Athletes Addiction

Estimated reading time: 31 minute(s)

The life of professional athletes may seem tempting to the public eye due to the high level of fitness they enjoy, along with stardom. However, these people need to seamlessly handle multiple types of pressures. The constant burden of training, injuries, competitions, and the spotlight can take a toll on their mental and physical health, forcing them towards addictions. Many athletes believe that they are immune to their addictions to drugs and alcohol; however, the truth is that countless athletes have succumbed to them. So what is the link between athletes and addiction?

Athletes Addiction: Why Do Athletes Use Drugs?

Athletes may use drugs for various reasons and not all of them fall under the category of substance misuse. There are circumstances when athletes have to use a prescription drug for a legit medical reason. However, if they start using the drug more than prescribed initially or use another individual’s prescription, it is known as misuse.

Following are some of the reasons behind athlete’s addiction:

To improve athletic performance

Many athletes use substances such as steroids to improve their performance and gain an edge over the competition. Commonly known as doping, the phenomenon is widespread across different ages, sports, and levels of competition.

To cope with mental illness

It is common for athletes to receive treatment for their physical injuries, but not many of them ever get treated for mental health issues. Such people may resort to drug or alcohol use to self-medicate against their mental health concerns.

To deal with pressure

Many athletes face a high amount of pressure on and off the field. They may eventually resort to drug use to cope with this pressure, improve their performance, or fasten their recovery times.

To treat physical injuries

Athletes who experience physical injuries may use marijuana or opioids to deal with pain. Some of them begin using opioids as regular prescription medication to manage pain but become addicted to them.

To cope with retirement

Many athletes retire much earlier than others, and for them, this transition in life can prove difficult. As they miss the thrill of competition, alcohol, and drugs may be a way for them to manage stress.

To deal with peer pressure

Drug abuse is quite common in athletes, with up to 67% of them using steroids, 52% using opioids, and 93% of college-level athletes abusing alcohol. Some athletes may also use drugs or alcohol to merely fit in their society.

Common Kinds of Drugs Athletes Use

Athletes may use various drugs, such as stimulants, performance-enhancing drugs, and opioids, to improve their performance, deal with stress, or manage pain. Some of these drugs have been briefly described below:

Anabolic Steroids

The human body naturally makes anabolic steroids in the form of a hormone called testosterone. Because these steroids support muscle building, athletes may use them to work out harder, increase their muscle size, and fasten their recovery after workouts.

Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

Athletes commonly use HGH to improve performance and increase muscle mass. This injectable drug is only available on prescription, but many people are buying and selling it illegally to misuse it.

Androstenedione (Andro)

Despite being a prescription drug, many athletes use Andro to increase specific male sex characteristics.


Diuretic abuse helps athletes lose weight and falsify drug test reporting. These medications work by changing the body’s electrolyte and fluid levels. Diuretics are particularly popular among people whose professions require strict weight control, such as wrestling and boxing.


This drug works by increasing the production of erythrocytes or red blood cells, which can increase the delivery of oxygen to the muscles. Athletes also take this medication to increase aerobic power and endurance.

Painkillers and Prescription Drugs

Prescription opioids, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, are painkillers used to manage severe pain. In high doses, these medications may cause euphoria and relaxation. While it is common for athletes to use prescription painkillers to manage their pain, many tempt to use them non-medically in doses higher than prescribed. The problem with opioids is that they can quickly lead to tolerance and dependence, forcing users to use them in higher doses. Eventually, they become unable to function without having these drugs in the system and experience a downfall in their performance.


Stimulants can be illicit or prescription based and can significantly speed up the systems within the body. Prescription stimulants are often used to manage attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, many athletes may use them to stay alert, improve performance, stay awake longer, or feel exhilarated.

Amphetamines and methamphetamine

Athletes primarily use amphetamines like methamphetamine to improve their alertness levels and performance. Amphetamines can make them feel energized while experiencing an increase in self-confidence and a reduction in appetite. Because of these effects, some athletes, particularly wrestlers, and boxers, may abuse amphetamines in higher doses to lose weight.


As a prescription medication, Adderall can treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder by improving focus, alertness, and reaction times. Like other stimulants, athletes may abuse Adderall to enhance performance, lose weight, and control fatigue.


Many athletes use and abuse alcohol, even before a competition or game, to reduce anxiety and improve performance. However, evidence suggests that doing so can hinder the performance more than boost it.


Athletes may consume marijuana in high doses to experience relaxation and euphoria. Some of them may use it to manage pain.


Like other stimulant drugs, cocaine helps athletes improve performance and endurance, decrease fatigue, increase focus, and trigger weight loss. Cocaine also causes them to experience a brief high before leading them into a crash. Some athletes may consistently binge on this drug to prolong the high.

