Drugs and sports are always a big topic of conversation, but today’s drug presence in sports is growing — especially at the youth and interscholastic sports levels. At my practice I regularly counsel student athletes and have learned from those experiences that too many kids are using (and abusing) drugs – and not just the drugs you might think. In fact, some pharmaceutical drugs have become so commonly prescribed that usage is perceived as “normal,” minimizing awareness and worry for their potential danger.
Examining the drug problem today, the concerns have moved beyond the drugs kids have historically experimented with (i.e. marijuana and alcohol), to include newer categories sometimes overlooked. These contemporary drug groups include performance-enhancement drugs used to improve athletic abilities, and prescription drugs used to address mental illness, control for pain, and also used to get high. Remember, All drugs run the risk of serious side-, withdrawal-, and interaction-effects.
Types of drugs kids use
- Recreational drugs. Alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine are examples of drugs young people sometimes use to experience a euphoric state of mind, or mask psychological distress and problems.
- Performance-enhancing drugs. Anabolic steroids and pain pills are sometimes used by student athletes to either manage the pain of an injury, or increase physical size, speed, and strength.
- Pharmaceutical drugs. These are drugs prescribed by psychiatrists and pediatricians designed to help with depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
To further understand the drug issue today, it is important to familiarize why kids use drugs in the first place. Interestingly, the reasons vary from simply wanting to fit in with peers, to being pressured to use prescription drugs because of depression or attention-related-issues.
Reasons why kids use
- Experimentation. Just like generations previous, there will always be kids who are curious about the effects of drugs. The drugs I most often see kids experiment with today are marijuana and alcohol, although there has been a dramatic increase in the number of kids using pharmaceutical drugs to get high in recent years.
- Peer pressure. Another reason why kids choose to try drugs is peer pressure. In these examples, the user often decides to try a drug because of overt (direct) or covert (passive suggestion, group dynamics & influence, etc) pressures.
- Manage pain. Kids sometimes turn to drugs in order to mitigate pain from athletic injuries (i.e. prescription pain pills), or deal with emotional pain and distress (any drug that helps the user “escape” and numb the pain from reality falls into this category).
- Parents put them on drugs. Unfortunately there is a very disturbing trend in America these days where kids are more quickly put on psycho-pharmacological drugs to manage mood states, anxiety, ADHD, and just about every other life stressor and/or mental disorder. Too often pediatricians and psychiatrists today quickly fill prescriptions before exhausting other alternatives (like counseling), and since these drugs come from doctors there is usually a false security when it comes to their safety.
Summing it all up
Kids today use drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons, and the means in which they come to using drugs varies from recreational interest to having parents put them on drugs. And while street drugs still capture most of the headlines when it comes to young people and drug use, I will warn that prescription pharmaceutical drugs are just as concerning when it comes to addiction and side effects.
Drugs and sports have become a very complex and quickly changing problem, and one that most kids are unprepared to successfully manage without support and attention from parents, coaches, and teachers. Do your part by raising awareness and lending support to families facing drug-related problems — and encourage your school or league to do the same.