The Prevalence of Substance Misuse and Addiction in Sports
Jessica Joiner, LCSW, LAC, has over a decade of experience working with those suffering from addiction, complex trauma, and co-occurring disorders. She uses her experience along with the extensive skills gained to address the many issues that arise for athletes.
In her workshop hosted by Harmony Foundation, Joiner discussed the prevalence of substance misuse among athletes, various ways of identifying “red flags,” and evidence-based interventions that can be helpful in combating the misuse of drugs and alcohol.
As Joiner explained, there are three main reasons athletes misuse substances: pain resulting from injuries, stress from incessant pressure to win, and the desire to enhance performance artificially. Over the years and decades, these reasons have stayed the same but the drugs involved are now more sophisticated than ever, with more options.
The statistics paint a grim picture. Substance misuse is prevalent in high school: approximately 19 percent of males and 14 percent of females binge drink in high school. 21 percent of teens use marijuana and up to 6.6 percent have used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
It gets worse in college where 42 percent of students admit to binge drinking, 28 percent use cannabis, and around 11,000 NCAA athletes admit to taking PEDs. There is a strong correlation between concussions and alcohol use. “Having a concussion is actually predictive for alcohol use,” said Joiner. “If a high school student is entering college with a history of concussion, and we know about the correlation, we could put some measure in place to intervene before things get out of control. We don’t want them to get overwhelmed by the pressure of performing and the grades required to continue.” It’s much better to support them on the front end before things get out of hand.
Should players get drafted into the National Football League, the pain from injuries, the pressure to win, and the temptation to use PEDs get even worse. In the NFL, 51 percent of players use opioids and 71 percent of those athletes admit to misusing them. Many of the pills are not prescribed by medical doctors: 68 percent say they got them from other sources.
It takes only a few days to get addicted to opioids, Joiner warned, and professional athletes have easy access. Professional athletes tend to play through the pain and then “fix it” with opioids and other substances after the game, putting themselves at risk for greater injury and addiction.
Joiner then went over the possible consequences of such risky behavior, which include the impact on performance, health, relationships, and career—and in the worst-case scenario, death.
While substances were initially taken to enhance or maintain performance, escalating use will eventually compromise performance and wreak havoc with the athlete’s health. As is the case for all people with substance use disorder, addiction has “a definite negative impact on relationships.” If there is no intervention and treatment, players may end up with legal problems, a league suspension, or just get kicked off their team.
There are many examples of athletes falling into this trap. Former Boston Celtic Chris Herren struggled with substance misuse for much of his NBA career. While playing for the Celtics, Herren started to use opioid painkillers. In December 2007, he was charged with possession of heroin in Rhode Island and in the following June, Herren overdosed on heroin in Fall River, Massachusetts. According to the attending paramedics, he was clinically dead for 30 seconds.
Abby Wambach—widely considered the best female soccer player ever—was arrested for driving under the influence in 2016. Following the incident, Wambach published an autobiography revealing that she had misused prescription drugs and alcohol for many years.
After going into recovery, Herren started raising awareness of drug addiction and has now spoken to over one million students, athletes, and community members, promoting frank discussions about substance use disorder and wellness.
In the webinar, Joiner, too, stressed the importance of prevention and early intervention to attack this problem. Prevention should include educating everybody involved to raise awareness of mental health issues that often drive substance misuse, so parents, teachers, and coaches learn to recognize red flags. “From the outside, it often looks like they have everything”, explained Joiner. That’s why depression and anxiety disorders are often overlooked. Testing, screening and other interventions should be used in a supportive, not punitive way.
“We should stop just being reactive and be more proactive,” Joiner said. Coaches and trainers of athletes should not wait for a crisis to unfold and athletic programs should provide adequate mental health services for players (and other students). Treatment should not be perceived as punishment for bad behavior but as a concerted effort to heal psychological problems. “We need effective collaboration between therapists, doctors, school departments, and the community that facilitates integrated care,” Joiner said. Currently, too many people fall through the cracks because many athletic departments don’t provide nearly enough mental health professionals. Ultimately, a culture shift is required: our society’s approach to athletic injuries and mental illness needs to change significantly and we need more trauma-informed and stigma-free care—and not only for athletes.
