Athletes in Recovery: From Stardom to Addiction and Back Again

Drug Rehab For Athletes

Written By: Molly Groo

Molly is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Case Manager and Vocational Services. She has a Bachelor’s in International Relations, is a Certified Addiction Counselor, and it’s currently working towards her Master’s in Social Work. Molly’s experience allows her to provide expert knowledge about solution-based methods to help people in recovery maintain long-term sobriety.

Published on Apr 2, 2020 | Personal Recovery Experiences

The Trend of Athletes in Recovery and Addiction

athletes in recovery

Famous athletes in recovery are examples of perseverance and victory over addiction. Michael Phelps, Andre Agassi, and Chris Herren are just a few household names who have beaten addiction.  Tragically, other famous athletes have died from addiction. Athletes like David Waymer and Don Rogers, both professional football players, and wrestler Chyna, have lost their battle with drugs. While athletes in recovery offer hope, this trend leaves us with questions. Why are so many athletes vulnerable to drug addiction?

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Addiction and Recovery In Sports

Whether you’re in the big leagues or your high school’s football team, playing sports often leads to injuries. Broken bones, sprains, and head injuries are common for athletes at all levels of play. Frequently, athletes receive strong painkillers to treat these injuries. No specific population is more likely to receive prescriptions for potent opioids than athletes. A seven-month Sport’s Illustrated investigation uncovered rampant prescription opioid and heroin abuse in almost all sports. This investigation concluded that opioid overdoses have occurred across the country in sports like baseball, basketball, football, golf, gymnastics, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, volleyball, and wrestling. Tragically, opiate use can lead to overdoses and death. 

Statistics on Athletes and Addiction

Drug Rehab For Athletes

We looked at some specific and heartbreaking examples of addiction in sports, but what about national trends? Things aren’t looking good. According to research from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future Survey, around 11% of senior-level high school athletes have used painkillers for nonmedical purposes. With that many students abusing painkillers, it’s no wonder there have been so many overdoses. Equally alarming is research from Philip Todd Veliz, a scientist from the University of Michigan. He conducted a study on over 1,400 young athletes. He found that adolescent males playing sports are two times more likely to be prescribed painkillers and four times more likely to misuse/abuse them than non-athletes of the same age.

Finding the Solution: Athletes in Recovery

The good news is that there is hope for athletes struggling with addiction. The bad news is that it isn’t a quick fix. The solution to athletes turning into addicts is as complicated as the problem itself. That is – there are doctors overprescribing opioids, while drug cartels and dealers target addicts with more potent drugs like heroin. The answer is for doctors to cut down on prescribing opioids and for addiction treatment to be readily accessible to those who need it. Athletes in recovery can be examples of how sobriety is possible for anyone. First, eliminating the over the top prescribing attitude of doctors is already being implemented.

Things like prescription monitoring services are cracking down on opiate prescriptions across the country. On the other hand, increasing access to addiction treatment is a bit harder to implement. Some significant steps, like mental health and substance abuse insurance parity, have been made in the past few years, but there’s still a long way to go. Until then, it’s essential to be aware of the risks of opiates. If you are addicted, it’s vital to seek help immediately. Addiction can be fatal. Thus, asking for help before that “one last hit” could mean the difference between life and death.

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Cite This Article
Molly Groo. "Athletes in Recovery: From Stardom to Addiction and Back Again." Lighthouse Recovery Institute., Published on Apr 2, 2020,


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