Addiction Treatment for Professional Athletes

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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Drug Addiction Among Athletes

Although many athletes experience various benefits when they participate in sports, some of them end up abusing different drugs. They do this in an attempt to improve their athletic performance and manage sport-related pain. Others abuse drugs to cope with the stress and pressure associated with sports. The continuous use of these drugs leads to addiction. If not treated, this kind of addiction can negatively affect their athletic performance.

Common Drugs That Athletes Get Addicted To

Many athletes put winning above everything else. Because of this, they do all that it takes to become winners without considering the dangers of their actions. For instance, some of them decide to take drugs to help them play through pain. Others take drugs that can help improve their athletic performance. Some of these drugs include:

• Anabolic steroids
• Amphetamines
• Cocaine
• Prescription opioids

Anabolic Steroid Use and Addiction

Anabolic steroids are synthetic steroid hormones that resemble the testosterone hormone. They promote muscle growth, and they are used medically to treat hormone-related conditions like hypogonadism.

Athletes usually abuse these drugs in an attempt to boost their athletic performance and reduce the intensity of muscle damage. It helps them recover from complex exercises quickly, enabling them to exercise more frequently. Athletes also take these drugs to improve their muscular appearance.

How Athletes Take Anabolic Steroids

Athletes take anabolic steroids:

• By mouth
• By injection
• As pellets that they put under their skin
• As gels and creams that they apply to their skin

After taking these drugs, they travel to the athletes’ muscle tissues. The drugs bind with androgen receptors, stimulating the synthesis of protein. This contributes to cell growth.

The Negative Effects Associated With Anabolic Steroid Addiction

According to the Controlled Substance Act, it is illegal for athletes to possess or use anabolic steroids. Therefore, an athlete can be severely punished due to unlawful possession or use of these drugs. In an attempt to avoid being caught, some athletes end up using “designer” steroids. The sellers of such drugs claim that athletes who use designer steroids can pass doping tests. However, this is not usually the case.

Even if these athletes pass doping tests, they still experience the harmful effects of steroids. The side effects include:

• An increased risk of liver problems such as liver damage and tumors
• An increased risk of cardiovascular problems
• An increased risk of myocardial infarction
• Collagen degeneration
• Bone loss and osteoporosis

If you are a man and use these drugs, your testicles might shrink, and your breasts might enlarge. You may also become sterile. If you are a woman, you may experience the following side effects:

• Your breasts may become small
• Your voice may deepen
• Your menstrual cycle may change
• Your sex drive may increase
• Your clitoris may lengthen
• You may experience feelings of aggression and hostility
• You may become overly anxious
• You may become overly moody

Amphetamines Addiction

Amphetamines are drugs that stimulate the production of neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters, in turn, stimulate the central nervous systems, making one have false feelings of self-assertion, power, and strength. Examples of prescription amphetamines include Dexedrine, Desoxyn, and Adderall.

Amphetamines are often used in nasal decongestants and appetite depressants. You can also use them when fatigued since they can help you stay awake. That is why soldiers used them during World War II.

Some athletes misuse these drugs in an attempt to decrease their body weight. For instance, ballet dancers, wrestlers, and gymnasts use these drugs to suppress their appetite, helping them maintain their body shape. Other athletes use them to boost their self-confidence or performance. Other reasons why athletes use these drugs include:

• To reduce feelings of tiredness and fatigue
• To increase alertness
• To make them more aggressive

How Amphetamines Are Taken

Different forms of amphetamines are available in the market nowadays. Some of them are oral drugs while others are injectables. After taking oral amphetamines, their effects are typically felt within 30 minutes. The effects will last for around three hours. There are also smokeable forms of amphetamines that are available in the market. According to the NCAA, it is illegal for an athlete to take any of these forms of amphetamine.

The Negative Effects of Amphetamines

You may experience several unpleasant symptoms after taking amphetamines. These side effects include:

• Insomnia
• Convulsions
• Paranoia
• Hallucinations

These drugs can also increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Your blood vessels may rupture because of the increased blood pressure, causing a heart attack or heart rhythm abnormalities. Continuous use of these drugs can make you have repetitive and compulsive behaviors. You may also suffer from dyskinesias, which is involuntary muscle movement.

Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine is another drug that many athletes abuse. It is a non-pharmaceutical drug that is very addictive. Athletes use it in an attempt to boost their energy and endurance.

Cocaine abuse can lead to several health conditions, including stroke, seizures, tremors, vision problems, and high blood pressure. It can also lead to sexual dysfunction and even death.

Prescription Opioid Addiction

A large number of athletes sustain injuries every year, and many of them are given opioids to help manage the pain. Unfortunately, some of them end up getting addicted to these drugs. When an athlete takes opioids, they stop experiencing physical pain and feel stress-free and energetic.

