Athlete running up roadRevered for their physical prowess and idolized for their achievements, professional athletes are often placed on a pedestal by society. While their bodies may be doing extraordinary things that most of us cannot imagine, it does not mean they are untouchable or that they haven’t had a bit of outside help.

There are plenty of former and current professional athletes that do drugs and just like the general population, these elite athletes can also fall into the hands of addiction.

The Relationship Between Drugs and Professional Athletes

Drug use in sports is more common than many people realize. While many athletes are taking steps to actively avoid such toxins, others may be abusing these substances for a variety of reasons.

Athletes who take drugs may do so to:

1. Enhance their performance– With so much pressure to perform, professional athletes may use drugs like steroids or painkillers to boost their abilities or allow them to keep playing.

According to the World Anti-Doping Agency, 44% of athletes who took part in the 2011 World Championships in Athletics admitted to using banned substances, but only .05% got caught.1

2. Deal with physical pain- Professional athletes push their bodies to the limit and the result may be serious injuries or chronic pain. While painkillers can help, they are also highly addictive.

Painkiller abuse in the NFL in particular is a major problem with former players using these drugs at four times the rate of the general population.2

3. Cope with poor mental health- Whether in their prime or in retirement, many professional athletes struggle with mental health issues and may turn to drugs and alcohol for help instead of getting treatment.

The prevalence of mental health symptoms related to depression or anxiety is believed to be around 34% for current elite athletes.3

4. Have fun– Professionals athletes often lead a life of fame and fortune including lavish parties, but some may get carried away. It is not uncommon for people in the spotlight to start abusing drugs or alcohol.

While highly variable, especially depending on the sport, one study found that the self-reported alcohol intake of elite athletes constituted up to 5% of their total daily energy intake.4

While there are athletes who take drugs and may not have any real problems, others may face serious consequences because of their substance use.

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Famous Athletes Who Use Drugs & Athletes in Recovery

Although drug use in sports is common and their physical feats may seem superhuman, professional athletes are not immune to addiction. What may start out as seemingly harmless substance use can quickly spiral out of control into a full-blown addiction. Even some of your favorite stars may be struggling with drugs or now be an athlete in recovery without you knowing it.

Derek Boogaard

Although a force to be reckoned with on the ice, Derek Boogaard developed an addiction to painkillers. Boogaard went to drug rehab but was not committed to recovery and therefore not able to beat his addiction. Eventually, Boogaard overdosed in 2011.5

Len Bias

Bias is a good example of a famous athlete on drugs who paid the ultimate price. Although a rising basketball star, Len Bias overdosed on cocaine and died just two days after being drafted to the NBA. Some reports speculate that this may have even been his first time using cocaine.6

Andre Agassi

A former professional tennis player, Andre Agassi used crystal meth. Although Agassi had failed a drug test during this career, he was able to come up with an excuse to get himself off the hook. Agassi is now clean and created the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education to provide educational resources to underserved populations.7

Josh Hamilton

A famous baseball player, Josh Hamilton has achieved high accolades in the sport including the American League Championship Series MVP. Although he has been successful on the field, he spent much of his career battling addiction. At times, he appeared to be a famous sober athlete on the path to lasting sobriety, but Josh Hamilton relapsed several times throughout his career and was at times suspended from the league for his cocaine abuse.8

Brett Favre

The beloved long-time quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, Brett Favre may have seemed to have it all, but he was also struggling with a painkiller addiction and alcohol abuse behind the scenes. Favre’s addiction became so bad that at points in his career he was taking 16 pills at a time. Eventually, Favre went to an inpatient facility for both his Vicodin and alcohol abuse. It took some time, but he is now sober.9

Joe Namath

A famous alcoholic athlete who eventually got sober, Joe Namath said he hit rock bottom when he was drunk during an interview and asked the reporter to kiss him. This stint led the former New York Jets quarterback to go to rehab and eventually Namath got sober.10

While they may seem superhuman at times, athletes are not immune to addiction. The athletes on drugs to be admired are those who stepped forward and got the professional help they needed. If you are struggling with your own battle against drugs or alcohol, do not be afraid to get help. Contact us today at Vertava Health Massachusetts to learn more about how we may be able to help you. Everything you say is confidential.

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