Athletes and Addiction: 5 Essential Facts

Athletes and Addiction: GateHouse Treatment has substance use programs for all manner of substances and users. Knowing what drives some people towards dependency is critical when determining the best path forward. For example, athletes are known for their discipline, dedication, and hard work, but the intense pressure to perform at the highest level makes drugs an attractive option to make things easier. When the going gets tough, most people will reach for something to make life more manageable, even if it’s temporary and known to be deceptive.

Physical exercise breaks down muscle fibers and requires recovery time so the body can rebuild. High-intensity activities, such as running, tackling, jumping, or lifting heavy weights, all have significant risks of injury. On top of a rigorous schedule and the demands to be excellent, this exertion can push someone past a breaking point. Injury and recovery are painful, not only physically but mentally. Managing the emotional pain of missing games or feeling like you can’t return to 100% adds up.

There is also retirement. Athletes put their bodies under years of stress that most people can’t conceive. Spraining ligaments and tearing muscles regularly, dislocating joints, performing through bone fractures and sickness, the cost of greatness can be immense and leave lasting pain. For these ills, many turn to drug use.

At GateHouse Treatment, we believe there are no shortcuts to wellness. It is a holistic process that requires tough but worthwhile choices. In this article, we’ll cover some common issues around athletic performance and drug use, so you or a loved one can avoid the dangers of addiction.

A Survey of Athletes and Addiction

In their daily life, athletes are already familiar with supplements. There are protein powders to supplement their diet, pills for bodily health and maintenance, and creatine for athletic performance. Collectively, these are commonly known as a “stack,” a series of supplements an athlete ingests to boost performance. On top of this, there is the constant pressure of anabolic steroids. Trenbolone, testosterone, and Dianabol are common, and the difference in performance between using them and not using them is night and day. Doping scandals have been part of every sport; whether they admit it or not, most top athletes have dabbled. The sport of bodybuilding is impossible to compete in without their use.

The culture of supplements creates an atmosphere that welcomes pharmacological enhancement. Athletes are used to taking pills and operating in an environment where it’s encouraged. This socialization means lowered inhibitions about drug use and, consequently, less trouble moving from legal supplements to illegal and harmful shortcuts.

Athletes report significant levels of drug use. A striking statistic is that 52% of professional football players report using opiates, and from that number, 71% said they misused. Whether it’s to handle pain or emotional turmoil, the following is a list of substances typically abused by current and former athletes.

1. Stimulants

Stimulants are drugs that increase alertness, attention, and energy levels. Common stimulants used by athletes include caffeine, amphetamines, and cocaine. For example, cocaine use has been a well-documented problem in ballet to grant energy and suppress appetite.

The use of stimulants by athletes has been on the rise, as Adderall has hit the mainstream, and athletes have realized it’s another thing that can give them an edge. Amphetamines can be dangerous, causing high blood pressure, cardiac arrest, kidney failure, and even death.

2. Opioids

Aside from steroids, opioid misuse is the most common problem in sports. Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl, as well as street drugs like heroin. Athletes often use opioids to relieve pain and injuries caused by their sport. However, these drugs can lead to addiction and physical and psychological side effects, including respiratory problems, cognitive decline, hepatitis (if using needles), and overdose.

Opiate addiction can begin innocently, with a prescription to deal with pain from an operation. But these drugs are habit-forming and highly addictive, and the problem can quickly spiral into a lifelong battle with keeping the pain away. They are often a shortcut to physical therapy. Once someone is “hooked,” the high becomes a reward to itself, irrespective of any medical use.

3. Sedatives

Sedatives are drugs that depress the central nervous system. These include alcohol and benzodiazepines, or benzos for short. Benzos are a class of drugs that include prescription sedatives, such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan. Athletes often use benzodiazepines to reduce anxiety and stress, as well as to help them sleep. However, these drugs are extremely addictive and carry many physical and neurological side effects, including overdose.

Alcohol is another drug where addiction begins innocently. In team settings, it’s shorthand for celebrating and socializing. However, it’s also a crutch to deal with pain, disappointment and a sense of lost purpose in retirement.

4. Cannabis and Synthetic Cannabinoids

Though traditionally not lumped with other habit-forming drugs, cannabis can be addictive. Athletes use it to reduce pain, inflammation, and anxiety. When overused, it can cause depression and other neurological problems. Synthetic cannabinoids are a recent development and have names like K2 and Spice. These are lab-made drugs that mimic the effects of cannabis but are more powerful. Athletes may resort to them because they often don’t show up on standard drug tests.

Synthetic cannabinoids are unregulated, so knowing what goes into your body is difficult. Documented side effects include inducing states of psychosis, while 19% of users reported suffering seizures.

5. What Can Athletes Do To Avoid Addiction?

Being an athlete requires a great level of personal responsibility, self-control, and goal-setting. The skill set is not so different from what is required to avoid drugs and stay sober. They can consult a sports psychologist who can help them manage stress and emotional turmoil through counseling and therapy. They can also visit a physician specializing in sports medicine to diagnose and treat their physical pain without resorting to drugs.

Athletes can also adopt healthy lifestyle choices, such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. They can also try alternative pain relief methods like yoga, meditation, and acupuncture.

GateHouse Treatment and Athletes

If you or your loved one is fighting addiction, we can help no matter how severe. GateHouse Treatment believes in individualized therapy that treats each person as an individual. We offer conventional forms of therapy like partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, in addition to innovative therapies like biofeedback treatment. This allows athletes to get outside and control their bodily processes.

Athletes need to understand the risks associated with drug use and its consequences on their careers and health, and we are here to aid in that process. Pick up the phone and call (855) 448-3588, or contact us through our website for a free consultation.

GateHouse Treatment Editorial Staff
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