Drug Misuse in Sports: Finding Specialized Treatment for Professional Athletes

Athletes Using Drugs

Athletes are often sources of inspiration. They encourage individuals to pursue their dreams and stop at nothing to be successful. However, there is a darker side when it comes to professional athletes stopping at nothing to achieve their greatest goals. Athletes using drugs is more common than one might think. 

In some cases, it can be more of a challenge to get treatment as a professional athlete because of the constant scrutiny. People in this position may want to get help, but have to worry about the darkest period in their life getting extremely publicized. This might push them deeper into a substance use disorder. 

Despite this chance, it’s important for athletes to take care of their mental health just as much as their physical health. Treatment could potentially take months to years, but poor mental health can last a lifetime. Plus, an untreated dual diagnosis puts professional athletes at a greater risk of alcohol and substance use disorders.  

The Reason Behind Athletes Using Drugs 

There are many reasons that lie behind athletes using drugs. Some of them are common among people as a whole, while others have to do with their level of fame and intense pressure to perform. Although professional athletes are surrounded by praise and people, it can be an intensely lonely job at times. 

The reasons that lie behind athletes using drugs include: 

  • To self-medicate untreated mental and physical illnesses 
  • They use them for performance enhancement (especially steroids) 
  • The pressure to perform well 
  • Treating chronic pain and injuries in general 
  • Retirement from sports can hurt the psyche 

On average, professional athletes retire much earlier than the general population. For instance, the United States considers the age of retirement to be 65. In comparison, research indicates that pro athletes commonly retire at these ages, respectively: 

  • National Hockey League (NHL) – 28 
  • Major League Baseball (MLB) – 29 
  • National Basketball Association (NBA) – 28 
  • National Football League (NFL) – 27 

It can be tough for famous athletes to deal with working so hard toward something their whole life and then have that defining feature ripped away from them at an early age. While they may not define themselves in this way, society does at large. It seems close to impossible to separate a famous athlete’s work from everything else that defines them. This may be a reason why athletes feel the need to take drugs to increase their performance. 

More than this, physical and mental health are connected in more ways than some might think. Athletes that dedicate a large amount of their time to sports get more injuries than people in general. Being out of work because of an injury or suffering from chronic pain can lead to a mental illness. Also, a mental illness can result in unexplained physical pain, which can affect their work. 

What Kind of Drugs Do Athletes Misuse? 

What Kind of Drugs Do Athletes Misuse?

Unfortunately, research shows that the majority of athletes surveyed have misused drugs at some point in their lives. Plus, almost all of them seem to drink, which can make physical and mental health worse. 

According to the journal, Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, athletes commonly use and misuse these kinds of substances: 

Athletes in general tend to use these kinds of drugs across the board. However, the percent of types of athletes varies depending on the substance. For instance, 35%-40% of pro baseball players reportedly used smokeless tobacco in comparison to the 20%-30% of pro football players that use it. 

A self-report from professional football players shows that 9% used anabolic steroids at some point during their career. The number much be much higher, since it’s a self-report. In general, 2% of elite athletes tested positive for drugs banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in the year the report was conducted. 

Opiates seem to be an issue for many pro football players. Statistics show that 52% of professional football players used opiates during their careers. Out of this percent, 71% of them admitted to misusing them at some point. 

Men vs. Women 

There is a wealth of information surrounding male pro athletes and drug use. Yet, there seems to be a lack of it for pro-female athletes. Men seem to use steroids more than women as a whole. Another study shows that alcohol is almost as prominent in the collegiate athlete scene between both genders. 

Around 71%-93% of female collegiate athletes reported significant alcohol use. The number is similar in men: 73-93% of collegiate athletes drank a significant amount of alcohol. It’s not unlikely that these numbers are the same across the board for athletes, in general. A little over 5% of Americans ages 12 and over suffer from an alcohol use disorder. That’s nearly 15 million Americans. 

