] Substance use disorder is often connected with mental illness and when students are immersed in an environment that downplays the stigma of drug use – or even encourages it – it’s easy to see how the stress of living up to an idealized image of a sports hero can lead student-athletes to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. [6]

Where to Find Help for Substance Abuse in Scottsdale

If you or a loved one are concerned about excessive drinking or drug use, it may be time to consider treatment. Beyond detoxification, young athletes can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy and education. This will help them deal with the various pressures they encounter on campus.

Desert Cove Recovery is a licensed treatment facility. We are staffed by experienced, caring professionals, that focus on the underlying causes of addiction. This approach leads to a high rate of recovery. Our programs will provide the tools necessary to remain sober once you return home or to school. Your true potential is unlimited and the rest of your life awaits. Contact us to learn more about how to get started on a healthier path.