The Most Commonly Abused Opioids

Prescription opioids are only supposed to treat physical pain. A doctor may advise you to take these medications after undergoing dental surgery or sustaining a sports-related injury. These drugs are often strong, so they are only designed for short-term use. Athletes who continuously take these drugs end up getting addicted to them. Some of the commonly abused opioids include:

• Fentanyl
• Codeine
• Demerol
• Oxycodone
• Vicodin

Why Athletes Abuse Opioids

Many athletes abuse opioids to escape from both physical and emotional pain. For instance, they may abuse them when coping with an injury or stress. These drugs help soothe their worries. A large number of people who use them end up using heroin too. If not treated, opioid addiction can be fatal. In 2019, around 50,000 American died as a result of opioid overdoses.

The Consequences That Athletes Face as a Result of Drug Addiction

Athletes can face severe consequences because of drug addiction. For instance, they can be banned from playing. The prizes that they had initially received can also be revoked. Others may be forced to retire or lose their jobs as athletes. On top of these, they may start suffering from different health conditions and experience the unpleasant side effects associated with drug abuse.

Help Is Available for Athletes With Addiction

If you are an athlete who is struggling with drug addiction, you should visit reputable drug addiction treatment centers such as Defining Wellness Centers. Our team will help you choose a drug addiction recovery program that matches your needs. You can choose our inpatient treatment program, outpatient treatment program, or try our 12-step recovery programs.

Our Inpatient Treatment Program

When you choose our inpatient treatment program, you will be required to live in our addiction treatment center. The duration you will be here will depend on your addiction level and the level of care you will need.

The inpatient treatment option will be the best for you, especially if you want to avoid things that trigger you to abuse drugs. You will receive medical care and private therapy. Some of the methods that professionals will use to help you recover from addiction include:

• Animal-assisted therapy
• Adventure therapy
• Cognitive behavioral therapy

Our Outpatient Treatment Program

When you choose our outpatient treatment program, you will only be required to be at our facility during treatment hours. For the rest of the day, you are free to focus on other obligations. Depending on the level of your addiction, we will offer treatment two to four days a week.

Our 12-Step Programs

Our 12-step programs help our clients connect with other athletes and individuals trying to recover from drug addiction. These programs can help you recover from addiction since you will be accountable to yourself and your group members.

Addiction Treatment Process for Athletes

The first stage in drug addiction treatment is detoxification. Athletes are advised not to go through this process alone. Instead, they should be in a safe environment where professionals can monitor them.

During detoxification, an athlete may experience several withdrawal symptoms, including:

• Anxiety
• Insomnia
• Depression
• Vomiting
• Diarrhea

The athletes can be given anticonvulsants and anti-anxiety medications to ease these symptoms. Before an athlete begins their detoxification schedule, a doctor will evaluate their health and may carry out blood tests to provide a personalized approach to treatment.

Maintaining Abstinence

After detoxification, some athletes may return home while others will continue to inpatient treatment. Those who do not move into inpatient care will be advised to take part in an outpatient treatment program. Continued treatment is necessary to avoid relapse and learn how to live a sober lifestyle. To continue abstaining from drug use, you will be taught how to:

• Develop healthy thought patterns and behaviors
• Build healthy relationships
• Manage loss and anger
• Deal with mental health issues

All this will be achieved through therapy.

Therapy for Addicted Athletes

Athletes who are trying to recover from addiction need therapy. That can help them recognize the harmful effects of drug abuse and help them take bold steps toward recovering from addiction. Psychiatric professionals and therapists are the best professionals to offer this kind of therapy.

Our professionals know how the minds of athletes are geared to work. That way, they can help athletes who are addicted to drugs recover from addiction. They can also help them figure out how to improve their performance without abusing drugs.

These professionals can also teach athletes how to cope with the pressure associated with competition in a healthy manner. They can help them know that it is okay to lose sometimes as well. All this helps athletes know how to handle drug use triggers without turning to substances for support.

How to Prevent Relapse in Athletes

Without the right approach, an athlete who just recovered from drug addiction can start using the drugs they were initially abusing. To ensure that does not happen, athletes should avoid trigger situations. For instance, they may need to avoid attending sporting events, especially during their first stages of recovery.

Focusing on the fun that a sport brings rather than focusing on winning can also help athletes avoid relapse. Sports psychologists can teach you how to do this. Hanging out with players who do not abuse drugs can also help you avoid relapse. Other things that you should do to avoid relapse include:

• Meditating
• Joining support groups
• Coming up with grounding techniques that can help you avoid stress and anxiety
• Continuing therapy

Famous athletes are among the highly-ranked celebrities in the U.S. However, maintaining their celebrity status sometimes comes with a risk. Some of them decide to abuse certain drugs in an attempt to improve their athletic performance. Unfortunately, many of them end up getting addicted to these drugs, and the only way to help them is to reach out to a drug addiction treatment center. At Defining Wellness Centers, we help such professionals recover from addiction. Contact us now to know more about our athlete treatment programs.

Begin your Recovery Today

If you are ready to take the step towards a new life, call Defining Wellness today and learn more about how we can help you.