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With fame, money, and peak athletic physiques, professional athletes appear to have it all.

Although they have what many of us may only dream of, behind this luxurious lifestyle can be a mess of problems.

Why Do Athletes Take Drugs?

While professional athletes need to stay in shape and maintain good health, they are not immune to drug abuse and addiction. If their bodies are their livelihood, then why do athletes use drugs that can harm their bodies?

Just like anyone, athletes do drugs for many different reasons.

Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Unfortunately, drug use in sports is more common than you may think. With pressure to be the best and do better, some athletes will turn to performance-enhancing drugs. One study found that over 30% of athletes in the 2011 International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships admitted to doping as well as 45% of athletes in the Pan-Arab Games in 2011.1

Some professional athletes who have used performance-enhancing drugs include:

  • Lance Armstrong
  • Tyson Gay
  • Ben Johnson
  • Anderson Silva
  • Roy Jones Jr. 2,3

Cope With The Pain

Athletes doing drugs are often trying to ease their pain. Many sports can lead to serious injuries that require pills to manage the pain. Unfortunately, when these injuries become chronic and the athlete tries to play through the pain, they may begin abusing these drugs. Because painkillers can be addictive, this could lead to serious problems. The athletes may see other aspects of their lives beginning to suffer and should seek out painkiller addiction treatment in order to stop abusing these drugs. One survey found that as many 71% of retired NFL players surveyed reported misusing opioids in their careers.4

Some professional athletes who have abused painkillers include:

  • Derek Boogaard
  • Erika Blasberg
  • Rob Van Dam3

Poor Mental Health

Others will turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their poor mental health from intense pressure and sometimes loneliness during their careers. With all eyes on them, it is not uncommon for athletes to also suffer from some sort of mental health disorder. When someone finds themselves in this situation, dual diagnosis treatment may be able to help.

Some professional athletes who struggled with poor mental health along with substance abuse include:

  • David Freese
  • Brandon Marshall
  • Frank Bruno5


For those living the rich and famous lifestyle, it is not uncommon for some people to get carried away by the party atmosphere. Sometime bad habits from their teenage years before they made it big can also carry over into adulthood. While some drug use may seem harmless when used occasionally, our addiction rehab in Chicago knows all too well that for many drug addicts, this is where their problems begin. So, while a professional athlete may be out trying cocaine for the first time after a big win, they could find themselves addicted to the substance and suffering later on.

Some athletes who have used drugs recreationally include:

  • Lawrence Taylor
  • Len Bias
  • Dock Ellis
  • Andre Agassi
  • Dwight Gooden2,3

There are many reasons why athletes use drugs but regardless of the reason, drugs can be dangerous if taken inappropriately. For some athletes, this abuse can ruin their careers as well as their lives.

If you or someone you love also struggles with drug abuse, you are not alone. There is hope. Get help today at Banyan Chicago by calling 888-280-4763.

Sources & References:

  1. Science Daily - Doping in sports: Official tests fail to pick up majority of cases
  2. Edgar Daily - 10 Famous Athletes Who Were Caught Doping
  3. Seaside Palm Beach - Famous Athletes on Drugs
  4. NCBI - Injury, Pain, and Prescription Opioid Use Among Former National Football League (NFL) Players*

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Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.