Why is Drug and Alcohol Abuse in Athletes So Common?

October 5, 2022 by
Photo Credit: CrossFit (@crossfit)
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Statistics show that athletes have a higher risk of developing drug and alcohol addiction. The risk is even higher for athletes participating in team sports, according to a new medically reviewed post on Alcohol Rehab Help.

One big thing: According to numerous studies, amateur and professional athletes have a higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse in relation to the general population. The studies are further broken down in the article:

  • Alcohol use is widespread among athletes at all levels. For example, between 71 and 93 percent of male college athletes report drinking alcohol in the last year.
  • More than 50 percent of professional football players in the US have used opiates at some point in their career. And, more than seven percent of that 50 percent report misusing drugs at some point in their career.

Astrid Merkt, a psychologist who has worked with athletes from a variety of sports and backgrounds, said there are a multitude of reasons athletes can gravitate towards addiction. The post on Alcohol Rehab Help notes that athletes face a high-level of stress in their careers, and put in a lot of work for what can be little reward. 

  • “Another prevalent (reason) I know is that many pro athletes never really had a childhood either,” said Merkt, who uses breathwork with athletes as part of mindfulness plans to help them cope with the stresses of their careers. “So they get to a point where they overindulge in drinking and self destruction to seek the escape of finding their lost youth. It’s like a little kid trying sugar for the first time after being deprived throughout most of their childhood. Once they find it they go to the other extreme.”

Many athletes have been open about their drug and alcohol use, and getting sober including golfer John Daly, former NFL player Lawrence Taylor, and of course, retired five-time CrossFit Games champion Mat Fraser, who detailed his early journey to sobriety where he started drinking in the fourth grade and quit at 17:

  • “I was doing all this to fill this void, I just felt like I had to do something in excess. I didn’t realize then, (but) I look back at it now and I’m like, ‘Oh, I was just feeding my addiction with something else’,” Fraser said in the video. “It was the start of me identifying that having this addictive personality can be a benefit if I’m addicted to things that have a positive outcome. I’m not just an alcoholic, I’m a -holic. Everything I do, I’m going to do to the extreme.”

Merkt said this is precisely the world athletes have to inhabit in wanting to pursue their dreams.

  • “And since they are used to going to extremes with training and regimented routines and restrictions, this extreme seeking personality can easily overdo it in both the healthy and unhealthy behaviors.”

Jenny Long with Alcohol Rehab Help said the most important thing is to make sure athletes are heard.

  • “It can be heartbreaking and overwhelming to witness an athlete battle an alcohol or drug addiction. There are no right or improper words to say, in my opinion. As individuals, we must be certain that we have heard them,we see them, we educate them, and be there to help them.”

For more information, or to seek help for a drug and alcohol addiction, please go to Alcohol Rehab Help’s website.

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