Prescription Drug Abuse Among Former Athletes

Last Updated: Feb 24th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Prescription Drug Abuse Among Former Athletes

When most people picture individuals who are struggling with drug abuse, they don’t imagine athletes. The reality, however, is that many current and former athletes deal with prescription drug abuse. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that combine to create a dangerous pattern of abuse among these athletes.

Prescription Painkillers as an Alternative to Rest and Recovery

In the world of sports, whether in high school football or elite cycling, an injury can ruin an entire career. For that reason, many smaller injuries or ailments are ignored so that athletes can finish out the season or compete in a championship. To mask the pain, doctors may prescribe prescription painkillers like OxyContin or codeine.

The use of these prescription painkillers, many of which are opioid based, is not inherently bad. When used with medical supervision for the short term, they can be a good option for pain relief. However, far too many athletes use these drugs for weeks or months, rather than days, in an effort to stay on the field or the court for longer.

Drugs Used to Offset the Pressures of High-Profile Performance

Current and former athletes don’t only abuse prescription painkillers. Some athletes turn to other types of prescription medications because the mental pressure of top performance is unbearable. Rather than finding healthier ways to deal with this stress, they may take prescription medications like Adderall that contain amphetamines.

Prescription Drug Use Can Quickly Turn to Prescription Drug Abuse

Whether the prescription drugs in question are opioid painkillers or amphetamines, they can rapidly cause addictions. Once athletes become addicted, they struggle to make a change. Trying to quit through a detox might mean taking time off from their sport or admitting that there’s a problem to a coach and team that relies on them.

The reality is that there’s a tremendous addiction problem in the world of sports. According to one ESPN article, 52% of former athletes said they used prescription medications while actively playing sports. A staggering 72% of those individuals also said they misused the drugs at some point, and an additional 15% of these former athletes said they still misused prescription medications today.

When former athletes develop addictions to prescription medications, it can become harder and harder for them to get a hold of them. Many athletes buy their substances of choice illegally, or get them from teammates, friends and family rather than through a doctor. If prescription drugs aren’t readily available, some athletes turn to other opiate alternatives, such as heroin.

Former Athletes Can Achieve Help and Sobriety

Thankfully, active prescription drug addiction doesn’t have to last for a lifetime. Rehab programs offer a way for patients to deal with their addictions and break free from them. The best programs offer:

Don’t struggle with prescription drug abuse for one more day. Call (866) 971-5531 to learn more about 1st Step Behavioral Health and how to embrace a life of health, happiness and sobriety.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.