Professional and collegiate athletes are required to perform extraordinarily well under pressure. Hypercompetitiveness is in their blood. In sports, you rarely get a second chance and the stakes are high whether you play a solo or team sport. The stress is real. Sometimes athletes also endure high levels of pain from injuries sustained on the field or take performance enhancing substances to enhance their gameplay. Or they may come into a great deal of wealth rather quickly and be lured into the partying lifestyle and temptations that fame bring. Ultimately, the mental and physical stressors that come along with being a professional athlete can push even the strongest of people to use and abuse drugs and alcohol.
Take 2019 Masters champion Tiger Woods, for example. Hailed as one of the greatest athletes of all time, Tiger has faced his share of stressors. In 2017, he said he was trying to escape pain when he was charged with driving under the influence. A toxicology report later revealed that Woods had Vicodin, Dilaudid, Xanax, Ambien and THC in his system. A month later, news reports state that he entered a treatment program.
Among professional football players, 52 percent self-reported having used opiates at some point in their career, with 71 percent of those misusing it at some point. Current and former professional baseball players told one journalist that as many as 25 percent of MLB players are cocaine users. And according to more than two dozen players, former players, agents and basketball executives, 60 to 70 percent of professional basketball’s 350-plus players smoke marijuana and drink excessively.
The list of professional athletes who have been caught, fined, or banned from their sport for drug use is enormous. Sometimes they make a comeback. All too often they do not.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate and professional and collegiate athletes are not immune from this disease. They arguably face an even bigger hurdle by being thrust into the public eye during their substance use ordeal. But care tailored to meet the special needs of professional and collegiate athletes is available and may help increase utilization and lead to more successful outcomes.
The Professional and Collegiate Athletes Program at Recovery Centers of America at Bracebridge Hall offers evidence-based substance use disorder treatment that includes tailored nutrition, athletic training and medical evaluation specific to the individual and their professional sport. The program’s certified trainer and nutrition consultant Paul Norris says, “My goal is to get the athlete back into a structured environment, back into a regimen, because that’s when they’re at their best. This isn’t just physically – we work on mindset, too. We help athletes find their happiness again through healthy, positive goal-setting and a structured program focused on their well-being.”
Athletes may abuse substances to produce pleasure, relieve pain and stress, improve socialization, recover from injury, and enhance performance. They face unique circumstances that benefit from structured, specialized care and staff who understand their need to successfully complete treatment and return to the sport. One-on-one support from a dietician, wellness coordinator, physical therapist and chiropractor can greatly add to an athlete’s treatment program and recovery success.
While the goal of addiction treatment for athletes and non-athletes is the same, getting there can look a bit different. Ultimately, it’s about prioritizing client health whether on or off the field.