Why do athletes turn to drugs- The Basic Approach on Addiction amongst Athletes

Why do athletes turn to drugs- The Basic Approach on Addiction amongst Athletes

Health and Fitness

Why do athletes turn to drugs- The Basic Approach on Addiction amongst Athletes


When it comes to addiction, there is no such thing as a category of people who are 100% immune from it. With athletes having to use drugs or medications on several occasions, it’s almost perfectly understandable why they don’t make an exception when we talk about substance use.

Did athletes use drugs back in the day?

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Some athletes use drugs when they want to improve their performance or deal easier with stress in competition. Unfortunately, drug abuse among athletes isn’t out of the ordinary.

People don’t realize that athletes deal with extreme pressure during competition. Winning a gold medal seems to be less important than winning per se.

A successful athlete wins a lot of money and fame, and an athletic career isn’t long-lasting. Even if all athletes know that it’s only hard work and training that brings success, the temptation to take the more natural path is notable.

Drugs aren’t something new for the athletic world, and athletes have been willing to use them ever since ancient Greek time. However, drug use has risen during the 60s when the anabolic-androgenic steroids have become available. It was also the 60s when the East German government would give drugs to the athletes to obtain better performance in international competitions. 

What are the main reasons for athletes to use drugs?

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Even if some athletes may use drugs for unimaginable reasons, there are some common reasons for which most athletes turn to drugs:

  • Coping with mental illness

More often than not, athletes will benefit treatment in case of physical injuries. However, they don’t help with mental health treatment often enough. With alcohol and drugs easing out the physical pain, it makes perfect sense why some athletes use them at times.

  • Improving athletic performance

Drugs such as steroids improving the performance are no longer a secret. It’s why doping has been spread across so many sports, no matter the competition’s level or ages of athletes.

  • Treating physical injuries

There are some athletes that turn to drugs when suffering physical injuries. Opioids and marijuana are known for their ability to ease out the pain. As a matter of fact, some athletes only develop addiction when they begin taking prescribed painkillers. The longer they use, the higher the risk of them misusing the prescription, rending them to be both psychologically and physically dependent on the medication.

  • Coping with pressure

There’s a lot of stress when competing. Some athletes have to deal with the stress of winning, whereas others need to improve their performance. Sometimes, the pressure comes from having to get back on a field really quick after an injury. Pressure has many forms, and it’s one of the reasons for which athletes use drugs at times.

The peer pressure

Drug abuse is quite common amongst athletes, and almost 70% of the bodybuilders use steroids. More than 90% (93%) of college athletes use alcohol, and more than 50% of professional football players utilize opioids. It seems that not using drugs makes you an exception, which only increases the pressure of using for fitting it.

  • Dealing with retirement

What athletes have to learn really fast is that the athletic career doesn’t last for a very long time. It’s challenging for athletes to transition from fame and money to regular life. Missing the thrill and adrenaline is what makes them turn to drugs and alcohol after retiring.

Are there many athletes using drugs?

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It seems that drug and alcohol use isn’t rare in high school, college, and at a professional level too.

Here’s what the numbers say:

  • Alcohol – The numbers are concerning in college, where 71 to 93% of athletes drinking alcohol in the past year.
  • Anabolic steroids –  In high school, 0.7% to 6.6% of athletes are using, whereas the percentage is from 0.2% to 5% at the college level. 9% of professional football players and almost 70% of competitive bodybuilders have used anabolic steroids at some time in their career. 
  • Stimulants – Only 3% of college athletes admit using stimulants.
  • Opioids – It seems that 52-71% of professional football players use opioids any now and then.
  • Marijuana – almost 30% of college athletes have used cannabis during the previous year.

What kind of recovery programs work for athletes?

Athletes struggling with addiction may seek for help, no matter its form: 

Inpatient treatment

The inpatient treatment program consists of intensified group, individual, and family therapy. Temporary housing is also included, hence the name. Therapy is concentrated on helping the athletes comprehend and overcome their addictions.

Outpatient programs

They offer therapy for multiple hours per week, with the athletes coming back to their own residence every day. The intensity of the treatment is related to the specifics of the program.

There’s also the category of intensive outpatient programs (IOP), where the treatment is for 2 to 4 days a week. As for the partial hospitalization programs (PHP), there is therapy for five or even more days in a week.

Twelve-step programs

The philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous is the foundation for these sort of programs. The programs help the athletes recognize and admit their dependencies, while creating a connection with Higher Power and nourishing relationships with sober people.

Alternative therapies/holistic methods

The holistic methods see addiction as a disease that affects the mind, body, and soul. The treatments are focusing on reaching at the root of addiction and healing one on a physical, emotional, and mental level. They all mean to teach the addict new skills of coping with life, pressure, and stress. Whether we’re talking about 5-star facilities or more accessible ones, the alternative methods alter the people on a personal level, and the results are usually guaranteed for several years.

A fair conclusion

It’s not impossible for athletes dealing with substance abuse to also deal with co-occurring mental illnesses. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems may lie underneath one’s addiction. Drugs and alcohol are just one of coping with a pre-existing mental health problem.

The need for a specialized treatment program is essential, even in the case of athletes. Despite the fact we know the sport is good for the mind and body, it cannot solve the severe mental or physical conditions that already exist and even worsen from sports performance.


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