As a student athlete, you work hard on and off the field. While you may face higher standards and enjoy more opportunities compared to your non-athlete peers, the competitive lifestyle can translate into greater stress. Will you PR this week? What about college applications? What if an injury puts an early end to your season?
These extra pressures can make you a fighter. They can also make you more vulnerable to risks of substance abuse.
How does a person committed to physical fitness even get to the point of abuse or addiction? It’s easier than you think, but you don’t have to become another statistic. By building your awareness about how these problems begin to develop, you can stop them in their tracks and keep your victorious edge.
No athlete sets out to become addicted. Often an unexpected event, most commonly a sports injury, leads to a prescription for a painkiller. What begins as a tool to bring temporary physical relief becomes habit forming, and in the case of opioids, strongly addictive. Add on the emotional pain of missing practice and games—perhaps a chance to finish out the season—and the drug becomes a dangerous coping mechanism.
Drug abuse doesn’t always start with painkillers, though. Most student athletes are also highly committed to their academics. Sometimes these students are tempted to take “study drugs” like amphetamines to give them an extra boost of energy and focus during finals week or a big project. These pills can also be highly addictive, with “just one more” leading to another, until one day, the student realizes they are hooked.
Alcohol and cannabis may seem less likely to “sneak up on you” like prescription meds, but they are no less dangerous. Many people who engage in these substances with little more than a plan to “take the edge off” with friends can find themselves abusing these substances before they know it. In fact, the NCAA Sport Science Institute reports that around a third of college athletes participate in heavy episodic drinking. As for cannabis, “those who have used in the last 30 days reported failing grades at three times the rate of those who don’t use."
If even healthy, motivated, “good kids” can become addicted to drugs without realizing it, what can you do to prevent it? Even if you avoid those obvious parties with drugs and alcohol, are you at the mercy of any prescription pills that may enter your life?
The best news of all is that you’re in control. Even with the pressures of sports and school or an unexpected injury or academic challenge, you can avoid the risks by steering clear of social situations where drugs are present, decline prescriptions for painkillers, or if you absolutely have to have them, ask for the smallest possible dose or a non-addictive option. If the pressures of your busy life are taking an emotional toll, seek out counseling for healthy coping strategies.
Ashland County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (ACCADA) is here to provide education and resources along with support, counseling, and recovery services. If you or someone you know is facing substance abuse, contact us for help. Whether you're deep into your competitive season, recovering from an injury, or feeling lost about what to do next, you are not alone.
Learn more about how you can recognize substance misuse and support the student-athlete in your life.