Substance Abuse Amongst Professional Athletes

According to Reardon and Creado (2014), drug abuse can be present in all sports and at most competition levels. Drugs might become part of an athlete’s life for multiple reasons such as enhancing performance, to self-treat and untreated mental illness, to cope with stress that stems from pressure from the sport, injuries, pain, or retirement from sports.

Here are some numbers posted regarding the substance use rates within the different cohorts of athletes reported from various research studies:

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Although these numbers are from various studies, they show that drug use is something that should not be overlooked. There are many dangers that are presented when athletes begin to self-medicate.

In a study done by Sanchez and Zabala (2013),  many athletes acknowledge that doping is cheating, unhealthy, and risky.  Although these beliefs are present, doping is also very widely recognized. Doping can be different depending on the sport considering a few factors: whether or not it is a team-based or individual sport and the motor skills needed. Coaches are seen to have the most influence on educating their athletes in comparison the doctors, which I believe to be because they are interacting every day with their players and they are seen more as a mentor and someone to look up to.

Many athletes use other substances other than steroid or performance enhancing drugs for a couple of reasons that were mentioned above.

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Most college athletes drink for social reasons (83.9%) in comparison to coping (3%) or wanting to feel good (12.9%). When athletes use alcohol, they are more prone to sickness and injury in relation to their non-drinking counterparts. Their sleep in interfered, they might become aggressive and exercise poor judgment leaving them more at risk for sanctions from the university. Although there is not causal evidence reporting that alcohol is a gateway drug to other more harmful drugs such and stimulants, the poor judgement aspect of drinking can influence the decisions athletes use. Unfortunately, many professional athletes suffer from substance abuse and SPPs can help recognize this issue and address it before it affects the athlete’s life.

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Because athletes are held to a certain standard by their fans and society, their drug usage can immensely affect their lives for the worse. Their personal life can struggle, such as Lamar Odom who recently was hospitalized for his drug use and had been suspended during his 2001 season after testing positive for marijuana. A lot of athletes engage in such behavior to cope with tragedy, stress, and the pressures they feel. I think it is important that young athletes seek treatment before it is too late.

After extensive drug use, the body and neurological feedback begins to change, which then leads to addiction. In college, student-athletes are presented with more opportunity and if not addressed, their habits might become detrimental for them like Odom.

Multiple drug interactions have taken the lives of many athletes. Many people find it difficult to have empathy for athletes who suffer from drug addiction and substance abuse because they fail to realize it is a disorder. Psychologically, the drug begins to take over the individual’s life and becomes more important than their sport.

Because of their impact on society and those who look up to them, a lot of professional athletes have taken initiative in speaking out against drug use in order to raise awareness for young players. After addiction sets in, the risk of losing all of their success takes the back seat to their drug of choice.

Fortunately, many athletes have the option to speak with psychologists in order to seek help. Michael Phelps, the first athlete to win eight gold medals in a single Olympics during the Beijing Games, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to an 18 month probations, was fined 250$, and was required to speak against drunk driving.

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It is these kinds of stories that we hear that makes us concerned for our athletes and also for those who look up to them. It is quite profound the effects that professionals have on young children and when this is what they look up to, we begin to worry.

Having help for our student-athletes and informing our coaches about the problems presented with substance abuse can limit these types of incidences. By instilling certain values and standards, SPPs can help assist their clients in seeking help and can supply information where it is necessary.


Lamar Odom & Drugs: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know


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