Athletes demand a lot of their bodies. Whether they are involved in sports professionally or recreationally, they push themselves through training and competition. While this level of physical performance can be good for the body, athletics can also put incredible strain on people physically and mentally. Athletes can experience physical injury and endure intense pressure to maintain peak performance.

It is not uncommon for athletes to engage in drug abuse, whether to cope with the pain caused from an injury or to enhance performance. While drug addiction can be a difficult cycle to break, there are treatment options for athletes.

Risk of Addiction in Athletes

Nearly 20% of people have used illicit drugs at least once. Of course, illicit drugs are not the only substances that come with the risk of addiction. Alcohol and prescription drugs can also play a role in addiction. Why are athletes at risk of substance abuse and addiction? Some reasons include:

  • Availability: Addictive substances may be readily accessible to athletes. For example, alcohol and binge drinking can be a part of the culture for college athletes. Athletes at all levels may also have ready access to performance-enhancing drugs through fellow athletes or authority figures, such as coaches.
  • Pressure: Athletes can face an enormous amount of pressure, both external and internal. For athletes who publicly compete, they may feel pressure from their teammates, coaches and fans to deliver on their performance. Internally, athletes of any level often feel the need to drive themselves to achieve their goals. If they aren’t performing as well as they think they should, they might turn to performance-enhancing drugs or use other substances, like alcohol, to cope with feelings of failure.
  • Injury: Physical injury is common among athletes. Whether from overuse or an accident, athletes can break bones, tear muscles and tendons and experience head injuries. Chronic pain can lead to the abuse of prescription medication.

Prescription Painkillers for Sports Injuries

Some sports injuries can resolve quickly, with no lingering effects on performance and comfort level. Other injuries can result in chronic pain. Some athletes may be prescribed medication to manage that pain. If the pain persists, they may start to self-medicate or abuse painkillers. Common prescription painkillers for sports injuries include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): You can buy several NSAIDs, such as Advil, over the counter. But there are also strong versions of NSAIDs that are only available via prescription. Celebrex and Nalfon are examples of prescription NSAIDs used for back and neck pain.
  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids, such as cortisone and prednisone, are prescribed to address inflammation. Athletes may receive an injection of corticosteroids to treat an injury.
  • Muscle relaxants: Benzodiazepines are a common type of muscle relaxant that can be prescribed to help ease pain and improve mobility in athletes. Benzodiazepines can be addictive if abused.
  • Opioids: Opioids are commonly misused painkillers. In 2019, more than 10 million people misused opioids. This class of drugs, including prescription medications such as Vicodin and Oxycodone, consists of powerful painkillers. Athletes may be prescribed an opioid to manage pain following an injury or surgery.

What Are the Risks of Using Performance-Enhancing Drugs?

Performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) are used by athletes to gain a competitive edge. Anabolic steroids and human growth hormone are considered PEDs. Most of these drugs are banned in sports, regardless of the level of competition. In addition to the possibility of disqualification, PEDs come with other risks, including:

  • Physiological: PEDs affect a person’s body in many different ways. Some of the common physiological consequences of using PEDs are acne, changes in breast and testicle size, changes in sex drive, infertility, joint pain, high blood pressure and liver damage. Depending on what drugs are used and for how long, effects may be permanent.
  • Psychological: PEDs can also affect your mental health. Psychological effects of these drugs may include changes in mood, depression, impaired judgment and suicidal thoughts.

Many athletes who use PEDs do not consider the negative side effects of these drugs, focusing instead on the potential gains in their performance.

Warning Signs and Symptoms for Drug Use in Athletes

If you are concerned that an athlete you care about is using, some of the signs may include:

  • Changes in appearance: PEDs can significantly impact a person’s appearance. Men may develop breasts, while women begin to appear and sound more masculine. Some drugs can lead to dramatic weight gain or weight loss. Any change in appearance without explanation may indicate drug use.
  • Sudden changes in performance levels: Many athletes improve over time with hard work and training. Sudden leaps forward in performance, beyond what you might expect, could be an indication that an athlete is using PEDs. On the other hand, an unexplained decrease in performance could mean that an athlete is struggling with an addiction to alcohol or prescription painkillers.
  • Personality changes: Many addictive substances can impact a person’s mood, behavior and personality. If an athlete is struggling with sudden outbursts and bouts of irritability, these issues could be related to substance abuse.
  • GI symptoms: Many PEDs and painkillers can affect the stomach. If an athlete is exhibiting regular signs of nausea and diarrhea, substance abuse can be a possible explanation.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety and substance abuse often go hand in hand. The drugs can make the user more anxious than normal. Additionally, the athlete who is using a substance may be anxious about keeping that behavior hidden from others.

Sometimes it can be hard to recognize the warning signs of addiction. It can be even harder to speak up if you do recognize the signs in a loved one or in yourself. If you suspect you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, do not ignore the symptoms. It’s best to seek help as soon as possible.

Reach out to Us Today

Asking for help can be hard, particularly if you are used to pushing yourself in your athletic pursuits. However, recovery is possible if you take the first steps. At Transformations By The Gulf, we take a personalized approach to addiction treatment to give every client the individual care they need. Your experience is unique, and your road to recovery will be too. You don’t have to go it alone, either — support is always available.

Our team partners with you to address your needs and give you varied treatment options. We are here to help you get back on your feet and move forward with your life. If you are ready to make a change in your life, reach out to us to get started.