The growing amount of athletes suffering from addiction to drugs, alcohol, and other vices is a serious and potentially deadly mental and physical health crisis. The public attention and stigma surrounding addiction is, unfortunately, often focused on people outside the sphere of professional sports. As such, few are aware of, or willing to talk about, the various dangers plaguing athletes in regard to addiction, both in the short and long term. As a result, fewer still are taking the necessary steps to identify and address these issues.
The reality is that, with all the money, fame and publicity that comes with a career in professional sports, athletes are often particularly vulnerable to the temptation—and eventual abuse of—drugs, alcohol, and other vices. A sense of invulnerability, stemming from their already high levels of physical and mental performance, can also lead athletes to use drugs and alcohol as a means of pushing past the fatigue and exhaustion that comes with day-in, day-out training and competition.
Unfortunately, at this point, the lack of awareness surrounding addiction has lead to the continued deterioration of the mental and physical health of far too many athletes. It is an issue that is further compounded by the last-minute cancellations, because of the withdrawal effects an addict-athlete can experience, which can lead to an even greater sense of depression and low self-worth. Long-term consequences of addiction may include chronic fatigue, anxiety, and memory problems; meanwhile, using drugs or alcohol can also lead to weakened immune systems, as well as an increased susceptibility to infectious diseases.
Thus, it is paramount for coaches, athletes, and fans to become better informed about addiction, as well as its associated symptoms and signs. An awareness of heart palpitations or breathing difficulties, for example, can go a long way in helping to identify an addicted athlete early on. The most effective way to help an athlete suffering from addiction is through diagnosis, specific treatments, and active participation in a recovery program.
Evidence-based treatment plans should also be implemented in order to counter an athlete’s potential relapse; these strategies often include a combination of psychotherapies, medications, and lifestyle changes. Furthermore, open dialogue between athletes and team/franchise owners is also an important step when it comes to addiction. This discussion might include such topics as removing the stigma around mental health within the sports community, providing greater support systems, and setting up plans to ensure that addicted athletes receive the help they need.
At the end of the day, addiction is a complex issue that affects people of all walks of life and levels of celebrity. However, this reality should not be downplayed or minimized, especially when it comes to athletes, who can achieve unparalleled success but suffer debilitating health effects at the same time. With a combination of knowledge, support, and increased societal awareness of addiction-related issues, athletes—and society as a whole—can be better protected from the mental and physical damage that addiction can cause.