Athletes may abuse drugs to enhance or improve athletic performance, cope with stress, or deal
with other career challenges. Drug abuse among athletes is common and can have serious long-
term effects, such as arrests, bans from a sport, or overdose
According to an article in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, an estimated 75% to
93% of male college athletes have used alcohol in the past year.
An estimated 93% of female
athletes reported having used alcohol in the past year.
Alcohol is not always banned in sports, but some sports may ban alcohol during sports
competitions. However, most doctors dont think that alcohol enhances performance.
An estimated 28% of college athletes have used cannabis over the past year, according to an
article in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation.
An estimated 52% of professional football players have used opiates in the past year, according
to an article in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation. Of professional football players
across their entire career, an estimated 71% have misused opiates.
An estimated 23% of college athletes report having used smokeless tobacco at some point in
time over the past year, according to an article in the journal Substance Abuse and
College baseball players use smokeless tobacco in especially high numbers, with
an estimated 40% to 50% having used tobacco over the past year.
An estimated 35% to 40% of
professional baseball players and 20% to 30% of professional football players report using
smokeless tobacco over the past year.
An estimated three percent of college athletes have used stimulants over the past year, according
to an article in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation.
Stimulant drug use in sports
enhances endurance and reduces overall feelings of fatigue. The number of athletes testing
positive for stimulants has increased by three times in the past few years.
Why Do Athletes Use Drugs?
There are a variety of reasons why athletes use drugs in sports, and sometimes there are multiple
reasons that contribute to an athletes drug use in sports. These include:
For performance enhancement
To self-treat untreated mental health issues
To deal with stress from early retirement
To deal with stress, such as the pressure to perform
To overcome injuries
To overcome physical pain
Athletes may use a variety of performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs.
Examples of these
drug types include:
Illegal drugs
Diuretics to help lose weight quickly
Anabolic steroids
Dietary supplements
Other health food compounds
As sports become increasingly competitive, some athletes turn to PEDs as an attempt to get
ahead or simply feel competitive. Coaches and trainers have also been charged with providing
substances to athletes, who may have known about or not known about, to enhance performance
as well.
Athletic injuries can present a challenge from which to recover, and many athletes face
tremendous pressure to recover as quickly as possible from their injuries. They may use drugs to
mask the pain or improve performance during recovery.
Chronic Pain
Old injuries and aches and pains from the physical demands placed on the body can lead to
chronic pain for some athletes. Its not uncommon to become dependent upon or addicted to
painkillers as a means to escape this chronic pain.
Early Retirement
If an injury or other factors forced an athlete into early retirement, they may experience anxiety,
depression, or other emotions related to their retirement. As a result, they may try to escape these
emotions through drugs or alcohol.
Mental Health Issues
Athletes experience mental health concerns just as the rest of the population does. Though they
are asked to be mentally strong on the playing field or competition, they face pressures,
demands, and defeat, which can lead to mental health concerns.
Side Effects of Drug Use in Sports
The side effects of drugs used for performance or abused by athletes vary based on what is
abused. Some of the side effect examples include the following:
Cannabinoids: Affected alertness, slowed response times, anxiety, and psychosis or losing
touch with reality
Painkillers: Addiction, nausea, constipation, poor concentration, and fatigue
Stimulants: Rapid heart rate, stroke, heatstroke, weight loss, muscle breakdown, nausea, tremors,
anxiety attacks, high blood pressure, and psychosis
Common Signs of Drug Use in Sports
When athletes use performance-enhancing drugs, some of the signs they may be using them
Sudden weight gain or loss
Sudden, unexpected increase in athletic performance
Increasingly secretive behavior, such as withdrawing from social activities
Some of the ways to recognize that an athlete is using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol to
excess may include:
Struggling to make early practices or having withdrawal symptoms, such as tremors, at
early practices
Suddenly having an unkempt appearance
Increasingly secretive or withdrawn behaviors
Defensiveness or aggressiveness if someone asks about the persons welfare
Asking others for prescriptions or medications
Some are very, very good at hiding they have a problem. However, there comes a time
where the addiction or substance abuse becomes so severe that they lose control over how
much or how often they use.