Alcohol Use Disorder Screening
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects millions of Americans, a disorder which can have serious impact on one’s health and can be fatal. Without effective, evidence-based treatments, the chances of recovery are slim. Sadly, many young adults have an AUD which usually arose in their teenage years. Preventing teenage alcohol misuse and abuse is crucial, and doctors can play a huge role in intervening early on.
New research has found that physicians who ask teens just one question about drinking frequency in the past year can help them determine who is at risk for developing an AUD down the road, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) press release. The study involved almost 1,200 young people ages 12 to 20. The findings were published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
“Primary care physicians are encouraged to screen adolescents for alcohol problems, yet many do not, citing time constraints and other issues,” NIAAA Director George Koob, PhD said in a news release. “This study demonstrates that simple screening tools such as those in NIAAA’s Youth Guide are efficient and effective.”
Using a computer-based questionnaire at a primary care clinic, the teens involved in the study were asked about how much alcohol they use and were screened for an AUD, the press release reports. The researchers found that 10 percent of those over age 14 met the diagnostic criteria for an AUD. The NIAAA funded study found that 44 percent of teens between 12 and 17 years old who had at least one drink on three or more days in the past year met the criteria for AUD. But everyone who drank that much was at risk for alcohol problems. Thirty-one percent of 18-20 year olds who reported 12 or more drinking days in the last year were found to have an AUD.
“This finding confirms that a single question can be an effective screen for AUD,” said lead researcher Duncan B. Clark, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
If you are a young adult and believe that you have a problem with alcohol, please contact Harmony Foundation. Our Young Adult Recovery Track (YART) is specifically tailored for treating young adults with substance use disorders, let us help you begin the journey of recovery.
Families Want Young People to Learn from Their Sons’ Mistakes
Driving under the influence of any mind altering substance is extremely dangerous and can result in loss of life. Most teenagers and young adults have been warned about the dangers of driving drunk or high, yet, every year, young adults lose their life because they thought they could drive on drugs or alcohol.
The general public hears about such tragedies in their communities, everyone empathizes for the family’s loss, but sadly – everyone knows it will happen again. One family has decided to use the tragedy that befell their children for good. This year, two young British men, Kyle Careford (20) and Michael Owen (21), lost their lives while driving high at speeds in excess of 90 mph and crashed into a stone church wall, according to Mirror Online. What’s more, the victims were filming the incident.
What makes this accident unique is what the victim’s family decided to do with the film. The Carefords and Owens chose to release the footage of the last moments of the children’s lives, the article reports. The families publicly justified their choice, Michael’s mother Kat said:
“If all this stops one person from making the same mistake, then some good has come from showing this video. I’m hoping it will have an impact on young people and make them see that a bit of fun can have such devastating consequences.”
“I would like all the young people out there to take notice and realize that you are not invincible and take seriously how precious your lives are to yourselves and others. I want young drivers to consider how much devastation it causes to the families and loved ones that are left behind.”
“Watching the video was very upsetting, but I’m hoping it can be used in a positive way, by showing young people what could happen to them.”
If you are or a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol, please contact Harmony Foundation to begin the journey of recovery. Harmony is a state-of-the-art, affordable, residential addiction treatment program located in the Rocky Mountains.
Addiction and recovery news provided by Harmony Foundation.
Mixing Alcohol and Marijuana Increases THC Levels
The legalization of recreational marijuana use in a number of states, including Colorado, has created a need for more research on the drug. Up until recently, there had been little research conducted on the effects of marijuana use, let alone on the effects of mixing alcohol and marijuana together – the two mind altering substances that are used together the most frequently.
New research suggests that when a person mixes alcohol and pot they show an increased amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their blood, TIME reports. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that is responsible for the euphoria that users experience.
The new study involved 19 people who drank alcohol or a placebo in low doses 10 minutes before they used marijuana in either a low or high dose. The researchers found that when a person drank alcohol, their blood concentration of THC was much higher, compared to when marijuana was smoked on its own, according to the article.
