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Why Addiction Is So Prevalent In Athletes

Posted by arizonarecover on February 13, 2020

Whether you enjoy sports or not, there’s no denying the fact that they are worldwide phenomenons. Soccer, football, baseball, cross country, cycling, you name it, there’s a massive following around it. Even if you don’t watch them yourself, you’ve probably got a general idea of what sports look like: athletes competing against other athletes to prove they are worthy of a title, award, or victory over the opposing athletes. Athletes perform acts of strength and endurance average people may not be able to perform, without extensive training and practice. Watching athletes perform these feats of physical exertion is entertaining and fascinating to watch. Sometimes, these acts are so incredible that we subconsciously put these athletes on a pedestal far above our own, making them out to be other-worldly or god-like. So, when we hear about an athlete suffering from something like addiction, it’s hard to believe. However, we fail to realize these people are humans, just like us, and just like us, they are susceptible to the temptations of addiction.

Today, we’re going to discuss the topic of addiction in athletics. We’re sure you’re all asking questions like, “Why does it seem like athletes are always struggling with addiction?” or, “Don’t they know that that sort of issue can ruin their career and their physical health?” We’re going to help answer your questions and shed a little more light on why addiction is so prevalent in athletics. 

Athletes vs. Addiction

Let us reemphasize this very important point: Athletes are humans, just like me and you … they are not immune to the struggles that a normal human would face. Yes, athletes can perform incredible feats of strength, fitness, and endurance, but that is because they’ve gone through intense training most of their lives. If you put your mind to it early enough, you could be just like them. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the struggles that we face (financial, relational, emotional, mental, etc.) are all struggles that these athletes can face too. Just because a person has fame, fitness, and wealth doesn’t mean they’re immune to worldly struggles. Just like any other person, an athlete can be susceptible to addiction. However, their addiction, and the severity of it, is dependent on a few different factors. Below, we have listed out some possible reasons as to why someone who is entirely dependent on their physical and mental fitness can turn to such a harmful habit as substance abuse:

  • Genetics: Here’s a little fact for you – Did you know if you had a family member who has suffered from addiction, you are much more likely to develop an addiction as a result of that? It’s true! Let’s say your grandfather had an addiction to alcohol, that would make your father/mother and yourself much more likely to develop similar tendencies. In the same way, if an athlete’s father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, etc. had an issue with substance dependency, they are far more likely to develop similar habits in the future. They may fall into the same kind of substance abuse, or they may even fall into something far worse. Even outside of genetics, if family members treat substance abuse like normal behavior, the individual may start to think of that kind of behavior as a social norm, seeing no issue with what their family members are doing. 
  • Pressure to perform: This has to be one of the biggest and most taxing issues that athletes have to deal with … the pressure to perform. Athletes are expected to get better as they continue to perform athletic feats. Athletes perform to break records, constantly pushing themselves to be better. Outside of their own desire to perform, their coaches, peers, and fans are also pushing them to get better. With all of these groups of people expecting a performance out of someone, it’s no surprise that the pressure to perform can weigh heavily on an athlete. The important thing for any athlete to do is to find healthy ways of coping with this stress. Most athletes find healthy coping mechanisms, but some do not. If feelings of insecurity start to pop up, they may feel anxiety and seek out new ways of dealing with that.
  • Physical Injuries: As we mentioned before, athletes are always pushing themselves to their limits in order to please coaches, fans, peers, and themselves. Breaking records, pushing limits, outperforming competitors, and making a name for oneself is what sports are all about. However, we are only human and we do have limits to what we can do. Some athletes push themselves too far and end up injuring themselves. If they don’t injure themselves out of sheer determination to push themselves, they may get injured by a competitor or some other mishap that is out of their control. When this happens, pain can be unbearable and even stop them from training. When someone’s entire life is dedicated to physical fitness and performance, what happens when they are temporarily out of commission or can no longer perform? Unfortunately, some of these individuals wind up depressed and resort to poor coping mechanisms, like substance abuse, in an effort to cope with their negative mental state. Some athletes resort to alcohol abuse or even prescription drug abuse from their prescribed medications for their injuries.

4 Substance Frequently Abused

Now that we know why athletes most likely fall into substance abuse habits, let’s talk about the substances that are often abused by them:

  1. Alcohol: Probably one of the most widely abused substances out there, alcohol is a very prominent figure in the world of addiction. Since this substance is legal everywhere for anyone 21 and over (in the U.S.), it is easily accessible and relatively affordable. The fact that it is so widely used and universally accepted means people everywhere could easily fall into alcohol addiction. When it comes to athletes, alcohol is a very prominent substance. After victories, teams and athletes may be enticed with the idea of going out to a bar or party to celebrate. If someone abstains from alcohol, peer influence could play a key role in their temptation. If their peers start saying stuff like, “come on, one drink won’t hurt!” or encourage them to take shots as part of a team celebration, these kinds of behaviors could easily lead someone to abuse. This substance can be found at stores, parties, bars, etc. it’s pretty much everywhere. There have been many athletes that have struggled with alcohol abuse, such as Brett Favre, Johnny Manzel, Michael Phelps have all struggled with alcohol abuse.
  2. Cocaine: This next substance is highly dangerous and highly addictive and is often found in the world of sports. Cocaine, a stimulant drug used for it’s euphoric, energy-boosting effects, is commonly abused among athletes. Though it is not the most prevalent substance, there is still a huge issue around it. This drug is often used at parties, possibly due to the fact that athletes are natural adrenaline junkies and have a constant desire for blood pumping, adrenaline rushing, high energy experiences. It creates a short, but very powerful high for a user, which encourages them to use more and more as the night goes on. Users often end up on dance floors for long periods of time, making them believe they are achieving a fun experience. There have been many athletes that have struggled with cocaine abuse, such as Oscar De La Hoya, Lamar Odem, Mike Tyson, and many more. These athletes have fortunately conquered their cocaine abuse habits, but not all athletes with a craving for cocaine have been as fortunate as them. Athletes such as Len Bias, Don Rogers, and Scott Bigalow have all had their lives claimed due to cocaine abuse.  
  3. Painkillers: Another highly addictive and highly potent substance, painkillers play a key role in the world of athletics. Athletes often have to deal with painful injuries, having to go through rehab and even being prescribed medications to deal with painful injuries. Most of the time, these medications are highly potent so they can help numb the patient’s pain. However, because of their potency, the likelihood for abuse is very high. The numbing and euphoric effects of these medications can become desirable to users, which may result in dependency. The effects of these kinds of drugs can induce calming, numbing effects that a person may feel like they could not otherwise achieve outside of the medication. Jason Williams, Ryan Leaf, and many other athletes have struggled with prescription drug abuse, while athletes like Tyler Skaggs, Michael Carl Baze, and Dereck Boogaard have all lost their lives from prescription drug abuse.
  4. Steroids: Another widely abused substance across many different sports is steroids or performance-enhancing drugs. This substance is not necessarily fatal, but it can be addictive to users and can create some serious health issues for them. Steroids are used to increase a person’s muscle mass, reduce body weight, and eliminate unnecessary fat. Naturally, these kinds of results are highly desirable to athletes because it can give them an athletic edge. However, the use of this kind of substance has significantly declined due to the fact that drug tests are much more frequent than they used to be.

There’s no question about the fact that athletes frequently struggle with abuse from all kinds of substances for all kinds of reasons. With all these things in mind, it’s important that we start spreading awareness and on the matter of addiction. Many of these people are afraid to reach out for help because they are afraid to admit that they are struggling. Some may not even know they’re struggling until it’s too late. It’s important to talk about addiction so that we could better educate people on the matter.