acquiesce - November 5th, 2020

Drugs in Sport: Why Do Sports Stars Risk Taking Drugs?

When picturing individuals who are struggling with drug abuse, a world famous athlete probably isn’t who first comes to mind. However, the reality is that there are numerous current and former sports stars struggling with drug abuse for many different reasons.

They appear to have everything: the fame, the money and be in peak physical condition. It often takes years to get to where they are, relying on structured routines, incredible amounts of hard work and strict diets to maintain their extreme levels of fitness. This is why fans are often left confused as to why an athlete would risk their hard work and incredible career by taking drugs, either recreationally or to enhance performance, which can lead to them facing a ban from the sport they love, as well as turmoil for their personal life.

Athletes, just like any other individual, use drugs for a number of different reasons, the most common being treatments for medical conditions or poor mental health, recreational use and performance enhancement. In this article, we’re taking a look at these reasons and how some of our most beloved sports stars in history have had issues when it comes to drugs.

Treatment for Medical Conditions/Pain

With such strenuous training, even the fittest of athletes are susceptible to injuries, which may be a reason they begin to take painkillers to ease the pain. Taking painkillers every once in a while, is not uncommon, but if the user starts to develop a reliance on painkillers, this is where an issue can start to arise. 

Instead of recovering, lots of athletes will continue to play their sport with a doctor’s prescription for painkillers such as codeine or OxyContin. Without proper rest, these injuries become chronic and so an athlete may continue to take painkillers for longer and more frequently than initially prescribed/required. 

Unfortunately, painkillers can be addictive, which is why athletes occasionally become dependent on them. This can lead to complications in other aspects of their lives as well as having the added pressure to not get caught, which often fuels the addiction even further. In order to stop abusing these drugs, they should seek help for prescription drug abuse, but many never do.

Coping with Poor Mental Health 

Being under the spotlight as well as having the constant pressure to be the best in their field, can put a strain on an athlete’s mental health. Their busy training schedule also means they have less time for family and friends, making them feel isolated for elongated periods. With all of these factors combined, it’s unsurprising that many sports stars suffer with mental health problems.

In these cases, they may resort to drugs as a way to self-medicate their negative feelings. When someone is abusing drugs or other substances to cope with their feelings, it is referred to as dual-diagnosis. Rehabilitation programmes that work by using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be very beneficial to those struggling with mental health and addiction.

Recreational Use

Drugs are used widely within society for social and recreational purposes. For athletes living a specific type of lifestyle, they may be exposed to recreational drug use quite frequently, which can cause temptation and potentially making the decision to try an illegal substance.

Others may choose to try drugs such as cocaine as a way of celebrating a big win, and like any individual trying drugs, can soon become addicted.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibits the following recreational drugs:

  • Amphetamines
  • Narcotics
  • Cocaine
  • Cannabinoids

Performance Enhancement

Athletes are persistently striving to be the best and many will stop at nothing to achieve this goal. With huge amounts of pressure to excel, numerous sports stars have resorted to using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to improve their endurance, reduce fatigue, suppress their appetite and increase alertness and aggression.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who abuse steroids can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them. These symptoms include mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, steroid cravings and the most dangerous of all: depression. When left untreated, depressive symptoms associated with steroid withdrawal have been known to persist for over a year after the individual stops taking them.

5 Famous Sports Stars that have been Caught Abusing Drugs

1. Michael Phelps

In 2009, Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps lost his contract with Kelloggs after he was photographed smoking marijuana.

2. Nigel Levine

In 2017, sprinter Nigel Levine was banned for four years after he tested positive for clenbuterol, a PED that burns fat, builds muscle and improves athletic performance.

3. Muhammed Ali (British Boxer)

In 2018, boxer Muhammed Ali was banned for two years after he tested positive for trenbolone.

4. Paul Edwards

In 1994, shot putter Paul Edwards failed two drug tests after testing positive for a cocktail of banned substances, resulting in a four year ban. Three years later, whilst still banned, he failed an out of competition drug test and subsequently received a lifetime doping ban.

5. Luke Traynor 

In June 2020, he was banned from competitive sports for two years after he was found to have used cocaine on a night out in 2019.

Admitting to having a problem with drug abuse can be incredibly difficult for athletes as entering rehab means taking time away from their sport. They may also worry that questions will be raised about whether they were using drugs at the time of a big win and could result in them being stripped of their title and medals. 

Thankfully, rehabilitation centres such as Acquiesce can help current and former athletes with their recovery in complete confidentiality. The Acquiesce programmes are able to provide help by using psychological, physical, and spiritual therapy.

For more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Our helpful team will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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