Which Sport Your Teen Plays Affects Odds for Substance Abuse

Teenagers involved in contact sports have a considerably higher chance of using/abusing substances than teenagers involved in non-contact sports, researches from the University of Michigan have found. Millions of teenagers across the U.S. take part in some type of organized, competitive sport, including contact sports and non-contact sports. For reasons directly linked to sports involvement, as well as for other reasons, some teenage athletes get involved in substance abuse. In a study published in October 2014 in the journal Substance Use & Misuse, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan explored the connection between teen substance use/abuse and involvement in contact sports, as well as the connection between teen substance use/abuse and involvement in non-contact sports.

Teenagers and Sports

Teenagers can derive a number of important benefits from participation in organized team sports. Examples of these benefits include improved physical health and physical well-being, improved mental health and mental well-being and improved social ties with other teenagers, as well as with adults. In a study published in 2011 in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, researchers from West Virginia University and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine concluded that middle school students involved in organized sports have an overall higher level of life satisfaction than their age peers who don’t participate in organized sports. This finding applies to girls as well as boys. Some teenagers participate in contact sports such as football, hockey, rugby, lacrosse, wrestling, handball and martial arts. Others participate in semi-contact or limited-contact sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball, running, softball or field hockey. Still other teenagers participate in non-contact sports such as tennis, golf, gymnastics, volleyball or swimming. As a rule, the short-term and long-term risks of involvement in contact sports substantially outweigh the risks of involvement in non-contact sports, although the specific dangers may vary considerably from person to person.

Sports and Substance Abuse

Substance use/abuse can have a clearly damaging impact on both teenage and adult sports participants. For example, short-term alcohol use can have harmful effects on sports performance that include reduced hand/eye coordination, slower reaction times and a reduced level of physical endurance. Long-term alcohol use can have harmful effects that include nutritional deficiencies, decreased muscle mass and increased risks for physically undermining chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis, heart disease and mental illness. These effects can be deterred, however, if treatment for alcohol abuse is sought. The single group of substances most closely linked to sports participation is anabolic steroids, a class of medications that can increase athletes’ muscle mass and produce other performance-enhancing results. Teenagers and adults who improperly use these medications for performance enhancement purposes have substantially boosted risks for problems such as short- or long-term changes in mood (including suicidal thinking), diagnosable mental illness, seizures and involvement in other forms of substance abuse.

Teens, Sports and Substance Abuse

In the study published in Substance Use & Misuse, the researchers used information from an ongoing, nationwide survey called Monitoring the Future to examine the connection between teen substance abuse and involvement in contact sports, semi-contact sports and non-contact sports. This survey, conducted by the University of Michigan on behalf of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, assesses year-to-year changes in substance use and attitudes toward substance use in American adolescents enrolled in the 12th, 10th and eighth grades. In the current study, the researchers combined data from two separate portions of Monitoring the Future to gauge the substance-related risks among athletes in these three grades. The researchers looked at two aspects of substance use: consumption of any type of substance in the 30-day period prior to participation in Monitoring the Future and the age at which each participant first engaged in various forms of substance intake. After completing their comparisons, they concluded that teenagers involved in contact sports have a considerably higher chance of using/abusing substances than teenagers involved in non-contact sports. The researchers also concluded that teens involved in contact sports begin using/abusing substances at an earlier age than teens involved in non-contact sports. Apart from any involvement in anabolic steroid use, adolescents playing non-contact sports have smaller chances of using nicotine/tobacco and cannabis/marijuana than their contact sports-playing counterparts. The study’s authors believe their findings indicate that the types of sports teenagers play can have a meaningful impact on the odds of taking part in substance use/abuse. In line with this conclusion, they believe that public health officials, school administrators and parents must take the sports-specific risks into account when attempting to determine which adolescents have the highest substance-related risks.

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