If you’ve made the decision to dedicate yourself to sports, you already know it’s not easy. Becoming an athlete means lots of early mornings, lots of training and of course, pressure. Athletes are well respected in all walks of life. They are role models for the world’s youth, and their determination is present in every aspect of their journey. As Michael Jordan famously said,
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Yet, there are outside circumstances which interfere with our paths to success. Sometimes the stress becomes unbearable. Pressure can be in the shape of their own self-judgement, but also includes peer pressure. If athletes don’t have the proper support, this can lead to substance use or abuse to numb the pain (physical and mental).
In terms of mental health, many sports professionals place lots of emphasis on their physical health, yet neglect the latter. If someone has an existing mental health issue such as depression, often times they are tempted to reduce the symptoms by drinking or doing drugs. If they continue on that path, it may lead to addiction. At that point it’s classified as a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorder.
Another reason for increased experimentation in younger athletes is known as the college effect. The NCAA describes the college effect as,
“…heavy and frequent alcohol use increases when students arrive on campus, buying into the cultural myth that campus life is about alcohol abuse and drug use. Such beliefs result in an increase in negative impact on academic success, increased risk of sexual assault and other interpersonal violence, and other negative consequences.”
It is estimated that around 1,800 students aged 18 – 24 die every year due to alcohol-related injuries. Drinking culture in colleges also causes major spikes in assault, especially sexual assault. Roughly 97,000 students of the same age group report sexual assault cases due to alcohol.
As an aspiring or existing athlete, alcohol abuse should be off the table for you. It can lead to Alcohol Related Unintentional Injury (ARUI). Slowed performance and muscle recovery, as well as dehydration and poor sleep are other side effects. Let’s look at these results in more detail:
Have you ever had a few drinks, gone to bed, and then woken up the next day feeling as though you never slept? There’s a reason for that.
Yes, alcohol is known as a relaxing liquid which allows you to wind down. While that may be the case in the moment, and while it may cause you to be drowsy, it’s the quality of your sleep that suffers. Not the quantity.
Alcohol reduces REM sleep and interferes with your sleep cycles, which means that even though you got those full 8 hours, you won’t feel good. In fact, it’ll feel as though you didn’t get any sleep at all!
Alcohol Related Unintentional Injury (ARUI)
Athletes want to stay away from injuries so they can keep training and improve. Seems logical to avoid anything that makes injuries more common, right? Well, as it turns out, alcohol makes us more prone to hurting ourselves, and also slows down the recovery process. Liquor diminishes the level of calcium in your body. When your bones aren’t strong, they are prone to breakage.
A study on the behaviors of students in college in regards to ARUIs concluded that they are a common and serious consequence of college life. 73% of athlete trainers believed them to be a prevalent issue.
Because of the way it interferes with your sleep cycles, the level of cortisol (the stress hormone) increases in the body. With high levels of stress, recovery time becomes longer. The Huffington Post reports that Cortisol, “substantially reduces the levels of human growth hormone by as much as 70%.” So not only are you more prone to injury, but it takes you longer to get back on the field.
There is a 72 hour effect that comes post drinking. Most people don’t notice it, but if you’re into professional sports, it immediately becomes clear. Alcohol is lowering your performance.
For 72 hours after you’ve had drinks, your reaction time is slowed. Also, you precision and equilibrium suffer, as well as hand-eye coordination and judgement. Finally, you have reduced levels of stamina, strength, and focus. These are all essential elements to peak athletic performance, and are vital to every athlete.
If you have a game on a Monday and you think that those Friday night drinks won’t affect that, you’re mistaken!
Slowed Muscle Recovery
As mentioned before alcohol can slow recovery time after an injury. However, injuries are only a small part of the importance of recovery in sports. When you’re focusing on getting yourself in peak physical condition, you need your muscles to rebuild. This lets you continue exercising without the soreness.
Glycogen is the body’s main energy source during exercise. When you drink, it delays the production of glycogen. In turn, your muscles take longer to rebuild the micro-tears produced from a hard workout.
Alcohol is a diuretic. What that means is, it makes you want to pee a lot more. When your kidneys want to expel the toxins from liquor, you have the need to go to the bathroom more often. If you combine the effects of exercising with the dehydration that comes from drinking, you’ll lose fluids fast.
Once your body is dehydrated, you get headaches and your muscles don’t function the way they should. They cramp up, and eventually shut down. This is undesirable for those who wish to strengthen their muscles.
Aside from the obvious health risks associated with alcohol abuse, there are also other repercussions. If your habits are clear to your coach, you could get kicked off your team. That’s heartbreaking, especially if you’ve dedicated so much of your time to getting better. Don’t throw everything away for short-term happiness. You’ve chosen a life of peak health, the logical move is to take away all your unhealthy habits. Life offers plenty of ways to reduce stress and have a good time. Don’t throw it all away.
What tips and tricks would you give to aspiring athletes who want to have fun without substances? Comment below!