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College Athletes and Alcohol and Other Drug Use

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2003
4 pages
This article discusses the relationship between alcohol and drug use and athletic success in college.
Athletic success depends on physical and mental health. College athletes use alcohol, spit tobacco, and steroids at higher rates than their non-athlete peers. Cocaine still poses risks for college athletes, as do other drugs such as diet aids, ephedrine, marijuana, and psychedelics. A national study of varsity athletes found that almost 81 percent of athletes had used alcohol in the previous 12 months, a decrease from 89 percent in 1989. A national study found that athletes have significantly higher rates of heavy drinking (defined as five or more drinks in a row for men, four or more for women) than non-athletes. Athletes tend to drink in seasonal cycles. A study in 1990 found an approximate 50 percent increase in drinking when athletes were off-season. In season, 42 percent of men and 26 percent of women drank alcohol at least once a week. During the remainder of the year weekly alcohol consumption jumped to 60 percent for men and 41 percent for women. Chewing tobacco and snuff are highly addictive and can lead to oral cancer, mouth lesions, and gum disease. A national study found spit tobacco to be widely used among male college athletes, especially baseball players. Forty-one percent of baseball players and 29 percent of football players had used spit tobacco in the previous 12 months. There are clear racial and ethnic differences in spit tobacco use, with most users being Native American or White. Eating disorders and abuse of diet aids are more common among women athletes than men. Anabolic steroids are not widely used by intercollegiate athletes. Marijuana use by athletes dropped to 27 percent in 2001, from 28 percent in 1997. Several studies have found male athletes to be more likely than other men on campus to commit sexual assaults. Alcohol- and drug-free social, recreational, and extracurricular options, along with public service, should be promoted by institutions of higher education. 1 table, 18 references