Previous research has shown that when alcohol and marijuana are mixed together, users are far more likely to get into a car accident. Teenagers who mixed the two substances were about 50 to 90 percent more likely to admit to unsafe driving, and they had higher rates of traffic tickets/warnings and car accidents. The new research may explain why that tends to be the case.
Mixing alcohol and marijuana is quite common among teenagers and young adults. In most cases, people are unaware that combining any two mind altering substances increases both intoxication and the risk of injury. While alcohol, and now marijuana in some states, are legal – it does not mean that they are always safe; both can lead to addiction.
The new research was published in Clinical Chemistry.
If you are a young adult struggling with alcohol and marijuana use, we encourage you to take a look at our Young Adult Recovery Track. Our program focuses on the specific needs of young people looking to find a new way of life through recovery.
Addiction and recovery news provided by Harmony Foundation.
Young Adults Drink More Around Friends
A recent study found that young adults consume more alcohol when they are around a greater number of friends. The study took place in natural settings, not a lab. The subjects recorded when they had a drink, and how many friends were around them at the time they had a drink. Though both sexes showed a significant increase in the amount of drinks they had when a greater number of friends were around, the peak in consumption was especially prevalent in males.
Young adult’s drinking is affected when others are around them. Young adults also have an unrealistic view of others in their social circle. Many times, they see their peers as more daring than they really are. This can lead to attempting to live up to unrealistic expectations they place on themselves. They believe they need to make more daring decisions, and take steps to achieve that. With substance abuse, this can quickly lead to addiction.
Addiction treatment can often be tricky with young adults. Many times, they see treatment as a form of punishment, and therapists as extensions of parental authority. This can cause the young person to not be as open to retaining valuable knowledge gained in rehabilitation as their older counterparts. To truly reach, and treat, young adults a program must be designed specifically for them.
Harmony Foundation offers a young adult recovery track that caters to the unique circumstances of young people. If you would like to learn more about what Harmony’s young adult program offers, please contact us for additional information.
The Importance of Exercise in Addiction Recovery
When a person exercises they experience positive physical, mental, and emotional results. Exercising is a key component to a healthy lifestyle. For this reason, exercising in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction is generally encouraged. The simple things like a well balanced diet and exercise can go a long way in helping one stay sober. It helps in early recovery by speeding up the process of getting healthy. It also helps with long term recovery by maintaining one’s overall health and establishing healthy relationships and routines through exercising or going to the gym.
A recent study has found that exercise reduces the risk of relapse during early recovery. Interestingly, there was correlation between exercise and relapse rate or urges, but no correlation between the actual length of the workout and relapse rates. Simply put, being involved in physical fitness, on any level, was enough to reduce the cravings and help prevent relapse. Even a 20-minute workout can go a long way. The study also found that even during active addiction, exercising resulted in the addicts not needing as much of their drug of choice to be satisfied.
Exercise, like drugs and alcohol, activate the brain’s reward system. Runners have often referred to the rewarding feeling they obtain while running as “runner’s high”. The “feel good” chemicals that exercise brings on can show a person that there are other ways of becoming elated besides using drugs.
It may seem like a simple task, but exercising can ripple into other aspects of recovery as well. Many who start exercising, even in small amounts, will start to incorporate other healthy aspects into their lives naturally. They may be more inclined to eat healthy to hold onto feeling well or dress nicer because their overall confidence has improved. Exercising can start small, and snowball into a very healthy lifestyle.
Exercise is a key component to our men’s residential treatment program, women’s rehab and our young adult addiction treatment program. This, coupled with our nutritional program, helps clients get physically healthy along with the spiritual and mental health that comes with getting sober.
The Dangers of Molly (MDMA)
Drugs have developed a reputation in modern society. Alcohol use is thought of as normal, while heroin is generally associated with an addict on the street. While there is some truth to stereotypes surrounding specific drugs, many are false. Molly, or MDMA, has developed a reputation among young adults as a “fun” drug. It is generally typecast as a drug young people do when at a club or music festival. It’s reputation as “fun” is dangerous.
Two young individuals overdosed on Molly earlier this year at the Electric Zoo concert in New York and earlier this month a 21 year old died after ingesting a lethal dose of Molly at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Molly or MDMA related deaths are becoming a regular occurrence, with young adults overdosing at several festivals over the last few years. These tragedies are, in part, attributable to the general reputation of the drug – thought of as fun, and by association, safe. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Anything from gasoline to baby powder has been found to be an ingredient in Molly.
