Five Warning Signs an Athlete is Struggling with Addiction

athletes and addictionAthletes have skill and talent and are often in great physical shape. They usually have a competitive side that keeps them at the top of their game.

Unfortunately, that competitive streak can often lead to both stress and injuries. The pressure that athletes, both scholastic and professional, are under to perform well and to beat their rivals can be very high.

In fact, it can be so high that it may motivate athletes to use performance enhancing drugs to up their game.

Additionally, because athletes are prone to injuries, there is a growing use of prescription painkillers to manage those injuries and pain. The continual use of painkillers for chronic pain can lead to dependence upon them and later, addiction.

Drugs Commonly Abused by Athletes

Although athletes are just as likely to use alcohol and commonly used drugs as other people, they tend to use performance-enhancing drugs most frequently. These types of drugs are called ergogenic blends and they include erythropoietin, anabolic-androgenic steroids, and stimulants.

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Erythropoietin is a hormone that enhances an athlete’s performance by increasing stamina as it boosts the red blood cell count in the body. However, it can become dangerous when too much of it exists in the body.

Because the hormone thickens the blood, the heart must work much harder to maintain their activity level, leading to the risk of stroke or heart attack.


Steroids are muscle-builders that are often used and abused by athletes. When they are taken over a long period of time, they can lead to significant medical issues including heart problems and liver failure.

Steroids can also have extreme psychological effects like depression, violent tendencies, aggression, and severe mood swings.


Methamphetamines and cocaine are sometimes used by athletes in order to maintain higher levels of energy and alertness. They are also sometimes used to increase aggressiveness in combat sports like boxing, martial arts, and wrestling.

athletes and addiction

Athletes often look for an edge, but when that edge involves taking performance enhancing drugs, the consequences can be disastrous

These types of stimulants are highly addictive and athletes may find that what begins as performance enhancing often quickly escalates into full-blown addiction.


The use of narcotics is fast becoming a huge problem in the athletic world. Athletes tend to push their bodies far beyond their natural capacities, which can lead to injury, chronic pain, or both.

While doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications for relief, they often do not work well enough for the sometimes-excruciating pain that athletic injuries involve, and opioid painkillers are then used.

This can lead to dependence, abuse, and ultimately, addiction.

Types of Warning Signs That an Athlete is Using Drugs

There are five basic types of warning signs that you may recognize in an athlete that is struggling with drug use or abuse. While they may not exhibit all warning signs, if you recognize more than a couple, you should talk with them.

The signs that you can look for are broken down as follows:

1.  Physical Signs

When someone is using performance-enhancing drugs, you may see some of the following physical signs:

  • Acne
  • Oily skin and hair
  • Swelling or puffiness of the neck
  • Excessive body hair growth and deepening of the voice in women
  • Development of breast tissue in men
  • Bloodshot or red eyes, dilated or pinpoint pupils (depending on the substance)
  • Repetitive or slurred speech
  • Over-active or under-active disposition (depending on the substance)
  • Excessive sniffling or runny nose (not attributable to a medical condition)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Excessive weight loss or gain

2.  Medical Signs

You may not be privy to some of the medical symptoms of the athlete in your life, but the following are all signs of use of performance-enhancing drugs:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Nausea and other digestive problems
  • Ulcers in the stomach
  • Heart palpitations and arrhythmia

3.  Psychological Signs

Mood swings are common for nearly all types of substance abuse. Other signs include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Insomnia
  • Sudden or unexplainable outbursts of anger
  • Denial of use or amount of use of substance
  • Rationalization – offers alibis, excuses, justifications for their behaviors
  • Minimization – admits to problems casually, but not the true scope or seriousness of the behavior
  • Diversion – changes the subject or distracts from discussions about drug or alcohol use

4.   Behavioral Signs

You will also likely notice behavioral changes when someone is using performance-enhancing drugs. Some of those include:

  • Obsession with athletic performance
  • Changes in social circles
  • Being disciplined at school or work for poor performance
  • Loss of enjoyment of activities previously enjoyed
  • Financial problems

5.   Drug Paraphernalia

This sign may seem rather obvious, but someone who is abusing drugs will do their best to keep any paraphernalia hidden. You may have to really search to find where they have it stashed. Things to look for include:

  • Syringes
  • Pill vials
  • Small empty baggies or folded pieces of paper

Finding Treatment for Athletes

Using drugs may give athletes the competitive edge that they are searching for in the short-term, but the long-term effects can be especially detrimental and dangerous.

If you believe that you know an athlete who is using drugs, it’s important that you try to get them to seek treatment as soon as possible.

South Shores Recovery can help you help the athlete in your life get started on the road to recovery. Contact them today for more information and answers to the questions that you have about inpatient treatment for addiction.

Do you have experience identifying someone who is struggling with addiction? If so, please share your experience with us in the comments below.