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How the Worlds of Drugs and Athletes Intertwine

Drugs and Athletes: Why Do Athletes Use Drugs?

With fame, money, and peak athletic physiques, professional athletes appear to have it all. Although they have what many of us may only dream of, behind this luxurious lifestyle can be a mess of problems. With so much to lose, why do athletes use drugs? As a Banyan rehab in Naperville, IL, we understand that people rarely begin using drugs with the intention of becoming addicted, but unfortunately, this is a habit that can quickly spiral out of control. When it comes to drugs and athletes, our favorite players are no exception.

What Drugs Are Athletes Not Allowed to Take?

A variety of drugs that could improve performance or possibly be harmful to one's health are not permitted for athletes to use. These include:

  • Anabolic agents (like steroids): These substances promote muscle growth and strength.
  • Peptide hormones and growth factors: Such hormones control energy homeostasis and metabolism. They can also affect bone and muscle growth.
  • Beta-2 agonists: Drugs like these can improve lung function and are used to treat conditions like asthma.
  • Diuretics: Types of drugs that can be used to cover up the use of other illegal substances.
  • Stimulants: Pills and medications used to raise alertness and energy levels.
  • Narcotics: Frequently used to dull pain and potentially improve performance.

There are many athletes with drug problems, whether they are current or in the past. So why exactly is it so prevalent?

Why Do Athletes Use Drugs?

For some athletes, the motivation to abuse drugs is a byproduct of pressures to perform or for huge financial rewards. Injuries have also contributed to the beginning of prescription drug addiction in many players. While professional athletes need to stay in shape and maintain good health, they are not immune to drug abuse and addiction. If their bodies are their livelihood, then why do athletes take drugs in sports that can have a lasting negative impact? Despite their love for sports, even professional players have their reasons for using drugs.

Performance Enhancement

Performance-enhancing drugs are substances used to improve any form of activity performance in people. This form of drug abuse in sports is known as doping and is done by many players in an effort to increase body mass and build muscle. Common performance-enhancing drugs are anabolic steroids, which work by mimicking the effects of the hormone testosterone to increase muscle. Despite the promised changes of these drugs, they can also cause dangerous and long-lasting side effects like:

  • Breast development in men
  • Infertility
  • Shrunken testicles
  • Prostate gland enlargement
  • Severe acne
  • Liver damage and abnormalities
  • Increased risk of tendinitis
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Problems with blood circulation
  • Mental illness such as depression
  • Drug dependence

Unfortunately, drug use in sports is more common than you may think. With pressure to be the best and do better, athletes using performance-enhancing drugs in sports is pretty common. One study found that over 30% of athletes in the 2011 International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships admitted to doping, as well as 45% of athletes in the Pan-Arab Games in 2011.1

Some professional athletes who have used performance-enhancing drugs include:2,3

  • Lance Armstrong (former professional cyclist)
  • Tyson Gay (American retired sprinter)
  • Ben Johnson (Canadian former sprinter)
  • Marion Jones (former World Champion track-and-field athlete)
  • Rafael Palmeiro (Cuban-American former baseball player)
  • Manny Ramirez (Dominican-American former professional baseball outfielder)
  • Alex Rodriquez (former professional baseball shortstop and third baseman)

Cope With the Pain

Athletes who use drugs in sports often do so to treat pain caused by injuries. Many sports can lead to serious injuries that require prescription medications. Unfortunately, athletes often attempt to play through the pain of a permanent injury or one that requires an extensive recovery. As a result, their pain can persist or worsen, causing them to use more painkillers than prescribed. One survey found that as many as 71% of retired NFL players surveyed reported misusing opioids in their careers.4 Because these drugs can be addictive, using them could lead to serious problems. Other aspects of their lives may begin to suffer, and prescription pill addiction treatment at our Naperville rehab center is the best thing they can do to treat their addiction and prevent further problems from occurring.

