Drug Use Patterns among High School Athletes and Nonathletes

By Naylor, Adam H.; Gardner, Doug et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Drug Use Patterns among High School Athletes and Nonathletes


Naylor, Adam H., Gardner, Doug, Zaichkowsky, Len, Adolescence


Drug use by athletes has made newspaper headlines, sport governing body rulebooks, and doctors' waiting rooms on a regular basis. Despite this, the relationship between drug use and participation in athletics is not yet a clear one. On one hand, it has been suggested that participation in athletics leads to a healthier lifestyle and wiser decisions about substance use (Anderson, Albrecht, McKeag, Hough, & McGrew, 1991; Shephard, 2000; Shields, 1995). Conversely, others have suggested that drug use is inherent in sport and its culture (Dyment, 1987; Wadler & Hainline, 1989). In between these two perspecfives, one is left wondering if there is any difference in the substance use patterns of athletes and the general public (Adams, 1992; Anshel, 1998).

One way to begin clarifying this issue is to differentiate between recreational substances and ergogenic aids. Recreational substances are typically used for intrinsic motivates, such as to achieve altered affective states. Examples of such drugs are alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, psychedelics, and cocaine. Ergogenic substances are used to augment performance in a given domain. In sport, such drugs are typically used to assist athletes in performing with more speed and strength, and to endure more pain than normal. Examples of ergogenic aids are creatine, androstenedione, anabolic steroids, major pain medication, barbiturates, and amphetamines. The categorization of specific substances is debatable in some cases (Adams, 1992). For instance, although marijuana is traditionally viewed as a recreational substance, it recently has been banned by the International Olympic Committee for its performance-enhancing potential (i.e., lowering of physiological arousal) (H. Davis, personal communication, October 4, 1999). Similarly, amphetamines have been used for recreational purposes. Nevertheless, the attempt to label substances as either recreational or ergogenic assists in clarifying differences between athletes and nonathletes in their drug use patterns.

Recreational Drugs

It has been traditionally believed that participation in athletics leads to a healthier lifestyle and less use of recreational drugs. Increased physical activity not only creates a physically healthier person, but also may lead to changes in overall lifestyle, highlighted by "a prudent diet and abstinence from cigarette smoking" (Shephard, 2000). Some research has supported the popular notion that substance use is negatively correlated with healthful activities. In the university setting, athletes have self-reported less alcohol and drug use than their peers (Anderson et al., 1991), providing further evidence that the high-level physical and mental demands of sport are incompatible with recreational drug use. Shields (1995) indicated that high school athletic directors perceived that students who participated in athletics were less likely to smoke cigarettes, consume alcohol, chew tobacco, and smoke marijuana than were students who did not participate in extracurricular athletic activities. These findings, w hile encouraging, ought to be verified through confidential self-reports of high school students themselves. Nonetheless, these findings offer support for the notion that participation in sport promotes health and wellness.

Conversely, Wadler and Hainline (1989) have suggested that athletes maybe more likely to experiment with recreational and ergogenic aids than individuals not participating in athletics. Physically, athletes might use recreational drugs to cope with the pain of injury rehabilitation. Mentally, stress (arising from the competitive demands of sport) and low self-confidence are issues that might lead athletes to recreational drug use. Furthermore, the "culture" of the particular sport might socialize athletes into drug use (e.g., baseball and smokeless tobacco) (Anshel, 1998). However, there is little evidence to suggest that recreational drug use is higher for athletes than nonathletes. …

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