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Addiction in the Sport Industry

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Yes there is Drug Addiction in Pro Sports

Athletes often feel a lot of pressure to succeed from their coaches, fans, family members, and teammates.

Drug Addiction in Professional Sports, Why Do Athletes Abuse Drugs?, What Type of Drugs are Used in Sports?, What are the Negative Effects of Drugs in Sports?, What Athletes were affected by Drugs?, How Many Athletes Do Drugs?, What Sports Are Steroids Used in the Most?, How Can We Prevent Drugs in Sports?, What is a Risk Factor for Drug Use?, Rehab is Your Best Chance


Drug addiction is an unfortunate reality for people who are in the sport industry. Athletes often feel a lot of pressure to succeed from their coaches, fans, family members, and teammates. Professionals in particular are always concerned about winning, because that’s the name of the game.

The need to succeed is only one of the main reasons why athletes may feel the urge to abuse certain substances.

The industry as a whole demands an incredible level of physical and mental fortitude that go beyond that of an average person. These expectations are often too much for an athlete to handle, even if they love the sport that they are playing. This is why drug use is common in the sport industry.

It is important to discuss drug addiction among athletes because they face unique challenges that other addicted individuals do not experience. This way, a proper treatment plan that caters to their specific needs can be developed. By understanding how addiction can potentially affect an athlete, it is easier to help them avoid addiction or go through treatment.

Drug Addiction in Professional Sports

You may have heard of stories about top athletes who resorted to different drugs in order to enhance their performance in their chosen sport. The use of performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs, is commonly known as “doping”. As you may already know, this phenomenon is not new.

Even back in the 1990s, the World Anti-Doping Agency or WADA, had to set restrictions on certain substances to fight the increasing number of doping instances in professional sports. Those substances were specifically prohibited because aside from artificially enhancing physical performance, they also posed a significant health risk for those who were taking them.

But the idea of using substances to boost athletic performance goes as far back as the ancient Olympics. Competitors back then would eat special foods or drink potions to gain an edge over their rivals.

This problem still persists today. In fact, WADA’s list of prohibited substances now includes hundreds of different drugs that violate the spirit of sportsmanship.


Why Do Athletes Abuse Drugs?

It’s easy to see why some athletes would be motivated to use drugs. They may take PEDs to improve their athletic performance, especially if their goal is to beat their competition. They may feel like their training and preparation aren’t enough to secure the gold medal. They take drugs to give them that edge and put themselves ahead of their competitors. Doping is a widespread problem across different sports, even across different levels of competition.

But not all athletes abuse drugs to enhance their performance. Some of them do it to cope with the immense pressure and stress that come with being an athlete. They may have supporters that they don’t want to let down, or they have certain professional goals they want to reach.

Some athletes abuse drugs because they are coping with a mental health condition or an injury. While they may receive treatment for their physical injuries, receiving help for their mental health isn’t as common. Add in the expectation that athletes are supposed to be tough and unbreakable, and a lot of them just turn to drugs just to deal with their anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

Speaking of injuries, athletes also face the pressure of having to recover from injuries quickly because they need to get back into the game or resume their training. For some athletes, addiction can develop because of the medications they take for their injuries. Pain medications such as opioids are known for being highly addictive. Drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin are powerful medications that are frequently prescribed for severe pain—including sports related injuries. If a person abuses them, they are at risk of becoming addicted in the process.

For athletes that are involved in highly physical sports, injuries are an expected part of their career. They may experience sprains, strains, swollen muscles, rotator cuff injuries, knee injuries, fractures, and dislocations. All athletes are susceptible to injury regardless of their level or age. The treatment for those injuries can increase their tolerance for prescription painkillers, which can become a problem later on. They run the risk of developing a substance use disorder if they don’t keep their intake under control.

On top of all these potential reasons for abusing drugs, there is also the culture of “doing whatever it takes” to secure the win. Aside from all the pressure coming from external sources, athletes also put a ton of pressure on themselves by keeping this mentality. Many people play sports not only because they enjoy it but also because they want to boost their self-esteem, which is understandable. But sometimes they take desperate measures to make sure their ego is not hurt by a loss. The result of this can be disastrous, as addiction can ruin a person’s life.

What Type of Drugs are Used in Sports?

Now that we have an idea about why athletes are motivated to abuse drugs, we can talk about some of the most common substances that they tend to use. The list is not limited to performance-enhancing drugs, as it also includes opioids and stimulants. It depends on what the person is trying to achieve.

Performance-enhancing drugs include anabolic steroids, androstenedione, diuretics, human growth hormone or HGH, and erythropoietin.

Athletes may use anabolic steroids to increase their muscle size, complete their workouts more easily, and even recover faster after training. The same goes for the prescription drug Androstenedione. However, studies have shown that andro does not increase testosterone levels or improve muscle strength.

HGH is an injectable drug that is only available as a prescription and is used by athletes to increase their muscle mass. It is often bought and sold illegally.

