One would expect that the vast majority of competitive athletes avoid abusing their bodies at all cost. Staying in peak physical condition means avoiding unhealthy food and cigarettes as well as alcohol and other addictive drugs. But a recent study by the University of Alberta has found that competitive sports often prove fertile ground for addiction.
Laurie de Grace and her colleagues from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation interviewed a number of athletes for the study and found that substance abuse and addiction were prevalent among athletes, particularly those in team sports. “What we found was with addiction, the more risks that are present, the greater likelihood it is going to develop,” de Grace said. The study shows that sports have the capacity to increase the risk factors.
Peer pressure and machismo
The study authors found that peer pressure among athletes often served to encourage alcohol and drug use. When some athletes indulge in substance abuse, the behavior becomes normalized and even competitive. The need to fit in among athletic peers often overrides the individual’s views on alcohol or drugs.
Supervisor of the study Wendy Rogers noted that sports invariably involve alcohol. Also, there is a culture in locker rooms that it is okay for athletes to unwind after a game with a few beers. De Grace added that a number of individuals she interviewed for the study were skeptical about participating in their sport just for recreation and not drinking. She quoted one respondent, “How do they take part in that environment and not take part in the drinking?”
Another risk is the culture of machismo that comes with athletic competition. Carrying on to compete week after week despite the mounting pain of injuries can contribute to painkiller abuse and addiction. Coping with the pressure to win and the agony of defeat can also lead athletes to abuse substances. Even when out of competition, due to injuries or retirement, athletes are at an increased risk of taking drugs to cope with disappointment.
Early use leads to abuse
Rogers noted that individuals who take and abuse substances before they turn 21 are more likely to develop a problem than those who do so after 21. “There is a vulnerable period of life that seems to correspond with an elite performance level in high school when there are a bunch of things going on that can contribute to problems later in life,” said Rogers.
Some 36 million youths, age 5 to 18, participate in organized sports in the U.S. each year, representing about 10 percent of the total population. This large population that is placed at increased risk for behavioral health problems that can plague them long after they hang up their football helmets and hockey sticks. Catching and addressing a substance abuse issue as early as possible is vital to giving young sportsmen and sportswomen the best chance at a healthy and successful future.
Sovereign Health of California provides comprehensive addiction treatment for both adolescent and adult patients. Our experienced clinicians use the latest evidence-based therapies to combat addiction, including cognitive behavioral therapy, to promote healing and recovery. Contact our 24/7 helpline for more information about how Sovereign Health treats addiction.
About the author
Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club, Fichte and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
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