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Athletes and Addiction

Athletes may not be the first group of people you think of as having problems with addiction, but they often face unique challenges that can lead to substance abuse and dependence.

When most people think of athletes and drugs, the first thing that comes to mind is performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs, like steroids or other substances that give you a physical edge in competition. Typically, these are meant to help you build more muscle or have more endurance, but they often have psychoactive properties as well. Drugs derived from testosterone, for example, increase energy, confidence, and aggression, much like cocaine. Quitting these drugs can have the same kind of letdown, leaving the athlete feeling lethargic and apathetic.

There is a psychological aspect to PEDs as well. Athletes are under a lot of pressure to perform well–pressure from their families, their teammates, their coaches, the fans, and themselves. If drugs have helped you perform well, you don’t want to risk losing that and disappointing everyone. You may even have a scholarship or a contract at stake. Your value depends on doing whatever it takes to deliver, and that’s a powerful incentive to keep using.

Steroids and other hormones are not the only kind of PED. Adderall use is common among athletes because it increases energy and concentration. Athletes, especially at higher levels, don’t have the luxury of sick days. You sometimes have to practice or play when you feel terrible. Adderall and other stimulants can help you get through a rough day. The risk of course is that you eventually need it to get through any day.

Beyond from PEDs, athletes are more often exposed to addictive painkillers. Athletes are more prone to serious injury than the average person, which means more medical treatment, including surgeries. They are often prescribed opioid painkillers, which are highly addictive. A young athlete taking OxyContin for a month as he recovers from a knee injury is in serious danger of becoming addicted. Sometimes athletes get powerful painkillers just to get through games.

The social pressure on athletes to perform well can be intense. You may feel you are always under scrutiny and aren’t sure you can keep performing to the level everyone expects. That kind of stress and anxiety can lead to drinking or drug use as a way of escaping the pressure. Some sports like football or boxing frequently cause head injuries that have been linked to depression and addiction.

In a perfect world, sports would be an ideal vaccine against addiction. They promote social connection, goal-driven behavior, self-discipline, and, of course, exercise. In many realms of competitive sports, however, the reality is different.  If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.