Exploring the role of sport in the development of substance addiction

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Purpose:Potential benefits of participation in sport are widely known. However, sport participation has also been associated with risks, including consumption of alcohol and drugs and such risks may be enhanced among certain populations. The purpose of this study was to examine the possible links between participation in sport and the subsequent development of substance addiction.Method:Realistic Evaluation guided the study, with data collection occurring through semi-structured interviews. Interviews were conducted on a university campus or at a residential treatment center. The study included a total of 21 participants: 7 people who had between 3 and 29 years of sobriety, 13 people in a residential addiction treatment program, and 1 counselor.Results:Participants were grouped according to their sport backgrounds as 1) limited sport backgrounds, 2) recreational sports, 3) competitive athletes or 4) competitive athletes whose sport was terminated. Five main contexts were identified: 1) Familial History, Stability, and Illness, 2) Perceived Acceptability of Alcohol, 3) School and Social Atmosphere, 4) Sport Culture, Demands, and Expectations, and 5) Termination of Sport Involvement. The three main mechanisms were identified as: 1) Psychological Characteristics, 2) Coping Strategies, and 3) Availability of Substances.Conclusions:The prevalence of substance abuse in sports settings might be under-represented in extant literature. The prevalence of substance abuse in sport contexts poses heightened risk of addiction for individuals who are already vulnerable for other reasons such as the presence of predisposing behaviors, psychological characteristics, or circumstances.HighlightsDescribes experiences of the development of substance addictions and sport involvement.All participants interviewed have developed, and subsequently received treatment for, substance addiction.For some individuals, the sport culture appears to support the development of addictions.The presence of certain risk factors in the sport context appeared to contribute to substance use and abuse.There is an apparent prevalence of substance abuse in sports settings.

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