The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes that substance abuse is turning into an epidemic. The number of deaths due to overdose is one of the leading causes of accidental deaths. In fact, the number of deaths that occurred due to heroin overdose has tripled since 2010.

These statistics are shocking and alarming but there’s one demographic that is particularly surprising. Research has shown that addiction has surfaced as a disturbing trend in the world of sports and young athletes are particularly vulnerable to developing substance dependencies.

In a way, it’s ironic – the one vocation that requires the healthiest lifestyle is currently facing one of the highest addiction rates! Although the relationship between athletes and addiction is still unclear, a number of valid arguments can be made to understand why athletes are at a greater risk of developing substance abuse than most other people.

Let’s have a look at some of the probable causes that make athletes more prone towards developing addictions.

Over-Prescription of Painkillers

In order to understand why addiction is linked to athletes, it is important to realize how most athletes end up on a path that leads to substance abuse. For most athletes, addiction stems from the use of prescribed drugs and painkillers. Data and research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggest that 1 in every 15 people who take painkillers for reasons other than medical use will end up trying heroin in the next 10 years.

This puts athletes at a greater risk because bruises and minor injuries are common in every sport, and most doctors do not hesitate to prescribe them painkillers. The over-prescription and excessive use of medicinal drugs is a major factor that contributes to leading the athletes to addiction.

Dealing with Pressure to Perform

The pressure on athletes to perform is very high. Naturally, not every day can be a good day on the field. Even the greatest athletes face days where they are unable to play up to their potential. The immense pressure combined with a few bad days performance-wise can easily lead an athlete to find solace through drugs and alcohol.

Furthermore, most coaches ignore the use of drugs and alcohol because they see it as a recreational way of letting off steam. Unfortunately, instead of working to relax the young athletes, this behavior encourages them to indulge in activities that eventually turn into addictions.

Sports Culture

It is common to see teams celebrating a win by filling their trophies with champagne. These locker room celebrations and open displays of alcohol consumption work to make young athletes feel at ease while experimenting with addictive substances. In fact, a lot of athletes admit to having started drinking only to feel like part of the team.

This is a classic example of how being exposed to alcohol and drugs can increase the chances of developing an addiction. In most cases, alcohol works as a ‘trigger’ for addiction. Being a part of an environment where addictive substances are often used makes young athletes vulnerable to developing substance abuse.

Drug Consumption for Unfair Athletic Advantage

The British Medical Journal revealed that doctors often work with athletes who use drugs to improve their athletic performance. This does not come as a surprise because a number of drugs like anabolic steroids are often taken by athletes to increase muscle mass and to boost stamina. This improves their overall performance and helps them last longer on the field.

Medicinal drugs like anabolic steroids have a number of legitimate medicinal uses but when ingested regularly to gain an unfair athletic advantage, they can contribute to developing an addiction. This is because they have strong withdrawal symptoms, which make them hard to quit them.

Irrespective of the reasons that lead an athlete to indulge in activities involving addictive substances, it is important to remember that it is always possible to overcome your addictions. We can find a number of world-class athletes who battled their addictions and reclaimed their glory.

Let’s have a look at some of the famous athletes who were able to move away from their addictions to get their lives back on the right track.

Darryl Strawberry

Four-time World Series champion, Darryl Strawberry is America’s favorite former professional baseball fielder. He faced suspension three times for cocaine use throughout his professional career. His battle against his addictions was long and definitely, not an easy one.

Discussing his addiction in an interview, Strawberry said, “Drug addiction is very powerful. Drugs have been around sports forever and players have done them forever. I wasn’t the first one… there were a lot of other players who did them too. We were high-profile and there was more recognition on us because of the fall of who we were — such great talents at such a young age.”

Thankfully, Strawberry was able to defeat his addictions. He has now been clean for years and works to create awareness about addiction and its pitfalls.

Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps18-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, Michael Phelps lost his endorsement when a photo of him smoking marijuana emerged in 2012. His life went into a downward spiral, but after admitting himself to a medical facility, Phelps was able to overcome his addictions.

He now thinks that addiction is an abyss. He is now doing everything he can to help young athletes fight against depression and steer clear of drugs. In his own words, “Those moments [helping young athletes], and those feelings, and those emotions for me are light years better than winning the Olympic gold medal.”

With examples like these, it is easy to realize that addictions are beatable. If you think that your addiction is ruining your life or you know someone who is substance dependent, it’s time you contact a medical facility like Scottsdale Recovery Center to get back towards a healthy lifestyle.

Make the smart choice. Don’t let an addiction take over your life and ruin your career.


Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.