Many people look at professional athletes as role models. However, these athletes are not exempt from struggles, mistakes, or behavioral and mental health disorders. Unfortunately, drug misuse in sports is an often-occurring problem. As is the case with other disorders and diseases, any individual can develop a substance use disorder. Since athletes are pressured to perform well, they often use unhealthy ways to cope. Fortunately, when substance use disorder in athletes becomes an issue, there are resources available to help.

Why Substance Use Disorder in Athletes is So Common

Substances Athletes Typically Misuse

The rate of professional athletes’ drug misuse is at an all-time high. In fact, researchers have found that certain players are at a higher risk of developing addictions to drugs or alcohol than their teammates. The specific sport played does not typically influence athletes using drugs. Instead, addiction comes from the need to receive social acceptance.

Substance misuse among athletes may also occur as a result of self-medication. It may also sometimes be due to the normalization of drug use. Many people place blind eyes on this type of behavior. No matter, each athlete has a specific reason for his or her addiction. The possible reasons might include the following:

Heightened Performance

One of the most common reasons for drug misuse in athletes is to gain an edge over the competition. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency, 50% of athletes admit to using performance-enhancing drugs to gain an advantage over the competition. It occurs across all sports, ages, and competitive levels.

Help Dealing with Mental Illness

Most times, athletes receive treatment for injuries. However, in some cases, these individuals are less likely to be treated for mental illness. Some athletes may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their conditions.

Help Dealing with Stress

Often, pressure is the underlying motivation behind substance use disorder in athletes. In fact, players face huge amounts of pressure to win. Professional athletes are typically expected to perform well and to recover from injuries quickly. To help individuals deal with the pressure, drugs and alcohol enter the picture.

Treating Injuries

Injuries bring pain. It is impossible to perform well with physical discomfort. Many players use opioids and marijuana to escape this pain. Due to the fact that these drugs are so addictive, misuse begins.

Dealing with Retirement

Many people think that when athletes retire, they relax and exit the spotlight. When a player leaves the game, it can be difficult to transition into a normal lifestyle. Stress occurs, which leads to the use of drugs and alcohol to cope.

Substances Athletes Typically Misuse

Individualized and Specialized Treatment for Professional Athletes

Professional athlete drug misuse does not include one particular medication. To clarify, many individuals use stimulants, opioids, and other performance-enhancing drugs.

Anabolic Steroids

The American Psychological Association explains that anabolic steroids increase muscle mass and body weight. Athletes take these types of drugs to build stamina and to gain strength. Unfortunately, they raise aggression levels.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that anabolic steroids help athletes perform better. On the other hand, they cause painful withdrawal symptoms after discontinued use. Athletes experience insomnia, sluggishness, and mood swings.

Specifically, anabolic steroids interfere with the body’s production of testosterone. Therefore, male athletes may experience impotence and enlarged breast tissue. Females often develop deeper voices. As a result of lower estrogen levels after use, women athletes may miss their periods as well.


Adderall is today’s drug of choice in many locker rooms. It causes increased awareness and mental focus. Traditionally, it treats people who have ADHD.

On the downside, it brings harm to the brain’s neural pathways. A person who takes Adderall experiences extreme pleasure, which is hard to match without taking more. Also, it causes anxiety, sleep disorders, and mood swings. When a person suddenly stops taking this drug, his or her body has physical reactions, including nausea and muscle cramps.

Psychologically, a person experiences depression. In most instances, people have suicidal thoughts. An alarming fact is that many athletes take stimulants like this during training to copy the adrenaline rush that occurs during a real game.


Drug misuse in sports includes painkillers. Many players experience injuries that cause extreme discomfort. Painkillers are prescribed to help. However, they are often abused. Players become hooked and keep taking them, especially when they are needed back on the court or field. Unfortunately, these types of medicines are very strong and are easily addictive. Athletes get unnecessary prescriptions so that they are in peak condition to perform well.

Human Growth Hormone

Human growth hormone, or HGH, increases muscle mass and heightens performance. This is an injectable drug that is often bought illegally.


