Elite Athletes and Addiction

Elite athletes, such as Olympians or Ironman triathletes, usually conjure up images of drivenness, motivation, strength, and focus. It’s jarring, then, to realize that many elite athletes are susceptible to drug or alcohol addiction. Exercise itself can be addictive, priming athletes for future addiction. And the same attributes that transform these men and women into all-star athletes also lead them down the path of addiction, while leaving competition can cause feelings of intense loss or chaos.


Elite athletes’ vulnerability to substance use disorders takes on new light when we understand exercise as an addiction in itself. Just like drugs, exercise stimulates and spurs the production of dopamine in the brain, flooding the exerciser with a pleasant, euphoric feeling. Over time, a person can become addicted to the natural high that exercise creates. So when an athlete stops training, whether to retire or to rest, they may feel minor withdrawal symptoms, such as restlessness, irritability, anxiety, or a craving that they must satisfy. Unfortunately, this can lead athletes to turn to drugs, which provide a similar but much more powerful high. As the neural pathways for addiction are already established, athletes have a higher risk of becoming addicted and needing treatment in drug rehab.


In addition to primed neural pathways, athletes’ personality traits increase their risk of addiction. The traits that allow athletes to succeed in competition—risk-taking, impulse-seeking, and focus—can all translate negatively when transferred to addiction. For example, the drive and obsession that propels someone to train every day could also cause them to become intensely focused on a drug, leading to addiction. During treatment in an addiction treatment center, athletes can learn how to manage these traits and channel them in a positive manner.


Leaving the heat and rush of intense competition can feel like going from a hundred miles an hour to a sudden standstill. It’s a huge adjustment to settle down and stop competing, especially when competing or athleticism used to be the core identity for these men and women. Suddenly they have to shape a new character for themselves, and find a new outlet to express themselves. This struggle can lead to a lot of turmoil and even depression. Former Olympians may fall into despair, especially if they didn’t achieve their goals while competing. To quell these feelings, they may turn to drugs. However, treatment at an addiction recovery facility can help these athletes to redefine and rediscover themselves apart from sports or competition.


If you or a loved one is addicted to alcohol or other drugs, please email or call our caring representatives to learn about our luxury drug rehab program, where clients recover in comfort and privacy at Right Path Drug Rehab. Our treatment is client-centered, and staff works with each client to create a customized program that addresses each individual’s needs. Clients attend group and one-on-one counseling sessions, uncover root causes of their addiction, and grow in a sober community of peers and mentors. After treatment, clients leave with the confidence to fight cravings and battle relapse. Please contact us today to begin a journey of healing and restoration.


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