Erythropoietin increases the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells, which increases oxygen delivery to the muscles. Athletes use it to improve their endurance.

Diuretics are unique because they are used to either help the athlete lose weight or pass a drug test. Diuretics can alter the body’s fluid and electrolyte levels, which is why they are used for sports like wrestling or boxing which have strict weight control.

Aside from performance-enhancing drugs, prescription painkillers such as opioids are also commonly abused by athletes because of their exposure to injuries and body pain. While these medications are meant to be helpful, they are potentially addictive if the user takes them outside of their prescription.

Some athletes experience the euphoric high caused by these prescription medications and end up taking them recreationally. Some even take them without a prescription. But these medications are incredibly potent and they can easily develop dependence. This is when the body is no longer able to function normally without the substance. If they try to quit or reduce their intake, they will go through an uncomfortable withdrawal and potentially relapse.

Stimulants such as amphetamines, methamphetamine, and cocaine are taken by athletes who want to increase their alertness and performance. Stimulants make the person feel more energized and confident while also decreasing their appetite. These are all helpful effects if you are trying to play a highly active sport like basketball or football. Some athletes even use stimulants to help them exercise and lose weight. But just like other drugs, stimulants are potentially harmful if misused or overused.

PEDs, opioids, and stimulants are all drugs that are taken by athletes for a variety of reasons. But to top off this list, we also need to mention alcohol because it counts as a commonly abused substance. A significant number of athletes drink alcohol. Some even drink before a match just to reduce their anxiety.

What are the Negative Effects of Drugs in Sports?

Abusing these dangerous substances come with a number of consequences. They can affect a person’s physical and mental health, which would impact their career in the long term.

What most athletes don’t realize is that these PEDs can actually be addictive. They assume that because the drugs don’t cause euphoria, they won’t be hooked on these drugs. But the level of motivation provided by these substances is reason enough for athletes to keep on taking them. This exposes them to the risk of becoming addicted.

Addiction is characterized by the compulsive use of a particular substance even when the person is already suffering from its adverse effects.

Aside from the risk of addiction, anabolic steroids have other potential adverse effects on the person’s body and mind. They may cause mood swings, depression, mania, delusions, aggression, acne, hair loss, fertility problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver cancer, and cardiovascular problems.

For those who inject the drug, they are at risk of skin infections, HIV transmission, and hepatitis.

Out of all these effects, aggression is perhaps the most well-known side effect of using performance-enhancing drugs. It is informally known as “roid rage”. Experts have recognized the tie between anabolic steroids and increased aggression that may even lead to violence. Scientists say this may have something to do with the hormonal changes caused by the anabolic steroids.

PEDs also have gender-specific effects because they are basically hormones. In males, steroids can potentially lead to prostate cancer, decreased libido, and shrinkage in the testicles. For women, steroids may cause menstrual irregularities, decreased breast size, and growth of facial hair. Fetal development may suffer if a pregnant woman takes steroids.

Just like other substances, PEDs can have different effects on people. Addiction affects people in different ways, meaning some athletes may go through more severe symptoms than others. It depends on a number of factors including their drug intake, their metabolism, their method of intake, etc.

It should be noted that addiction also affects a person’s mental health. The relationship between addiction and mental health is interesting because they are interconnected. Some addicted individuals develop mental health problems as a result of their substance abuse. On the other hand, some people with mental health disorders abuse drugs and alcohol to try and cope with their symptoms.

As we’ve established, mental health plays a big role in why athletes abuse drugs in the first place. This is why addiction treatment for them should tackle these co-occurring mental health disorders in order to work. It’s not easy to treat one without addressing the other. This applies to athletes as well as other addicted individuals.

What Athletes were affected by Drugs?

There are plenty of examples of professional athletes getting caught up in scandals involving drugs of all kinds. Jenrry Mejía, who was a former New York Mets player, received a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball after testing positive for PEDs. He was the first player ever to get a permanent ban because of how many times he tested positive for them, failing three drug tests in a row.

Tyson Gay is another example: he was one of the biggest stars in the world of track and field before he tested positive for a banned substance in 2013. He previously won a silver medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. He was stripped of his Olympic medal and banned from the sport for a year after his positive drug test.

Lance Armstrong is one of the most high profile examples of this from the world of cycling. He won seven Tour de France titles between 1998 and 2005 before retiring at the end of that year. He was later accused of using performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career. Although he denied the allegations for years, he was stripped of his Tour de France titles after a doping investigation. After being banned from all sports that follow the World Anti-Doping Code, Armstrong’s competitive cycling career effectively ended. In 2013, he publicly admitted his involvement in doping.

Other athletes who have reportedly struggled with drug use include: NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard; four-time MLB World Series champion Darryl Strawberry; tennis star Andre Agassi; soccer star Diego Maradona; MLB player Josh Hamilton; and fastball pitcher Dwight Gooden—among many others.