Undoubtedly, alcohol is another substance that is associated with drug misuse in athletes. Certain people drink before a big game to lower anxiety. However, there is no proof that alcohol actually helps. In fact, alcohol hinders performance. Some teams binge drink after a game to celebrate a win as well.


Like other stimulants, cocaine improves endurance, heightens focus, and encourages weight loss. Primarily, users experience periods of short euphoria; then, a crash occurs. To elongate the high, individuals binge use the drug. Cocaine suppresses a person’s appetite as well. When an athlete is forced to maintain a certain weight, it is easy to abuse this drug.

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Misuse in Athletes

There are various signs of a substance abuse disorder in athletes.

Physical Signs

  • Neck puffiness
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Excess body hair growth
  • Excess weight gain or loss

Medical Signs

  • Ulcers
  • Hypertension
  • Digestive issues
  • Heart palpitations

Psychological Signs

Behavioral Signs

  • Obsession about athletic performance
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Financial problems

Drug Misuse in Male Athletes vs. Female Athletes

the importance of specialized treatment for substance use disorder in athletes.

Although headlines showcase male athletes who misuse drugs or alcohol, there are women athletes using drugs as well. Research for the National Collegiate Athletic Association shared some statistics. It explains that 44% of male athletes and 30% of female athletes report binge drinking. On the other hand, certain drugs are misused more frequently by males. Anabolic steroid use is dominated by male athletes. However, drugs like painkillers are misused by both males and females to deal with injuries.

Types of Treatments Available for Athletes Using Drugs

The rate of substance use disorder in athletes is extremely high. These people face unique circumstances that benefit from structure and individualized treatment. Of course, athletes require a facility that offers confidentiality. Many professional athletes fear getting a reputation as an addict. Also, athletes need a rehab center with amenities that help to maintain physical abilities.


When an athlete takes drugs for a prolonged period of time, it is essential to undergo detox. In this process, the body deals with the physical symptoms of withdrawal. At an inpatient facility, medical professionals oversee this process so that no complications occur.


Next, an athlete receives individualized therapy. Both face-to-face therapy sessions and group meetings are used. Therapy helps an athlete understand the reasons behind drug misuse. Also, it provides healthier ways to cope with stress and anxiety. Many times, patients participate in behavioral therapy, which helps to identify triggers that lead to drug use.

In certain cases, athletes have dual diagnoses; this means that they suffer from addiction along with another mental illness. It is especially common in the world of sports to ignore mental issues, which can have direct effects on substance misuse. Working with a sports psychologist helps athletes cope with the pressure that is associated with competition.

It is true that some athletes participate in holistic therapies to treat their bodies, minds, and spirits. To demonstrate, acupuncture, massage, and yoga are therapies used to lower stress and to learn ways to naturally cope with pain and anxiety.


After an athlete leaves rehab, it may not be wise for him or her to return to the locker room. Accordingly, having a plan for aftercare is essential for long-term recovery. Future injuries and stress can return an athlete to negative behavior. A therapist will work with each patient to develop a plan that helps him or her maintain a drug-free lifestyle.

Helping with Professional Athlete Drug Misuse

When a person notices athletes using drugs, there are certain ways to help these sportsmen seek treatment. To begin, it is essential to show interest. When a person knows that someone cares about him or her, this individual listens to the caring person’s advice. Also, it is vital to offer support. Treatment can be a scary prospect, especially for a famous athlete. In fact, having a network of support makes the entire process a bit more bearable. Recovery is a long road that may have many setbacks. It is essential to bolster a person’s confidence and to guide him or her onto the path of sobriety.

Where to Receive Treatment for Professional Athlete Drug Misuse

Professional athletes enjoy applause from fans and the perks of fame. Nevertheless, they often deal with substance abuse. Drug misuse in sports must be treated with professional therapy. At Coastal Detox, our team understands the pitfalls of professional athlete drug misuse. We use individualized therapy to address the issues that lead to drug misuse in sports. We offer a safe and comfortable setting in Florida for detox so that a person has a stable start to recovery. For more information, contact us today.