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Athletes with Addiction


Drugs and Alcohol in the Intense World of Sports

Whether at the high school, collegiate, or professional levels there is tremendous pressure on athletes to be the best. Fans, family, coaches, and teammates push the already competitively natured athlete to become seemingly super-human. Some, even those who never thought they would turn to drugs as performance enhancers or as relief from the stress. Doing so risks everything. Not just their careers and livelihood, but their minds, bodies, and sense of self can be destroyed by drug abuse.

Performance-enhancing drugs (PED) include lean mass builders (steroids and other hormones), stimulants, painkillers, sedatives, diuretics, and blood boosters. Athletes of all kinds use these drugs as a way to improve their body, qualify for tournaments, or better their game. For example, many athletes take amphetamines such as Adderall or speed with the belief that the drugs will improve their reaction times, focus, and endurance. Short-term use of these stimulants causes poor sleeping patterns, weight-loss, an increased heart rate. Extended use and abuse of amphetamines cause increased anxiety, hallucinations, tremors, and depression which persist even after discontinuing the drug. Moreover, athletes taking amphetamines often overexert themselves causing permanent bodily damage or even death.

Other PEDs to watch out for include NSAIDs (ibuprofen) used to increase blood flow, diazepam used to steady the hands, Lasix and other blood-pressure medications used to rapidly lose water-weight and EPOs which can increase red blood cell production. The abuse of all these substances can cause serious long-term symptoms and will tarnish an athlete’s reputation.

In addition to performance-enhancing drugs, athletes can turn to mood-altering substances in order to cope with the intense pressures put on them. Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, prescription painkillers, or other drugs can seem like an easy way to cope with stress. In reality, they make the situation worse. Alcohol and drug abuse damages the body, degrades their performances, and jeopardizes scholarships, careers, and relationships.

Athletes addicted to PEDs or mood-altering substances may feel like they have no choice but to continue using. They feel like this not only because of the expectations they put on themselves and others put on them but because addiction is a disease. An athlete with an addiction has a complicated set of obstacles to overcome before he or she can live free from substance abuse. Fortunately, confidential, personalized, professional help is available to assist athletes as they transition from alcohol and drug addiction to recovery.

A quality rehabilitation will engage in a thorough multidisciplinary assessment of each individual so that the right course of treatment can be determined. Family members and loved ones should also learn about addiction and the recovery process by participating in the athlete’s treatment program. Group counseling in conjunction with individual therapy will address the root causes of the athlete’s addiction. This supportive community of individuals in similar situations will help him or her get through the difficult recovery process. At the end of treatment, the athlete will have developed better coping skills to contend with the demands of life as well as the pressures of the athletic world.

If you are a high school student pursuing an athletic scholarship, an athlete trying to go pro, or a professional doing what you love, the expectations put on you are enormous. Although you want to meet the expectations of the many people around you, remember that your number one goal is to take care of yourself. The shame and risk associated with substance abuse are not worth it. Rather than letting that shame or risk control you, admit that you have a problem and begin your fight against addiction. In life, just as in sports, there is no stigma in admitting you have made an error and need help fixing it. It is when you give up hope and do not try to overcome your past mistakes, that you sacrifice your pride and surrender to defeat. Get help and recover your career and your life today.

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