February 26, 2020
Can sports injuries lead to opioid abuse among teenagers?
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, participation in high school athletics is more popular than ever. 2015-2016, nearly 7.9 MILLION students played some type of organized sports – the 27th consecutive year of increased participation.
Rightly so, playing a sport in high school is viewed as a positive –teenagers learn teamwork, responsibility, how to take direction, good sportsmanship, and the rewards that come from hard work.
But mounting evidence is starting to highlight a possible association between high school/college athletic injuries and addicting opioids – prescription painkillers and heroin.
“I didn’t really put two and two together until later… when I was a full-blown heroin addict. I knew painkillers were not good, but I didn’t know how crazy addictive they were.”
~Patrick Trevor, a high school lacrosse player who was prescribed Roxicodone for a thumb injury
In 2013, researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a study to assess the non-medical use of prescription opioid medications among adolescents and teens participating in organized competitive sports. By analyzing data from the Monitoring the Future survey and other sources, researchers discovered the following:
At the end of the study, scientists concluded that students who participate in high-injury sports such as football, rugby, or wrestling have a risk of non-medical prescription use that is 50% higher than others who either played different sports or who did not participate at all.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that in 2015, 276,000 people between the ages of 12 and 17 used a prescription opioid non-medically.
What’s worse, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that 1 out of 15 people who misuse prescription painkillers try heroin within the next 10 years. In fact, 80% of new heroin users started out abusing opioid medications.
One of the main reasons why athletes have an elevated risk of eventually misusing opioids is because of the unique culture within sports – “No Pain, No Gain”, for example. In other words, contact sports like football normalize violence, risk, and pain. Players are encouraged – and even expected – to “play through pain”.
This attitude may be why male athletes are at an even greater risk than females – testosterone-fueled machismo. Compared to their non-participating peers, male athletes are:
Researcher Philip Todd Veliz says sports’ unique subculture “may influence risky behavior both on and off the playing field. In other words, participants in contact sports learn to view their body as an instrument that can be easily gambled with, even if it would involve permanent damage.”
None of this is meant to serve as an indictment of high school sports. On the contrary, successful teen intervention programs in Iceland have proven that teenagers involved in extracurricular activities have much lower rates of substance use.
But there are several things that parents of high school athletes should do to protect their children:
If your teenager is experimenting with or abusing opioids or any other substance, the expert staff at Teensavers Treatment Centers can help. For over 35 years, Teensavers has been the go-to resource for parents of teens with substance abuse or emotional issues.
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