Addiction treatment programs serve clients recovering from substance use disorders (SUDs) that are often rooted in emotional pain but that are also often the result of physical pain. Athletes are no strangers to physical pain and often suffer from injuries and chronic pain. As a way to cope with both their physical pain and the emotional pain that can come with it, athletes often turn to drugs and alcohol. This means of coping, along with other factors such as a culture that associates sports with drinking and using drugs, can contribute to the prevalence of addiction among professional athletes.

Addiction Treatment and Self-Medicating

Many athletes have college scholarships that are contingent upon adhering to their practice and game schedules. In order to keep their scholarships, these young athletes often have to keep playing despite physical injury and emotional stress. Professional athletes deal with the pressures of overcoming injuries quickly so they’re not pushed into early retirement. For many, an addiction can develop from the need for chronic pain management. If an injury goes untreated, using substances for pain management can become the go-to alternative.

Addiction Treatment and the Pressure to Perform

For many athletes, taking time off can mean losing a scholarship or necessary income. Athletes often fear this fate, as they’ve built their lives and identities around their commitment to the sport. In order to keep playing, athletes find themselves needing to manage the ongoing physical pain from unhealed injuries. With the constant pressure to perform, athletes can turn to substances to self-medicate in order to cope and also as a form of pain management.

Addiction Treatment and the Emotional Effects of Chronic Pain

Athletes also have to deal with the emotional distress that can accompany physical pain. Chronic pain can be emotionally debilitating. Professional athletes have to not only live with that pain but also keep up with the very physical demands of the sport as well as the emotional effects of the physical pain. SUD can easily stem from the intense pressure to keep playing amidst physical pain, pain that is often accompanied by emotional pain.

An athlete, just like any of us in recovery, is not consciously choosing to abuse a substance. They are a person with a disease and using substances to cope. Athletes can find themselves becoming dependent on both the substance itself and the escapism it can provide. Learning more about ourselves and these self-destructive patterns is an important part of the addiction recovery process that we prioritize at Athens Area Commencement Center.

Addiction Treatment and Competition

The “pressures associated with competition” can contribute to an increase in the use of substances, the abuse of those substances, and the potential development of an addiction. Competition can be stressful. Professional athletes often prioritize their sport over the rest of their lives, including their health. 

Addiction Treatment and the Fears Around Competition

Competition in sports can bring up many of the same fears that impact all of us. The fears that can accompany competition, such as inadequacy and inferiority, can affect all of us. Many of us, including athletes, have fears of not being good enough or not being loved. Our culture paints athletes as superheroes who are physically strong and mentally tough, who rise above pain and transcend difficulty. Athletes, however, are not immune to life’s emotional complexities. 

Using substances is one of the unhealthy coping mechanisms athletes turn to when dealing with the ongoing emotional pressures of competition. Education is a crucial part of unlearning these self-destructive ways of coping and learning new and healthier coping skills. At Athens Area Commencement Center, we provide comprehensive opportunities for learning in our group sessions, Educational Meetings, and more.

Addiction Treatment and Professional Stress

Many career paths come with a certain amount of stress. Professional athletes can experience a great deal of professional stress on a daily basis. Not only are professional sports widely adored, they are highly lucrative. Being in the public eye and being adored by fans while simultaneously attacked by critics can cause not only work-related stress but also intense emotional challenges. 

Addiction Treatment and Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Competition and stress can cause an unhealthy obsession with winning. Athletes often feel the need to prove themselves, to be admired, and to win. SUD can go hand in hand with “performance enhancement,” using substances to improve strength, speed, and stamina. Dependence on these substances can easily arise from intense competition, public critique, and constant physical demands. At Athens Area Commencement Center, we understand all the many physical, emotional, and professional factors that can contribute to addiction.

Addiction Treatment and the Culture of Sports

According to one of the aforementioned studies, Substance Use and Addiction in Athletes: The Case for Neuromodulation and Beyond, there is another facet of addiction that is rampant in the world of professional sports. For both the athletes and the fans who watch them, there is a “culture of sports” that includes partying, drinking, and using drugs. Athletes might unwind after practice or celebrate after a game with a drink. Many fans not only find the game fun to watch but also make a whole celebration out of watching. Tailgating before a game, cheering the players on, and celebrating a win are all often associated with partying.

Addiction Treatment and Self-Identifying with Sports

For the many people who are devoted to a sport, both the athletes and their fans center their routines and lives around sports. The game becomes a crucial part of their lives and how they self-identify. Sports have come to be known not only for their athleticism but also for the culture of alcohol and drugs. When people self-identify with both the sport and this culture of sports so heavily, substance abuse can often develop as a result.

Athletes struggling with addiction face many of the same challenges that other people face when managing substance use disorder (SUD). They also, however, experience unique difficulties that can include self-medicating for pain management when dealing with physical injuries and chronic pain. Professional athletes and student-athletes alike are under immense pressure to perform in the public eye, even when injured. The demands and scrutiny placed on athletes can be overwhelming, and SUD can be common in professional sports. At Athens Area Commencement Center, our staff is knowledgeable and experienced. We’re ready to support you as you embark on your life-changing recovery journey. Call (706) 546-7355 for more information on our treatment programs. 

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