What are the chances that your favorite athlete is addicted to painkillers? The answer might surprise you.
A professional athlete relies on her strong, healthy body to earn a living. She must always be at peak physical performance to remain at the top of her game. The very nature of professional sports requires that she give each competition everything she has, even if she is injured, sick, or exhausted from the rigors of her sport. In some cases, an injury as benign as a backache can end a career.
Rather than let pain compromise success on the court, pool, or playing field, some athletes open a bottle of prescription painkillers. In many cases, opiates help the athlete get a good night’s sleep. Other times, prescription analgesics help him overcome pain from a temporary illness. Sometimes painkillers become a way of life, especially for athletes suffering chronic pain from a significant sports-related injury.
Opiate addiction frequently outlasts a sports injury and often persists long after retirement from professional sports. While injuries can occur during almost any sport, football players are at special risk for painful injuries. In fact, one study showed that more than half of all NFL football players are hurt each year, with injury rates spiking at 68 percent during the 2003 – 2004 season.
Retired NFL football players misuse painkillers three to four times more often than the general population, according to a 2011 study by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Scientists conducted telephone surveys with 644 retired NFL players. More than half of the athletes used opiates and an astounding 71 percent report misusing these drugs during their NFL careers.
The survey also showed that many of these football players continue to misuse opiates, even after retirement from the game. Fifteen percent of respondents who had misused during their football careers said they still misuse in retirement. In comparison, only 5 percent of players who did not misuse drugs as pros now misuse as retirees.
Opiate Addiction among Student Athletes is Rising
Opiate addiction strikes amateur athletes as well. In fact, a 2014 study shows that student athletes generally participate in illicit substance abuse more than students who do not compete. Of all the student athletes, football players used illicit substances the most. Many students use these substances for recreational purposes but, like their professional counterparts, student athletes can start using opiates to curb sport-related pain.
Millions of kids in the United States play high school sports or are on a youth sports team; hundreds of thousands more play college sports. Most never turn professional but all young athletes are at risk for injuries and, therefore, exposure to painkillers. Unlike professionals, surrounded by team doctors and the finest sports medicine professionals, student athletes often take drugs without proper medical supervision.
Left unaddressed, substance abuse could lead to opiate addiction. This could signal a dangerous trend, as addiction can linger for months, years, or even decades after the individual stops participating in sports. If you know an athlete of any age with a painkiller problem, urge him to seek treatment as early as possible.