Student Athletes, Substance Abuse and Sports: What you Need to Know

Football stadium


You might not think substance abuse would be a major concern for student athletes that are constantly working to keep their bodies in top competitive shape. However, young athletes are just as at-risk for substance abuse as other students if not even more at-risk in some cases. From performance-enhancing drugs to prescriptions of narcotics for injured athletes, students involved in sports face a number of potential dangers today.

Athletes and Performance-Enhancing Drugs
According to a 2015 report in the Wall Street Journal, the chief medical officer for the NCAA, Brian Hainline, has voiced serious concerns about inconsistencies in drug testing in college sports. The current system allows individual schools to set their own drug policies, which leads to blatant inconsistencies in tracking abuse and punishing offenders. Hainline has proposed a new system to streamline detection and consequences for drug use.

All types of performance-enhancing drugs are now used by student-athletes, according to the Pharmacy Times. The most common categories of these substances include:

  • Anabolic steroids for rapid weight gain
  • Hormones, including testosterone and human growth hormone (hGH)
  • Narcotics to mask pain from injuries
  • Amphetamines to increase alertness and confidence
  • Stimulants to boost energy and endurance

The Pharmacy Times article also noted the dangers of using these drugs for enhancing performance, including dependence, increased aggression, depression and an increased risk for some medical conditions, including heart irregularities and some types of cancer.

Athletes and Prescription Painkillers
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse found that abuse of prescription painkillers is increasing among student athletes. The study found that white male athletes that play football are the most likely to abuse prescription narcotics, with 12 percent of male athletes and 8 percent of female athletes admitting to abusing these substances.

Prescription painkillers have been more widely prescribed overall in recent years, as physicians have looked for ways to help their patients manage both chronic and acute pain. Unfortunately, the addictive nature of these drugs has led to increased abuse and more people using the substances for non-medical reasons. Student athletes that begin taking narcotics like Vicodin or OxyContin for a sports injury can be even more vulnerable to the high addiction risk.

Athletes, Stress and Mental Illness
Another concern involving student athletes and substance abuse is the incidence of mental illness among students in the athletic community. The NCAA reports that in addition to many of the mental illness factors faced by all students, athletes have additional pressures and stressors than can increase their risk even more.

Common stressors for student-athletes include performance pressures, time demands, social challenges and the risk of physical injury. In addition, injuries can have emotional or psychological consequences that increase the risk for depression and other conditions. Athletes that develop a mental illness may also be more apt to abuse substances in an effort to “self-medicate” the symptoms of their illness.

Athletes and Binge Drinking
According to American College of Sports and Medicine, college athletes are at a higher risk for binge drinking as they are more likely to regard parties as an important part of their social life, spending at least two hours a day socializing, and to possess binge drinking friends. What does that look like?
About 80 percent of all college athletes drink, a higher percentage than non-athletes; and within any given two-week period, college athletes are also more likely than non-athletes to binge drink and to do so more frequently. Moreover, more athletes than non-athletes are likely to experience negative consequences related to heavy drinking, such as regretting decisions that were made when drunk and getting injured.

Interested to learn more? Simple Recovery will be holding a free Community Education Series for student athletes with former NFL Quarterback, Eric Hipple on February 11th, 11:30 am -2:30pm. Contact us today at 888-743-0490 or email us at to RSVP.
Student athletes and those close to them may suspect a substance abuse problem, but may not know where to turn for help. If you or a loved one is in this situation, the staff at Simple Recovery is prepared to provide the necessary support and treatment. Contact us today at 888-743-0490 for more information or to get the help you need.