How Many Athletes Do Drugs?

Drug and alcohol abuse affects athletes of all levels from high school, to college, to professionals. Research shows that between 0.7% and 6.6% of high school athletes have used steroids in the past year, while 0.2% to 5% of male college athletes have used steroids in the past year.

That number is higher among professional athletes. Around 9% of professional football players have used steroids at some point in their careers. But this is small compared to the 67% of competitive bodybuilders who have admitted to trying steroids at some point in their careers.

Opioids are also popular: between 52% and 71% of football players who play professionally have used opioids at some point in their careers. It doesn’t indicate whether the opioids were prescribed or if they were taken recreationally.

Alcohol is even more common, with up to 93% of college athletes reportedly drinking alcohol in the past year.

As for stimulants, only 3% of college athletes reported using stimulants within the past year. A lot of athletes drink or take drugs recreationally to unwind and relieve their stress. For athletes, since they work hard on a regular basis, they are more likely to binge on these substances to shake off the stress.

This doesn’t just apply to professional athletes either. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, 44% of male student-athletes reported binge drinking. As for female student-athletes, 33% reported binge drinking. They also said 23% of student-athletes used pain medication within the past year.

Their study showed that student-athletes who participated in lacrosse, wrestling, hockey, and other contact sports were more likely to engage in binge drinking.

What Sports Are Steroids Used in the Most?

Out of all the Olympic sports, cycling is one of the most notorious for having the highest average level of doping findings. Cycling as a sport has a 3.6% rate of positive test results. Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong are some of the most popular examples.

Landis is an American cyclist who won the 2006 Tour de France after the second-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-place finishers from the year before were all disqualified for doping. However, Landis himself got involved in the same scandal. He later admitted to doping himself. He even accused his teammate Lance Armstrong of doing the same thing, which later turned out to be true.

Another sport that is commonly associated with performance-enhancing drugs is weightlifting, with a 3.0% rate of positive test results. It’s not that surprising, considering that it involves lifting as much weight as humanly possible.

Albanian weightlifter Hysen Pulaku was the first athlete in the London Olympics to be caught using PEDs. However, he and his coach denied knowing about how the drug ended up in the weightlifter’s system.

Boxing, triathlon, and baseball take the remaining spots for the Top 5 Sports Where Steroids are used the Most, with a positive test result rate of 2.9%, 2.7%, and 2.5%, respectively.

How Can We Prevent Drugs in Sports?

In order to prevent drug abuse in sports, it’s all about testing, prevention, and education. It’s hard to stop those who want to cheat on their respective sports by using PEDs. But proper addiction education can help protect those who are only using substances to manage stress or their mental health conditions. With proper education, these athletes can make informed decisions that will help steer them away from substance abuse.

There are healthier coping mechanisms that are commonly taught during a rehab program for addiction. But a lot of professional athletes will not willingly go into rehab because they are dealing with the stigma of addiction plus the risk of ending their career prematurely. Instead of seeking the help that they need, they will suffer from addiction in silence.

Treating an addiction is a lifelong process. It’s a long journey towards sobriety, but it is possible for the person to live a healthy and fulfilling life again—this time, without the use of illicit substances like PEDs, opioids, alcohol, and stimulants.

Prevention is better than cure, of course. And if athletes can get educated on the risks of substance use and addiction they can avoid the situation where they have to choose between their career and their health.

Increasing the frequency of tests can also discourage athletes from abusing drugs. Regular drug testing can go a long way, but it also has to be random.

It is important to inform athletes about the potential consequences of their actions if they choose to abuse drugs or alcohol. Coaches should make it clear that these rules are to be followed or else players will get disqualified.

Just like most problems, education is one of the best solutions for this problem.

What is a Risk Factor for Drug Use?

Some people are more likely to become addicted than others. The more risk factors a person is exposed to, the more likely it is that they will develop an addiction at some point in their life. These risk factors do not guarantee that the person will get addicted, but they do influence a person’s attitude towards illicit and harmful substances.

Risk factors include stress, poverty, lack of parental support, peer pressure, early exposure to drugs, lack of education about addiction, etc.

One thing to remember is that people may respond to these risk factors in different ways, with some people being able to handle these conditions better than others.

There are also protective factors that can help keep a person from abusing drugs and getting addicted: parental support, peer support, a healthy living environment, academic competence, anti-drug policies, and self-control—among others.

Risk and protective factors can influence a person throughout their lives, but it is most apparent during childhood to early adolescence where the individual doesn’t have as much experience and self-control when it comes to drugs. Therefore their attitude towards drugs is way more dependent on their environment.

Addiction also has a genetic factor, which means those with family members who have struggled with addiction in the past are also at risk of developing it later in life.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, whether they are an athlete or not, they need to receive proper addiction treatment. Look for a rehab facility near you today and learn about the programs they offer. Get started on the road to recovery today.


Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

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