Signs and Symptoms of Professional Athlete Drug Misuse

Appearance and performance-enhancing drugs (APEDs) are more common in athletes because of their desire to perform their best and because of the pressure put on them to do so. A survey of 198 Olympic athletes found that 195 of them would use APEDs if they knew there was no risk of them getting caught. 

Loved ones of professional athletes should be aware of traditional substance misuse signs and symptoms. Additionally, they should be aware of signs and symptoms of APED use along with them: 

  • Baldness in both men and women 
  • Men developing breasts 
  • Testicular health disorders 
  • Women developing deeper voices 
  • Decreased breast size in women 
  • Coarse skin 
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Getting defensive about substance use 
  • Testing positive for substances 

Famous Cases of Athletes Using Drugs

Michael Phelps 

Michael Phelps is an Olympic gold medalist who has set records for his swimming prowess. Despite this, he lost his sponsorship with Kellog after a photo surfaced of him smoking marijuana. Although marijuana is not physically deadly like drugs such as opioids, people can develop a deep psychological dependence on it. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) noted that supposedly 30% of people that consume marijuana have a marijuana use disorder. 

Derek Boogaard 

Hockey is a sport where athletes won’t necessarily get penalized for “dirty behavior,” unlike other sports. Derek Boogaard was an NHL enforcer, which is an unofficial title for a hockey player who acts on the offense to a team that engages in dirty behavior. He became addicted to pain medication and died in 2011 as a result. He mixed oxycodone and alcohol, which can stop breathing. Painkillers can be highly addictive, especially to those whose jobs can result in chronic pain. 

Andre Agassi 

Andre Agassi is an American tennis star who created a foundation to help the children of Las Vegas receive a better education. Although he is a man with talent and compassion, he became addicted to crystal meth during his career. In 1997, this became public when he tested positive for amphetamines. He lied and said that someone spiked his drink, but later revealed the extent of his substance use disorder. Crystal meth is a highly addictive substance that has led to many overdose deaths in the United States. 

Leonard Little

Superbowl star, Leonard Little, was a major player in the NFL. Unfortunately, he got behind the wheel intoxicated and ran a stoplight. He killed a woman in the process. Little is not alone in this matter, he is just a famous person who has this scarring life event publicized. Around 95,000 Americans die every year because of excessive alcohol use. 

Treatment for Professional Athlete Drug Misuse 

Treatment for professional athletes is similar and different to the average person. For one, it might be more important for a professional athlete to attend a facility that has amenities related to their sport. For instance, a professional swimmer may find it extremely important to find a substance use disorder treatment center that has a pool. 

Due to their constant scrutiny from the public eye, pro athletes may want to attend a luxury rehab. A luxury rehab is much more costly than typical rehabs but offers more privacy at times. They might not have to room with another person and will likely be able to customize their treatment plan. Of course, all reputable rehabs and detox clinics will provide the best care and confidentiality to each member. There are different programs available to help treat athletes with alcohol or substance use disorders. 

The Reason Behind Athletes Using Drugs

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient programs require a member to stay at the facility during the course of their rehab or detox. To many, this is the best option because it allows recovering individuals to spend all of their time working on their mental and physical health. Residents will have support 24/7 and are often provided all meals at many facilities. 

Outpatient Programs 

Each member at a rehab or detox clinic comes with their own story. No two stories are alike. Some people want to overcome the temptations of substances and alcohol but have responsibilities to attend to. An outpatient program might be the best option in this scenario. There are different levels of outpatient care that vary by time commitment: 

Both inpatient and outpatient programs typically start with a detox protocol. This ensures that each member will have no traces of substances by the time they are ready for treatment. This means more effective treatment. 

Sana Lake Helps Athletes Using Drugs Overcome Substance Use Disorders 

There are many reasons behind athletes using drugs. Whatever the reason, it’s important for them to seek treatment. Historically, delaying treatment can result in death. If you or a loved one suffers from an alcohol or substance use disorder, don’t let it get to that point. Contact us now to see how we can help.