Athletes and Addiction. What You Need to Know

Athletes and Addiction. What You Need to Know

Athletes of all ages face internal and external pressures. They carry the burden of continuous training, competitions and injuries, as well as being in the spotlight. As a result of these mounting pressures, drug and alcohol abuse among athletes is common. Unfortunately, athletes often cover up this abuse in order to uphold their image and reputation. This only adds to the addiction and has the athlete feeling more hopeless. 

Why Do Athletes Abuse Drugs and Alcohol? 

There are a handful of reasons why athletes are more prone to using drugs and alcohol compared to the general population. By understanding these risk factors, we can educate athletes on the dangers of substance abuse and provide resources to those who need private, effective drug and alcohol rehab in Phoenix

Let’s explore some of the reasons why athletes turn to drugs and alcohol. 

Enhance performance

Athletes must perform well to be competitive. But even when they’re competitive, it’s often not enough. They feel the pressure to perform better, get faster and be stronger. This pressure  drives the use performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to increase their achievement or reduce the number of errors they make. 

Performance-enhancing drugs include: 

  • Anabolic steroids 
  • Methamphetamine 
  • Stimulants (caffeine and ephedrine)
  • Diuretics 
  • Growth hormones 
  • Beta blockers 

Treat injuries

Another reason why substance abuse is common among athletes is because of the risk of injury. Athletes face all types of injuries – sprains, strains, torn ligaments, etc. Being injured is a setback for anyone, but it can be life changing for an athlete. You’ve probably heard countless stories of professional athletes having their careers ended because of an injury.

In order to continue performing, some athletes turn to prescription opioids to dull the pain and heal faster. In a study published by Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 52 percent of retired NFL players admitted to using prescription pain medications during their play times. Of this group of 644 retired NFL players, 71 percent admitted to misusing the drugs.

While there are safer, more effective ways to manage this pain, athletes often look for a quick fix because of the “doing whatever it takes” mentality. 

Culture and accessibility 

Athletes get paid a lot of money. In 2016, the annual average income for a U.S. household was $57,617. The average income for a professional athlete in the major leagues was between $2.1 and $6.5 million. Not all athletes are in the major leagues, but they’re still making a lot more than the average American. Not to mention, the attraction of making millions can drive a person to use PEDs to get better, stronger and faster. 

From an economic standpoint, drugs are easily accessible to athletes. But the lifestyle also comes with a slew of parties, special events and late nights where drugs and alcohol are flowing. Athletes also tend to know a lot of people, making it easier to get the substances they want from medical and nonmedical sources. 

Athletes and Mental Illness 

Being an athlete comes with a lot of challenges and pressures that other people don’t have. Crowds of spectators pack gyms, arenas and stadiums to watch their favorite athletes play. Teams depend on individual players to get them through the season. Fans and young athletes idolize prominent players, and corporate sponsors reach out to work with the best. 

All of this can take a toll on a person’s mental health, especially if they’re already at risk for developing a mental health disorder. And because mental health still has a stigma attached to it, athletes are often not candid about their struggles. So, they end up self-medicating with drugs and alcohol to feel better. 

The most common mental health challenges among athletes are eating disorders, anxiety disorders and depression – and no athlete is immune to them. Among professional athletes, data shows that up to 35 percent suffer from a mental health crisis. It’s clear that athletes need more support and education on recognizing mental illness and where to go for help. 

person lifting weights

Brain Injuries and the Risk for Substance Abuse 

Another interesting finding is that traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are incredibly high among athletes. According to researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University, 96 percent of deceased NFL players and 79 percent of all football players had a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This condition causes memory loss, dementia and depression. 

TBIs can happen in any sport, particularly contact sports like football, boxing and ice hockey. While common, TBIs are still significant. They can lead to a wide range of problems, including addiction. In some situations, athletes with TBIs may turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate. They also have a higher risk for drug dependence and relapse. 

Treatment Options for Athletes 

Athletes are complex individuals, just like anyone else. Not only do they face daily physical and mental stress, but also they have a history and they are not immune to trauma, loss, and hardships. Some athletes have faced abuse or neglect or have untreated mental health problems. Athletes are often afraid of the stigma attached to these things, but without professional help, the substance abuse will take over. Addiction is not a game. 

Fortunately, there are many treatment options available for athletes, including medically supervised detox, counseling and recovery. All substance abuse treatment in Phoenix is private and confidential. With the right support, an athlete can make a full recovery. 

However, there are unique challenges that athletes face that we must be sensitive to. After treatment, athletes often return to the sports culture where drugs, alcohol, money and fame are the reality. This is why committing to an outpatient program is often necessary, as this provides structure and support as athletes transition into their daily lives, giving them drug refusal skills, coping strategies, and the education and knowledge necessary to attain and maintain long-lasting recovery. 

The benefit with seeking holistic outpatient drug rehab in Phoenix like Continuum Recovery Center is that athletes can treat their addictions while still going to practice, working out with their teammates and even play in games. And, if the athlete ever feels like they’re close to relapsing, they’ll have a great support system to reach out to. 

Continuum Recovery Center Treats Athletes with Addiction 

If you or someone close to you is battling substance abuse and needs support, guidance and  evidence-based modalities, contact Continuum Recovery Center today. We offer comprehensive outpatient treatment that is highly personalized to each person’s needs. We have experience treating athletes and are familiar with the internal and external pressures this population faces. Contact us today to learn more about our outpatient programs that include day treatment, medication assisted treatment, outpatient programs and intensive outpatient care.