Drugs and Athletes: Why Do Athletes Use Drugs?

Drugs and Athletes: Why Do Athletes Use Drugs?

Drugs and Athletes: Why Do Athletes Use Drugs?

Updated June 2021

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 drug and alcohol treatment center in Chicago, 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.

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
  • Tyson Gay
  • Ben Johnson
  • Anderson Silva
  • Roy Jones Jr.
  • Marion Jones
  • Tim Montgomery

Cope With The Pain

Athletes that 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 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 is the best thing they could do to treat their addiction and prevent further problems from occurring.

Some professional athletes who have abused painkillers include:3

  • Derek Boogaard
  • Erika Blasberg
  • Rob Van Dam
  • Erik Ainge
  • Sam Rayburn

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 may be able to help.

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

  • David Freese
  • Brandon Marshall
  • Frank Bruno

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:2,3

  • Lawrence Taylor
  • Len Bias
  • Dock Ellis
  • Andre Agassi
  • Dwight Gooden

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

If you or someone you love also struggles with drug abuse, you are not alone. There is hope. Call Banyan Chicago today at 888-280-4763 to speak to a team member about our substance abuse treatment programs in Naperville.

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.