Competitive Athletes At Risk For Addiction Interview with:
Laurie de Grace

Master’s graduate from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation
University of Alberta What is the background for this study?

Response: Little is known about the development of substance addiction in the context of sport. There is substantial evidence showing a positive association between sport participation and alcohol use, particularly the binge drinking that is more commonly associated with athletes than non-athletes. However, the connection between sport participation and the use of other substances is not clear. We undertook this study to learn from the perspective of those in recovery from substance addiction, how sport may or may not have played a role in their substance use and subsequent addiction. What are the main findings?

  • Response: The sport context, with its availability of substances and influence of older teammates, appeared to increase the risk of substance abuse and the development of substance addiction for the participants who had pre-existing risk factors. These included family history of addiction, having suffered abuse or trauma, mental health issues, the presence of certain psychological factors, and dysfunctional families.

Some of the competitive athletes appeared to benefit from the protective effects of sport involvement as they did not develop patterns of substance use and abuse while involved in their sport. However, when their sport was terminated, an upsetting and significant negative event, substance use compensated for the loss of an activity that was their identity and occupied a great deal of their time. It also provided a means to cope with the loss of a singular and important goal.

The protective effects of sport did not appear to offset the desire to use substances for the participants whose sport activity remained at a recreational level and whose sport participation was initiated by their parents. Typically during the departure from sport and interest in substance use coincided with the transition to high school. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Individuals who already have risk factors for addiction might be more vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction in some sport conditions. The frequently mentioned risk factors in this group of participants included; a family history of addiction, mental illness, the absence of appropriate coping strategies, dysfunctional families, a history of trauma or abuse, and psychological characteristics such as the feeling of not fitting in, and being excessively competitive. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: More comprehensive investigations into some sport contexts to determine why some participants develop addictions and others do not. If you know an athlete personally, who is suffering from substance addiction, be sure to recommend them to visit a Drug Rehab Arizona to help them break the cycle.

Examining the role of coaches; awareness of individual characteristics that may lead to substance abuse, the influence of coaching behaviour on youth, supportive vs abusive, the need for appropriate team building and social skills, their awareness of and influence over “off-ice” team activities.

Development and introduction of appropriate cultures and values in team environments, including education all adults affiliated with the teams. For example, banning alcohol use during team events.

Developing more appropriate coping skills for athletes, including developing alternate life goals.

More investigation into the influence of sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol manufacturers. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The earlier that substance use begins, the more likely it is that its use will become problematic in adulthood. Therefore, prevention of substance use is a very important message that needs to be shared. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Laurie A. de Grace, Camilla J. Knight, Wendy M. Rodgers, Alexander M. Clark. Exploring the role of sport in the development of substance addiction. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 2017; 28: 46 DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2016.10.001

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on February 17, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD