How injuries lead to substance abuse

March 1, 2022


Photograph via Wikimedia Commons

Lance Armstrong was a famous athlete who abused drugs.

Opioids and other prescription drugs are commonly used by athletes to help ease the pain during their recovery process.

Unfortunately, oxycontin and opioids do such a great job that these athletes can become addicted to the drugs.

Some drugs that are prescribed to student athletes include codeine, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone/acetaminophen, hydromorphone, meperidine, oxycodone/acetaminophen, oxycodone/naloxone and more.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “over 22% of people who end up abusing prescription painkillers got them from a doctor. That’s in addition to the more than 50% of people whose prescription drug misuse started because they got it from friends or family members for free. That adds up to well over 72% of prescription drug abusers whose prescription drug abuse started because they got pills from someone they trusted.”

There are many reasons why athletes might misuse drugs. Drugs such as steroids enhance athletes’ performance value. If they are out with an injury, athletes may feel that they need all the help they can get to stay on top.

Drugs can also help ease the side affects of mental health disorders; rather than getting help from doctors, many athletes who are struggling will fall back on drugs and other addictive substances like alcohol to help manage the pain of a mental health disorder.

It is very common for people with illnesses and injuries to become addicted to drugs, which is a sign of comorbidity.

Comorbidity is the presence of more than one disease or medical condition, and it happens to around half of those diagnosed with a preexisting medical condition.

“It can be common for people who are struggling with an undiagnosed mental health issue to begin using drugs/alcohol to self-medicate. In regards to injury, I think this can often lead to opioid addiction, specifically,” said Ms. Heather Eckhardt, Delaware Valley’s Student Assistance counselor.

Around 94% of the time, opioid users discover heroin as a cheaper alternative to pain killers. Heroin is an opioid drug that is made from morphine and is commonly seen as a white powder, brown powder or a black sticky substance (also known as black tar heroin).

According to, “Heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells located in many areas, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.”

Heroin costs around $5-$20 for a small, single use bag. Once people aren’t able to afford the prescribed drugs, they fall back on heroin.

“It is often easier and cheaper to then start using heroin to avoid the withdrawal symptoms they may experience when they are no longer able to get their pain meds,” said Eckhardt.

Often times people believe that drug abuses do this to themselves. People believe it’s a personal choice, and that it is all their fault.

“They lose so much: family, friends/loved ones, jobs, freedom, and ultimately for many…their life.  I do not believe anyone would choose to live their life this way,” said Eckhardt.

Athletes don’t choose to get hurt. Once they’re hurt, they trust medical centers and pharmacies to prescribe them with a useful drug that can help them recover. By relying on these pharmacists, they take these drugs that can leave them wanting more.

“I believe addiction is an illness, like heart disease, diabetes and cancer are illnesses. Addiction is not about weakness.  Addiction can happen to anyone at any age and is much more likely to happen if someone starts to use/drink at a young age,” said Eckhardt.

If you are a student and notice yourself struggling with substance abuse, depression or anxiety, there is help out there. You can reach out to Ms. Eckhardt, any of the school’s counselors or a trusted adult.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration hotline is 1-800-662-4357.

“No matter the motivation, external or internal, I am willing to help someone through the process with the hope that after time, the external motivation turns to internal motivation because in my experience as a drug and alcohol counselor and SAC, that is really the only way for someone to maintain their recovery, because they want it for themselves and not for anyone else,” said Eckhardt.

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