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Alcohol and Athletes

In reality, alcohol use has been associated with athletics for thousands of years (Damm, 1991). Carr and Murphy (1996) explained that "all drugs, including alcohol, represent a risk of danger for athletes" (p. 283). For example, Damm (1991) added that "student-athletes may lose playing time, status on the team, or suffer public embarrassment" (p. 154).

Damm (1991) stated that collegiate athletes are as likely as the general student body to abuse drugs, and more susceptible to abuse certain drugs (e.g., alcohol, steroids). Unfortunately, few universities have alcohol and drug education programs to educate all students (i.e., student-athletes and non-athletes) about the potential problems associated with alcohol use/abuse (Carr & Murphy, 1996). Hinkle (1997) has suggested that "colleges and universities need to develop clinical and counseling programs that will assist student-athletes with personal development, psycho-emotional problems, and consequently, sport performance" (p. 1).

In addition, "college student-athletes are young people in transition, developing individuals who, like the rest of us, must confront the challenge of life in their own distinctly human ways" (Ferrante and Etzel, 1991, p. 2). In addition, college student-athletes may experience a variety of challenges that non-athletes do not encounter (Damm, 1991; Petitpas, Britton, & Van Raalte, 1997). Hurley and Cunningham (1984) stated that some of these demands that may hamper student-athletes' pursuit towards excellence in both academics and athletics including: 1) time and energy spent in the participation of a sport, 2) psychological demands (e.g., self-esteem is associated with athletic identity), and 3) the potential influence of coaches to have student-athletes bond with their teammates and isolate themselves from non-athletes on the institution's campus. Therefore, Damm (1991) concluded that "most people, including student-athletes, use alcohol to enhance or cope with some aspect of their daily lives" (p. 157).

Thus, we must become aware of factors related to alcohol use/abuse among student-athletes in order to educate these individuals on drug awareness and substance abuse issues. Unfortunately, Damm (1991) explained that there is a lack of hard data regarding the prevalence of alcohol use among student-athletes. Hopefully, literature and media attention pertaining to alcohol abuse in athletics will continue to be published and televised in order to assist in educating all students and parents on alcohol abuse issues before these individuals encounter drug-related problems.

Carr and Murphy (1996) presented an intervention that discussed the efficacy of a multi-model substance-abuse program. This program was developed for athletes residing at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs (Carr & Murphy, 1996). The program uses a cognitive-behavioral approach, in which the three components were: (1) an education component; (2) a decision-making and coping skills component; and (3) a social skills and self-esteem component (Carr & Murphy, 1996).

Carr and Murphy (1996) explained that the purpose of the educational component is to inform athletes on the prevalence of substance abuse in athletics and the effects of these drugs (e.g., alcohol) on the individual. Additionally, the focus of the decision-making/coping skills component is to introduce athletes to other methods of dealing with their problems (e.g., stress management techniques), besides using drugs. In conclusion, the social skills/self-esteem component of the program focuses on the individual establishing a positive view of him/herself and being able to tell other people about a problem before consuming alcohol or other substances.

Future trends regarding the relationship between alcohol use and student-athletes is very hard to predict because of individual differences within each student-athlete. Parents, school administrators, mental health educators, and coaches must encourage student-athletes to attend educational workshops concerning alcohol use/abuse. In addition, student-athletes need to understand that qualified personnel (i.e., school psychologists) are located on university campuses in order to assist with alcohol-related questions and problems that may arise during their collegiate careers. Thus, student-athletes need to have every opportunity to gain more knowledge about the potential dangers of experimenting with alcohol.

Additionally, universities should allocate more financial assistance towards research and educational-awareness workshops that emphasize a wide variety of alcohol use/abuse issues that student-athletes may encounter. For example, the substance demand factor of consuming alcohol has been absent from many of the previous educational workshops. Therefore, newly developed drug prevention workshops should begin to focus on the question "why is there a need for alcohol within a student-athlete's lifestyle?"

Also, everyone must realize the abundance of research investigations that have revealed results stating that alcohol does not increase sport performance (Inaba & Cohen,1993). These investigations have indicated that "alcohol negatively affects reaction time, coordination, and balance" (Inaba & Cohen,1993, p. 254). Thus, the solution towards successfully disseminating information to student-athletes, regarding health and sport performance, lies within education, recognition and treatment of an individual prior to an alcohol issue becoming a serious drug addiction (e.g., alcoholism). Therefore, reiterating a previous notion, "student-athletes need to have every opportunity to gain more knowledge about the potential dangers of experimenting with drugs and illegal substances."

In order for the development of these workshops and programs to occur, coaches must take the time to educate themselves about the overall use of drugs on their particular campuses. Some present and past coaches (e.g., Woody Hayes -- former football coach at the Ohio State University) believe that their student-athletes would never experiment with drugs. I hate to tell them, but they are dead wrong. The only thing that these coaches have to do is take a stroll down Main Street on most campuses on a Friday night. I can guarantee that there will be that "All American" student-athlete experimenting with and/or abusing drugs (e.g., alcohol). Coaches must understand that student-athletes are susceptible to the same potential dangers of substance abuse that the non-athlete can experience (Damm, 1991).


Carr, C. M., & Murphy, S. M. (1996). Alcohol and drugs in sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Damm, J. (1991). Drugs and the college student-athlete. In Etzel, E. F., Ferrante, A. P., & Pinkney, J. W. (Eds.), Counseling college student-athletes: Issues and Interventions (pp. 151-174).

Ferrante, A. P., & Etzel, E. F. (1991). Counseling college student-athletes: The problem, the need. In Etzel, E. F., Ferrante, A. P., & Pinkney, J. W. (Eds.), Counseling college student-athletes: Issues and Interventions (pp. 1-17). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology, Inc.

Hinkle, J. S. (1997). Depression, adjustment disorder, generalized anxiety and substance abuse: An overview for sport professionals working with college student-athletes. In Etzel, E. F., Ferrante, A. P., & Pinkney, J. W. 2nd Ed. (Eds.), Counseling college student-athletes: Issues and Interventions. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology, Inc.

Hurley, R. B., & Cunningham, W. D. (1984). Providing academic and psychological services for the college athlete. In Shriberg, A., & Brodzinski, F. (Eds.),Rethinking services for student-athletes (pp. 51-58). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Inaba, D.S, & Cohen, W.E. (1993). Uppers, downers, all arounders: Physical and mental effects of psychoactive drugs. 2nd Ed., Ashland, OR: CNS Productions, Inc.

Petitpas, A. J., Britton, W. B., & Van Raalte, J. L. (1997). Transitions of the student-athlete: Theoretical, empirical, and practical perspectives. In Etzel, E. F., Ferrante, A. P., & Pinkney, J. W. (Eds.) 2nd Ed.

Counseling college student-athletes: Issues and Interventions. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology, Inc.