Tag Archives: athletes

Are Elite Athletes More Susceptible to Substance Abuse?

athletes substance abuseThe results of a new study from the University of Alberta have found that there is a “strong relationship” between high-level (more intense) participation in sports and addiction. Laurie de Grace, the study’s author, found that a significant number of athletes were involved in binge drinking.

Ms. de Grace, who was pursuing a Master’s degree in the Faculty of Physical Education, originally planned to study the relationship that physical activity and participation in sports plays in developing a substance abuse issue. She had been forewarned that this may prove difficult, since physical activity seems to be linked with good mental health.

Some Sports Participation and Addiction Linked

Instead, Ms. de Grace discovered that the more risk factors that are present for a person, the more likely they are to become an addict. Participating in sports appears to have both the benefit of steering young people away from substance abuse if done as fun recreation and exercise, but it also has the potential to increase the increase the risk of addiction when taken to extreme levels with more stress and pressure.

For her research, de Grace chose to conduct interviews with people in recovery. Nearly all of them had some type of background in sport. She divided the participants into categories based on their level of participation in athletics. Specific groups in the study were recreational athletes, those who had played sports as children but who had dropped out in high school, and elite athletes.

Several sports were represented in the study, such as martial arts, rowing, gymnastics and dance. Most of the participants had competed in team sports like hockey, however.

Sports Culture May Fuel Addiction in Some Athletes

The research found that sports culture supports an attitude of machismo. The pressures on young athletes to perform is very high. Coaches may ignore drug and alcohol use, while some of them even encourage young people to adopt a lifestyle with a theme of, “Work hard, play hard.”

Some young players may start drinking to feel that they are part of the team, and model their behavior on older, more experienced players. Drinking has become intertwined with sports culture. We see winning teams filling trophies with champagne and celebrating in their locker room with alcohol after a big game.

Participating in sports is a healthy activity, and clearly not everyone who joins a sports team in their youth will become an addict. For those people who already have a number of risk factors for addiction, being in an environment where they are exposed to triggers for addiction could put them at higher risk. It would be tremendously difficult to be repeatedly exposed to that type of behavior and not take part in the drinking or drug use as well, at least to some level. We can prevent some of these problems from occurring by trying to provide better tools for young people to deal with pressure, such as mindfulness practices or various forms of non-harmful stress relief.

ESPN Covers NFL Players’ Substance Abuse

painkillersespnotlA couple of years ago, ESPN’s special report Outside The Lines did a story on prescription drug abuse by former NFL players. The focus was mainly on pain medication and was the result of a study they commissioned along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The study was conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine and led by Linda Cottler, a professor of epidemiology in the school’s Department of Psychiatry.

From March to August 2010, Cottler’s research team interviewed 644 former NFL players by telephone. The players who participated in the research retired from the NFL between 1979 and 2006, played an average of more than seven seasons, and averaged 48 years old at the time.

Among several revelations, the study found that more than half of the retired players said they used prescription pain medication during their playing days. Of those, over 70 percent said they misused the drugs then, and 15 percent of those admitted to still misusing the medication within the past 30 days.

The subject of drug use and sports has continued to heat up in recent years. Professional athletes are typically faced with much more extreme circumstances that make them more vulnerable to developing substance abuse issues. On one hand they have a much higher level of income and access to parties, while on the other they have an increased rate of injuries as well.

ESPN also recently featured a letter from New York Jets back-up quaterback Eric Ainge where he detailed his past substance abuse.

Ainge concluded his letter with, “The reason I decided to speak so openly about this is because I want to bring awareness to mental health and the disease of addiction. Kids and athletes need to know it’s OK to ask for help and to talk to somebody about what’s going on in their lives. I was afraid to talk before, but through my NA program and God, I’m not afraid to ask for help or talk openly anymore.”

If you or someone you love has a substance abuse problem, contact Desert Cove Recovery today to get started on the path to a better life.