How Athletes Can Handle Addiction and Treatment

How Athletes Can Handle Addiction and Treatment

Table of Contents

Drug abuse occurs in nearly every sport, it is also present in nearly every level of athletic competition despite the efforts to have them banned.

For years sports fans have heard time and time again about athletes getting caught using performance enhancing drugs but are typically unaware of the prevalence of substance abuse and addiction among athletes.

We will discuss the warning signs and symptoms of drug use in athletes, as well as, what to do if you think you or a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Why Do Athletes Use Drugs?

To Fit In

Athletes, as early as, high school and college face expectations to be cool and fit in. This often means going to all the parties and being the person who’s always down for a drink. An attitude that can lead to substance abuse issues early on.

To Relieve Stress

From pre-game jitters, to staying focused on the field, and being watched by thousands of screaming sports fans, competitive sports can also be stressful causing many athletes to turn to drugs not just for pleasure, but to cope with the turbulent lifestyle.

To Enhance Performance

Some athletes use drugs to enhance aspects of their performance. The use of these drugs is considered cheating and is prohibited in competitive sports.  These types of drugs are designed for other purposes and using them in this way is a form of substance abuse.

Types Of Drugs Athletes Use:

Performance Enhancers

  • Anabolic Steroids
  • Human Growth Hormones
  • EPO (Used for Blood Doping)
  • Beta Blockers

Other Drugs

  • Stimulants
  • Depressants
  • Painkillers
  • Steroids
  • Hallucinogens

Effects Of Drug Use in Athletes:


Steroids or anabolic steroids are performance enhancing drugs used by athletes and weightlifters. These synthetic drugs mimic the testosterone hormone to speed up muscle healing and growth.1 Steroids provide a competitive edge and are banned in competitive sports.

While the extent of steroid addiction is still being studied, it is estimated that 32 percent of anabolic steroid users become dependent on them, and many continue to use steroids even after encountering their negative side effects.2

Prolonged use of anabolic steroids results in long-term health problems such as3

  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Damage to arteries
  • Liver damage (such as tumors and hepatitis)
  • Decreased sperm count
  • Baldness
  • Testicular cancer
  • Shrinking of the testicles
  • Pimples, oily skin, or abbesses in the place where the steroids are injected
  • Extreme mood changes


Cocaine is a synthetic stimulant derived from the coca plant and is typically snorted or smoked. The use of Cocaine has been seen among athletes of many completive sports. Mike Tyson, Barry Morris, Steve Howe, and Bob Probert at one time or another have been caught abusing the drug and most of their careers have suffered for it.4

Cocaine is banned in competitive sports; a choice ESPN claims is mostly for the safety of the players and to protect the reputation of competitive sports.5 Nevertheless, athletes are attracted to cocaine for its ability to provide extra energy and confidence, while blocking player’s perception of fatigue.

On the other hand, cocaine is incredibly addictive and causes a variety of unpleasant short and long- effects such as6

  • Irritability
  • Paranoid thoughts
  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Heart Attack and Stroke
  • Sexual Disfunction
  • Lung Damage (From Smoking Crack)


From tailgate parties to Superbowl halftime ads selling beer and hard liquor, professional sports and alcohol are inextricably linked, and it isn’t just sports fans who overindulge in the stuff.

Athletes drink alcohol for a variety of reasons–to celebrate victory after to take the edge off before or after a competition and for many it doesn’t end there. One study found players as members of team sports like, baseball or football, were more likely to develop hazardous drinking habits.7

While consumed in low quantities, alcohol is known to induce stimulant effects, for the most part, alcohol is known to hinder athletic performance. Aside from being addictive and extremely harmful to your health long term, alcohol has several short-term effects that can impact performance like:

  • Motor Control Problems
  • Changes In Blood Pressure
  • Blurred Vision
  • Slowed Reaction Time.
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration

EPO’s and Blood Doping

Blood doping is the practice of using medications to boost the body’s red blood cell count. Blood doping with EPO’s or other substances increases the flow of oxygen to the body’s organs and muscles, allowing athletes to push themselves harder with less fatigue.8

Blood doping, like other types of performance enhancement, is banned from competitive sports. It also has many side effects that are harmful such as:

  • Blood clotting (causing heart attack and stroke)9
  • Blood transmitted diseases HIV and Hep B and C (from blood transfusion doping) as well as fever, rashes, and hives.9

EPOs have also been found to cause changes in the brain causing experts to speculate as to whether they are addictive.

Beta Blockers

Typically used in archery, darts, racing, golf and shooting, beta blockers like carvedilol, metoprolol and propranolol slow down heart rate and reduce physical symptoms of nervousness allowing athletes to move their muscles with greater precision and control.10

Unlike anxiety medications which treat the psychological symptoms of anxiety, beta blockers only treat physical symptoms and are non-addictive. 11

Side effects of beta blockers include

  • Dizziness or Lightheadedness
  • Cold Extremities
  • Sleep Complications

More concerning symptoms include12

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Swelling of the extremities
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)

Recovery Program for Athletes

Athletes far from having a perfect life experience stressors such as chronic pain, pressures to maintain peak performance, and public scrutiny. All of these increase the risk for developing substance abuse issues. Fortunately, there is still time to get help.

Inpatient treatment programs offer a variety of programs and services like medical detox and substance abuse rehabilitation, to start you on your path to sobriety. Quality programs will also work closely with you and work tirelessly to help overcome any challenges you might be facing.

About Us

Golden Road Recovery is an inpatient detox and rehab center in Los Angeles, California that combines evidence-based treatment with premium services and a warm, supportive environment. To learn more about our services, call us today at (877) 372-0536.


The warning signs and symptoms of drug use for athletes can differ depending on the motivation for using.

Athletes, far from being immune to addiction, face many stressors that increase their likelihood of developing a substance abuse problem such as being able consistently outperform, be accepted by peers, be positively received by fans and cope with sports-related injuries.

Athletes also face pressure to use performance enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids, beta blockers or EPO’s.

While most performance enhancing drugs are usually not addictive, the misuse of these drugs put the health and careers of athletes on the line qualifying these behaviors as a kind of substance abuse.


Anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids – Better Health Channel. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2022

NIDA. Are anabolic steroids addictive?  National Institute on Drug Abuse website.

NIDA. 2021, April 12. What are the side effects of anabolic steroid misuse?

15 athletes who struggled with Cocaine Addiction. The Sportster. (2015, July 23). Retrieved August 29, 2022

ESPN Internet Ventures. (n.d.). Cocaine. ESPN. Retrieved August 29, 2022, from

Patafio, M. (n.d.). Cocaine: Short and long-term side-effects & treatment of addiction. WebMD. Retrieved August 29, 2022

Zhou, J., Heim, D., & O’Brien, K. (2015, March 31). Alcohol consumption, athlete identity, and happiness among student sportspeople as a function of sport-type. OUP Academic. Retrieved August 29, 2022

Blood doping and EPO: An anti-doping FAQ: USADA. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). (2020, January 3). Retrieved August 29, 2022

McMillen, M. (n.d.). Blood doping: Types, risks, and tests. WebMD. Retrieved August 29, 2022

Elliott, C. (2008, August 20). In defense of the beta blocker. The Atlantic. Retrieved August 29, 2022

Hill, L. W. (2021, February 8). Feeling anxious? beta blockers could help. The Checkup. Retrieved August 29, 2022

NHS. (n.d.). Beta Blockers. NHS choices. Retrieved August 29, 2022

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Effective Date: 06/01/2021
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