10 Examples of Athletes Who Struggled with Addiction

Hundreds and thousands of celebrities have been fighting substance addiction worldwide, followed by experiencing negative outcomes. Some examples of these athletes include the following:

Nate Newton

Nate Newton had been a famous star of the NFL before he was busted for possessing marijuana. He even landed in federal prison and served two and a half years for it.

Darryl Strawberry

The four-time World Series champion at MLB destroyed his career by indulging in alcohol and cocaine use.

Derek Boogaard

While working as an NHL enforcer, Derek Boogaard fell prey to prescription pain medication addiction. He regularly used to overdose oxycodone mixed with alcohol, which eventually caused his death in 2011.

Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona was a successful midfielder soccer star with a 21-year-long history of cocaine addiction. His long-term addiction troubles landed him into hot waters with three suspensions and countless failed drug tests.

Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi is a tennis star who failed a drug test for amphetamine in 1997 and pinned his drug test results on the consumption of spiked soda. Later, the athlete admitted to using crystal meth several times during his career.

Josh Hamilton

This MLB player was derailed and delayed for eight years because of his struggles with drug and alcohol use. Josh finally started coping in 2008 and switched to ginger ale to celebrate his postseason victories.

Ricky Williams

Ricky William, the famous NFL star, quickly got infamous for his heavy infatuation with marijuana and was busted four times for violating the substance abuse policy.

Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps is an eight-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer who not only plunged into the water but also into drugs. In 2009, the athlete had to lose his endorsement deal with Kellogg’s after his drug use came to service. Michael Phelps drug use primarily revolved around marijuana.

Dwight Gooden

Dwight Gooden is a fastball pitcher best known for his successful baseball career in the late 80s. The athlete soon tested for cocaine use and joined rehab in 1987. Unfortunately, he relapsed soon after and had to face a suspension from playing in the upcoming season.

Len Bias

As a rising University of Maryland All-American basketball player, Len Bias had only secured a contract with the Boston Celtics when he died of a cocaine overdose.

Effects of Athlete’s Addiction to Life

Many drug users and alcoholic athletes experience potentially serious or even life-threatening consequences due to substance use. Outlined below are some adverse effects that substance addiction can exert on their lives:

Bans and Suspensions

Most professional athletic organizations have stringent rules against using any recreational or performance-enhancing drugs. Athletes who violate these regulations may end up facing serious consequences, such as bans or suspensions. Sometimes, the organizations may take their medals, prizes, or prior titles. Examples of athletes who experienced bans and suspensions due to substance use include Lance Armstrong and Brett Favre.

Loss of Job or Early Retirement

Drug abuse can easily impair the ability of an athlete to focus on their performance. Certain drugs, in particular, give rise to various side effects and may cause withdrawal symptoms in users too. Because of these negative effects, many athletes have no choice but to go for forced retirement. Others lose their employment because they are no longer in a good or fit shape to perform well.

Health Issues

Taking drugs, such as anabolic steroids, drastically affects the kidneys and liver, in addition to causing hypertension and heart problems. Some athletes also experience mental effects like anger, violence, and depression. Men, in particular, struggle with infertility, impotence, and the development of certain female sexual characteristics. Women, on the other hand, may develop masculine features in addition to experiencing menstrual changes.

Recovery Programs for Athletes Drug Addiction

Athletes with drug problems and alcoholism can seek help by engaging in different types of recovery programs. Some of these programs include the following:

Inpatient Treatment Programs

These programs require patients to live in the treatment facility for the entire length of the recovery plan. The duration of the plan depends on the level of care they need. Some common services included in inpatient programs include group and family therapy, medication management, aftercare, and intensive individual sessions.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

These programs engage patients in therapy for several hours a week, following which they return to their homes. The intensity of outpatient therapy varies depending on patient needs and specific programs. Intensive outpatient programs provide treatment between 2 to 4 days, whereas partial hospitalization may offer therapy for at least 5 or more days a week.

Twelve-Step Program

The 12-step programs help people develop strong connections with others in recovery. Some of these programs are based on the famous 12-step approach of Alcoholics Anonymous.


Which type of drug addiction is the most common in athletes?

According to experts, stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines are some common drugs athletes may use.

Why do athletes use drugs or alcohol?

While the individual reasons may vary from person to person, most abuse substances to clinically excite the central nervous system, boost aggression and energy, increase mental alertness, and minimize fatigue.

Are there any sober athletes?

Yes, there are plenty of athletes in recovery and practicing sober lives. Some examples include Maxx Crosby, Jordan Poyer, Joe Namath, Abby Wambach, and more.

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