Olympic Athletes And Their Addictions

With the Olympic season upon us and in full swing, we gear up with full country pride, ready to learn the names of athletes who have spent their lives training for their fifteen minutes of fame. We’re excited to be represented by high-level athletes, imagine what it might be like to be in their shoes, and are brought to tears by the commercials that show their rise to where they are today, as told by their loved ones. 

Bringing those athletes back down to reality to discuss the challenges that plague them is not a comfortable topic to explore regarding these members of our society that we christen with medals and hoist on pedestals. However, mental health and the addiction that so often goes hand-in-hand does not discriminate, and these athletes have their demons too. 

In more recent years, we have seen athletes open up about their mental health struggles, while remaining curiously silent about the substance use also present.  What about the alcoholism, the substances, and the compulsive behaviors that are undoubtedly taking place alongside those struggles? We know about Michael Phelps’ depression and suicidal ideation, but what about the DUI that landed him in treatment in the first place? 

In the last decade, addiction rates and substance use disorder (SUD) diagnosis have dramatically increased, Olympic athletes notwithstanding. Discussing addiction among athletes is an important nuance in the discussion of substance use and addiction to understand—that even if you’re winning gold, you may still feel broken, alone, and ashamed on the inside. 

Substance Use Among Athletes

From resilience made of platinum to determination beyond muscle failure—athletes that train their whole life have many things in common with each other. Often one of those things is an experience with use of nonprescription substances and the probable abuse that generally followed.

There are many reasons why substance abuse tends to be higher among elite athletes. Some of those reasons include:

  • Pressure to win
  • Dealing with loss
  • To enhance performance
  • To numb physical and mental pain
  • Trouble accepting “civilian” life

Addicted On Accident

While often being coached by a team doing “everything” they can to help the athlete be the best, sometimes the athlete’s mental health takes a back seat to their physical prowess. Rather than engage with the athlete’s emotional spectrum, more often than not, someone inside the circle introduces and encourages substance use as a means of numbing or distancing from the world to avoid feeling the sharp edges of the way they are different. Even if intentions were not malicious, using and misusing substances quickly leads to a snowball of destruction. 

Sometimes the team is so dedicated to winning that they will cover up and brush off an athlete’s substance misuse or addiction until after the main goal. By not exposing an issue and dealing with it for fear of throwing the towel in on the whole goal—another athlete can get lost in the whirlwind of substance use disorders.

The majority of adults have experienced mental health situations

A large portion of the general population has struggled with some type of mental health issue in their life. These athletes are no different and often they came to the table with their own underlying conditions. The enormously stressful life of a full-time athlete can continue to trigger and enable improper treatment. Sometimes both the athlete and the team fail to recognize a developing addiction until the signs are much more serious.

Underlying conditions brought to the surface

These mental health issues may or may not be currently treated by a professional medical staff, however often self-medicating is easier. Whether it is a compulsive behavior or binge drinking on nights out, athletes are subject to the same laws of addiction as anyone else. Sometimes they may seem to get easier treatment in the eyes of the court but sometimes they are torn to shreds by their fan base or their entire sport. Just as they have had far to climb to achieve their success, they also have more to lose. 

Consequences of addiction and active addiction behaviors to elite athletes:

  • Legal charges/jail time
  • Being suspended or permanently banned
  • Losing your status in the eyes of the public
  • Losing or forfeiting a title or win
  • Physical impairment

Substance Use In Sports Dates Back To Ancient Greece

Even though “doping” athletes is something that has been around since ancient times, so has its unethical nature. While it wasn’t a law or a medical condition, it was considered cheating and was not taken lightly. In today’s times, we still see that fine line of use and abuse, especially when it comes to athletes. Leaving the ethical and legal context out, we still have an addiction issue at hand. Dealing with the mental health issues and co-occurring substance abuse through individualized care is the only way to truly tackle addiction.
The Haven is here for you whether you or someone you know is struggling with addiction. Athlete or not – our team is ready to guide you to a better future. Contact us today to speak to a professional.

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