Drug Abuse

Drug abuse is characterized by repeated or excessive use of a chemical substance (“drug”) that impacts a player’s ability to function. Regardless of the reason, drug abuse (of any kind) can be dangerous and life-threatening. Athletes may turn to drugs for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Recreation
  • Performance Enhancement
  • Self-Medication

When drug use interferes with a player’s ability to function (for example, getting to meetings on-time) or maintain responsibilities (for example, obligations as a parent or spouse), we call this “substance abuse”. Substance abuse may not necessarily mean someone is “addicted”, but it is a serious problem.

Once a player starts to “feel” the physiological or psychological urge to use drugs to create a positive experience (for example, euphoria, better focus, or more energy) or to reduce a negative experience (for example, anxiety or depression), we call this “substance dependence”. Dependence is often characterized by withdrawal effects (for example, feeling shaky or sweaty or increase in blood pressure) when an individual stops using the drug and an intense “craving” to find and use the drug again. Frequently, this craving (or “addiction”) to use can be so great that a player will consistently and irrationally prioritize using drugs over important people or activities in their life.

Drugs of abuse generally fall into 4 categories: 

Drug Types 

Examples 

Depressants 

Alcohol, marijuana, heroin, prescription opiates (Oxycodone, Vicodin, Fentanyl), prescription sedatives (Valium, Xanax, Ativan

Stimulants 

Cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy/Molly), crystal meth, bath salts, prescription stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin

Hallucinogens 

LSD, psilocybin (mushrooms), PCP, peyote, synthetic cannabinoids (Spice/K2

Other 

Anabolic steroids (androstenedione, testosterone), inhalants (paints, glue), tobacco, nicotine, cough medication 


Drug abuse may result in very serious medical and psychological problems. Depending on the specific drug (and sometimes the amount or duration of use), medical complications include heart attacks, seizures, brain damage, confusion, liver damage, sexual dysfunction, infection, and insomnia. The psychological consequences can be even more acutely impairing, such as depression, anxiety, aggression, impulsivity, suicidal thoughts or actions, mania, hallucinations or paranoia. These effects are most often the reason for the destructive personal, social, financial and legal consequences seen with drug use.

Treatment requires an intensive and multidisciplinary approach utilizing counseling, group therapy, social support, and medications. Many times inpatient treatment is initially required to ensure safety and adequate management. For more information, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.