By Kierstin Collins MS, LPC
With gyms, fields, pools, and competitions closing overnight athletes are left without structure, without routine, without much accountability. They are suddenly home, sleeping in, staying up late, separated from teammates and workouts. Some may be relieved for a break from grueling training or a competition year that wasn’t shaping up to be their best. Some will enjoy being a “normal” college aged kid or young adult by doing things all their peers are doing. Like drinking alcohol, the way training never allowed for. The typical barrier to partying that training provides (a week, a training cycle or a dry season) is gone and with every postponement, competition seems further and further away.
Athletes are conditioned to doing things with intensity, whether it’s on the field, in the pool or the weight room and social activities are no exception. Squishing a week’s worth of “normal” college drinking and socializing into the one night off from training each week is a common practice. To an athlete’s detriment, alcohol is shown to dehydrate the body, deteriorate muscle growth and reduce recovery in significant ways. Let’s not forget the unnecessary, often greasy meal that accompanies a night out. Most athletes will experience cumulative negative effects, but because they are still showing up to workouts and games, will think their body isn’t impacted. They will also wonder why they aren’t hitting the time, weight, or place they wanted to or were capable of in the past. All this from one night out a week. Now enter the sports shutdown. With little activities to pour all that intensity into and no workout, game, or performance in the near future to prepare for, that once a week binge easily becomes a nightly habit.
However, like the saying goes, “this too shall pass”. This quarantined world will end, sports will return, your goals will still be there, and all eyes will be on athletes maybe more than ever before. Those virtual happy hours may have seemed harmless at the time, but now bring weight gain, muscle loss, and reduced mental clarity into athletic performance, putting an athlete behind the competition. Maybe they even expose a habit that is now hard to break. Enough alcohol or drugs, combined with a genetic predisposition or mental health issue, put even the healthiest of athletes at high risk of developing an addiction. A biological disease that tricks the brain into believing it needs those substances to survive. Suddenly, sports are a mere sidekick to the urge for drinking or using drugs.
What happens now will help or hinder how the game is played later. During this time, it is imperative that athletes find a “new normal” to be their best selves when sports return. Find ways to fill your time and provide accountability to avoid these risky behaviors. Ask yourself if what you’re doing now contributes to what you want to be doing in the future.
Warning signs of substance abuse:
- Increased alcohol or drug consumption
- Decreased motivation or interest in activities
- Isolation from teammates, friends, or family members
- Difficulty completing workouts or skipping them altogether
- Others around you express concern about drinking or drug use
If these stand out to you or about someone you know talk to a trusted family member, friend, or reach out to a professional to help get you and your game back on track.