Some professional athletes who have abused painkillers include:3

  • Derek Boogaard (Canadian former professional ice hockey left winger who died of an accidental drug overdose)
  • Erika Blasberg (American former professional golfer who died with toxic levels of prescription drugs in her system)
  • Rob Van Dam (American professional wrestler)
  • Erik Ainge (American former football quarterback)
  • Sam Rayburn (American former football defensive lineman)

Poor Mental Health

The connection between athletes and drug abuse can also be attributed to poor mental health. Many athletes suffer from mental illnesses like depression or anxiety that are often sparked by immense pressure from the public and coaches and personal struggles. With all eyes on them, it’s not uncommon for athletes to struggle with their mental health. They may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to numb their symptoms. When someone finds themselves in this situation, dual diagnosis treatment at our Chicago rehabs may be able to help.

Some professional athletes who struggled with poor mental health along with substance abuse include:5

  • David Freese (American former professional baseball third baseman)
  • Brandon Marshall (American former professional football player)
  • Frank Bruno (British former professional boxer)

Banyan Treatment Centers Chicago offers treatment for co-occurring disorders involving conditions like depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that can help you or a loved one recover.


It’s not uncommon for people living the rich and famous lifestyle to get caught up in the party atmosphere. Many people who abuse drugs as adults started the habit in their teen years or even childhood. While occasional drug use or experimentation with drugs may seem harmless, this is how addiction often begins. So, while a professional athlete may be out trying cocaine for the first time after a big win, they could find themselves addicted to the substance and suffering later on.

Some athletes who have used drugs recreationally include:3

  • Len Bias (American former college basketball player who died of cardiac arrhythmia induced by a cocaine overdose)
  • Dock Ellis (American former professional baseball player who pitched a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD)
  • Dwight Gooden (American former professional baseball pitcher)

There are many reasons why athletes use drugs, but substance abuse in any situation often leads to addiction and health complications.

Should Student Athletes Be Drug Tested?

There are many different perspectives on whether or not student-athletes should be subjected to drug testing. Advocates contend that by discouraging the use of performance-enhancing drugs, drug testing maintains a level playing field and fosters fair competition. Additionally, it emphasizes the value of devotion to a healthy lifestyle, discipline, and responsibility—qualities that are beneficial in both sports and other spheres of life. Additionally, because it deters the use of potentially harmful substances, drug testing can preserve the health and well-being of student-athletes.

However, critics raise concerns about privacy rights and the possibility of false positives. They assert that testing might not sufficiently address the underlying problems that cause student substance use. Any testing program should be managed with openness, oversight, and a focus on athlete education and support in order to strike a balance between respecting individual rights and maintaining fair competition.

How Often Do High School Athletes Get Drug Tested?

Depending on the policies of particular schools, districts, and athletic associations, the frequency of drug testing for high school athletes might vary significantly. Student-athletes may occasionally be tested for drugs at random throughout the academic year, while in other instances, they may only be tested before the start of the season or in reaction to particular suspicions or events. Additionally, regardless of sport or level of competition, some schools may conduct yearly or frequent testing for all athletes. It's crucial to keep in mind that the frequency of drug testing should be decided after giving serious attention to the well-being of the students and the integrity of the athletic programs, as well as keeping in mind all applicable legal and ethical requirements.

To guarantee that athletes are aware of the expectations and repercussions associated with their involvement in sports, regular communication and transparency regarding the testing schedule are essential. The correlation between drugs and athletes may be concerning, but there are things that can be done to help these men and women achieve sobriety and their athletic pursuits.

If you or someone you love also struggles with drug abuse, you are not alone. There is hope. Call Banyan Treatment Centers Chicago today at 888-280-4763 to speak to a team member about our Illinois rehab facilities and the addiction recovery programs we offer.


  1. Science Daily - Doping in sports: Official tests fail to pick up majority of cases
  2. The Men’s Journal - 15 biggest sports doping scandals
  3. Seaside Palm Beach - Famous Athletes on Drugs
  4. NCBI - Injury, Pain, and Prescription Opioid Use Among Former National Football League (NFL) Players*
  5. Heads Up Guys - 22 Male Athletes Speaking Out About Depressions
Alyssa who is the National Director of Digital Marketing, joined the Banyan team in 2016, bringing her five-plus years of experience. She has produced a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. Through strategic marketing campaign concepts, Alyssa has established Banyan as an industry leader and a national household name.