While there are many benefits for teens participating in school sports, there is also a major risk: substance abuse. Research has shown that students on sports teams, especially certain types of sports teams, are at a greater risk for abusing substances than teens who do not participate in athletics. There are some obvious benefits to school sports: physical activity, socializing with peers, healthy competition. As a parent, you shouldn’t necessarily let the risk of substance abuse overshadow these healthful benefits, but you should be aware of it.
Teen Athletes and Substance Abuse
Research conducted at the University of Michigan found that participants in certain high school sports were more likely to drink or use drugs than their non-athletic peers. For instance, in one study the research shows that teens involved in competitive sports are more likely to have alcohol abuse disorders later, between the ages of 18 and 30. Those participating in football are especially at risk for later alcohol abuse, while teens participating in lacrosse are more likely to abuse drugs later. Another study looked at opioid prescription drug abuse among teens. These are narcotic painkillers like oxycodone or hydrocodone, among others. The researchers found an association between athletic participation in school and later abuse of these dangerous medications. High school athletes are also more likely to be approached by other teens for access to prescription drugs. As with alcohol, football players are most likely to abuse prescriptions. Another risk for teen athletes is the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids, steroid precursors, creatine, which is an over-the-counter supplement, and synthetic human growth hormone. High school athletes are more likely to abuse these types of substances than their peers who don’t participate in sports. Research also shows that the abuse of synthetic human growth hormone by teen athletes is on the rise.
Protecting Your Teen Athlete
It’s frustrating to hear that participation in sports could have this downside, but as a parent it is your responsibility to be aware and to not bury your head in the sand. Just because you feel confident that your teen athlete would never abuse substances doesn’t mean you’re right. Just by knowing the facts about athletic participation and the risks of substance abuse, you have already taken a positive step toward protecting your son or daughter. Knowledge is power, and by understanding the risks you can help your teen make better choices. The next step in protecting your teen athlete is to sit down for a talk. Teens whose parents talk to them regularly about substance abuse are less likely to drink or use drugs. Educate your child about the risks of being a student athlete and make it clear that you have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking or using drugs. Another important way to protect your teen is to be involved and aware. Know your teen’s friends, how he spends his down time and what his normal behaviors are like. If you’re involved in these ways, you will notice when he switches to a new group of friends or starts behaving in unusual ways that could be explained by substance abuse. You will then be better prepared to help him seek treatment if needed. Participation in school sports is an overwhelmingly positive activity for teens. The current research on athletes and substance abuse should not deter your teen from participating, but the facts are still important. Know the risks, talk to your teen about them and be involved in your teen’s life and you can protect him while allowing him to benefit from being a high school athlete.