When drugs have reputations as being fun or safe it is dangerous for everyone, but especially threatening for recovering addicts. The idea that a drug, any drug, is ok in sobriety can be devastating. Some in recovery may feel that if a drug wasn’t their drug of choice, they can take it and not endure the same wrath as they did in active addiction. The age old tale of the addict who thought alcohol was ok to consume after becoming clean off of drugs is an example of this. A positive reputation being associated with a drug is menacing, especially when that drug is killing people. It’s of monumental importance is sobriety to remember, a drug is a drug is a drug – no matter its reputation.
Prescription Stimulants Taking a Toll on Young Adults
Young adults are increasingly at risk of prescription drug abuse. This has been proven especially true for prescription stimulant drugs like Adderall and Ritalin.
Young adults use these drugs as a study aid or “party aid” because they allow them to stay awake longer. Normally indicated for Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.), Adderall and Ritalin contain amphetamine salts and similar chemical compounds which increase the amount of dopamine circulating in the brain. They help those with A.D.D focus, but give the feeling of hyper-alertness for those without A.D.D.
The number of young adults visiting the emergency room after abusing stimulants has quadrupled over the past 6 years – from 5,600 visits in 2005 to 23,000 in 2011. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) attributes this rise to young adults having greater access to stimulants. According to their data, in 2011 the majority of young adults had access to stimulants by getting them from friends and relatives.
Peter J. Delany of SAMHSA says the rise is pronounced among those 18-25 years old. Unfortunately, many young adults aren’t aware of the health and legal consequences of abusing stimulants. In many states, possessing just one pill without a prescription is a felony charge and having as few as 5 pills can be considered trafficking.
The health consequences can also be severe – especially when combined with alcohol. Many young adults end up visiting the emergency room with palpitations, severe anxiety, paranoia and heart and blood vessel problems. Some even end up with psychosis after taking too much over an extended period of time and some get alcohol poisoning because stimulants mask the effects of being drunk.
For a young adult, the legal and health consequences can be lifelong. What often starts out as innocent use of stimulants – such as using them during finals at college – can quickly turn into not-so-innocent consequences because of the addictive nature of stimulants.
At Harmony Foundation we understand the consequences of addiction among young adults, which is why we have created special Young Adult Recovery Track. We help bring young adults back from the often-quick downward spiral of prescription drug abuse.
Cory Monteith’s Death Sheds Light on Relapse
It has been a week since it was announced that Cory Monteith passed away from a fatal combination of alcohol and heroin. The devastating news has made us reflect on the importance of addiction treatment for younger adults and relapse prevention.
Monteith was best known for his role in Glee, portraying Finn Hudson, a young football star turned singer for the high school’s singing squad. He was found dead in a hotel in Vancouver last Saturday and reports indicated that alcohol and other substances were found in his hotel room.
Monteith was open about his substance abuse – saying in interviews that he first got sober when he was 19 and remained clean for almost 10 years. In one interview he told Parade Magazine that was “lucky to be alive” because he was “doing anything and everything, as much as possible” by the age of 16. Then last April his publicist announced that he entered rehab for substance abuse.
His relapse is a reminder that sobriety is something those in recovery have to consistently work at, through various means of support – and that a relapse can happen no matter how many years of sobriety someone has under their belt. There is no one size fits all approach to maintain sobriety, but many find that going to 12 step meetings, having a sponsor, incorporating spiritual principals such as honesty and discipline in their lives, maintaining connection with others in recovery and aftercare services or staying connected to their former treatment centers can help.
That is why Harmony’s addiction rehab in Colorado has a unique alumni support system whereby former clients connect with Alumni Services through events and even an iPhone and Android app that allows them to track their recovery progress. We also have a relapse program for those that need to recommit to their recovery. We have created these safety nets because we believe the saying that “I may have a relapse but may not have another recovery” unfortunately rings true. You never know when a relapse or what combination of substances can take a life. Our hearts and prayers go out to Monteith and his friends and family.