Athletes are in significant danger of over using over the counter “painkillers”, endangering not only their careers in sport but also their future in general.
Friends and family of athletes, whether athletes on the high school football team or athletes at the Olympics, need to be aware of the incredible pressure that athletes are under to take over the counter drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and paracetamol / acetaminophen, and many stronger versions. We’re not talking about powerful banned performance enhancing drugs here, but the danger is still real.
Many in sport are now coming out in the open to talk about the destructive results of taking so many pills and injections. Overuse of these medications can, in the end, actually keep you from healing properly. Kidney problems, bowel diseases (which can lead to cancer), chronic headache, cardio-vascular problems, and general dependence are only a few of the possible consequences. Many athletes end up in serious depression.
Why would an athlete end up taking a painkiller every single week – maybe even several times a day, in spite of these serious risks? There are a number of reasons:
- Athletes often have to perform when they have an injury. Headaches from concussion, a twisted ankle – missing a game or “under-performing” can have significant consequences to their career.
- There are a lot of “normal” aches and pains in most sports. Again, to improve performance, athletes may be tempted to take painkillers before/after the event.
- Some painkillers may actually improve performance in general. In a world where the perception is that your competitor may be/probably is taking illegal drugs, taking some “legal” drugs feels like an easy way to close the gap a bit.
- In some circles, taking these medications is not only accepted, but treated as a joke, or even a competition in itself. Athletes may be pressured by other players and even coaches.
As you might imagine, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of taking these over the counter drugs constantly.
For those who care about athletes, be sure to talk about this issue and watch for signs of depression.
For athletes themselves, you need to ask yourself:
- Do you have to take drugs before and/or after every competition? How long has this been going on?
- Do you need to take something just to get going in the morning, or to calm down at night?
- Do you have to take something every week, or even every day?
It’s sad that sports, that should be about being healthy and at your best, continually seems to pressure athletes to abuse their bodies for short term gain. And this is not a matter of an athlete just trying to take fewer pills or injections. It’s a complex, serious issue that requires serious thought be leadership in the field of sports, from doctors who treat athletes, and especially from the family and friends of the athletes. Society needs to be aware of the dangers of this kind of drug use.
If you have become dependant on painkillers or other drugs/alcohol, there is help available. Search online for treatment in your area, talk to your doctor, or people in your community, church, or even family and friends who may have recommendations.
The BBC has been doing some reporting in this area – here are some places to go for more information:
- Gain Without the Pain: Legal Drugs in Sport (audio)
- Painkillers in sport: A ‘career necessity’ or a ‘serious health risk’? (article)
- State of Sport: Fifa’s former doctor says painkiller use risks footballers’ health (article)