Opioid Addiction Risks Among Athletes & How to Get Rid of It


Being a professional athlete entails that your body is your biggest asset. Physical performance is critical to your success, and injuries are common in sports. Pain management is essential to the recovery process, and in some cases, prescription painkillers are necessary.

However, the use of opioids can lead to addiction, which can be detrimental to your athletic career and overall health.

Understanding Opioid Addiction in Athletes: How to Recognise the Warning Signs

Being a professional athlete, it is important to understand that opioids are potent painkillers that work by blocking pain receptors in the brain. While they can be highly effective at relieving pain, they can also be highly addictive.

Professional athletes are particularly vulnerable to opioid addiction due to the physical demands of their sport. Athletes are more likely to experience injuries that require pain management, and the constant pressure to perform can lead to the overuse of opioids.

It’s important to note that athletes who are struggling with opioid addiction should seek help from medical professionals specialised in treating opioid use disorder (OUD). For example, they can consult Kentucky doctors to treat OUD.

Why is Opioid Addiction in Professional Athletes Common?

Did you know that 52% of professional football players have dealt with opiates at some point in their career, and 71% among those led to an overconsumption of opiates?

Athletes are accustomed to being in elite physical condition, and they may find that they cannot pursue their goals if struggling with addiction to opiates.

For these reasons, multi-disciplinary teams, such as rehabilitation counsellors, social workers, and health educators, should be included in the decision-making along with coaches and physicians to determine the best paths for athletes.

Understanding how people become addicted to drugs and their impacts on their well-being and livelihoods is one area in which knowledge and career planning for athletes can help them make informed decisions that may have life-long effects.

Many athletes, including young athletes, manage to extend their use of opioid drugs beyond their medical needs, while some athletes start the use of opioid drugs in response to their use by peers due to medical needs.

The challenge of dealing with this issue is that athletes are sometimes subject to the advice of unethical medical professionals that put competition over the health and well-being of the athletes. They often take pain medications without comprehending the risks for potential addiction or the impacts that these medications might have on their physical performance.

The Risks of Opioid Addiction Among Athletes

There can be many risks associated with being addicted to opioids.

1. Becoming Dependant

Athletes are often prescribed opioids to manage pain from injuries, surgeries, or arthritis. While opioids can effectively relieve pain, they are also highly addictive. As a result, athletes may become dependent on opioids without even realising it, leading to a cycle of escalating use and increasing tolerance.

2. Chronic Pain

Professional athletes are more likely than the general population to experience chronic pain due to the repetitive stress of training and competition. This can lead to conditions like tendonitis, back pain, and joint pain, a major barrier to athletic performance.

3. Psychological Pressure

Finally, professional athletes face unique psychological pressures that can contribute to addiction. The pressure to perform at a high level, the fear of failure or injury, and the stress of competition can all take a toll on mental health.

Opioids may seem like a way to cope with these pressures, but they can also exacerbate existing mental health conditions or lead to new ones.

Tips for Managing Pain without Opioids

Fortunately, alternative pain management strategies can help professional athletes manage their pain without using opioids.

1. Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (R.I.C.E)

For acute injuries such as sprains, strains, or bruises the R.I.C.E. method is a simple and effective way to manage pain and promote healing for acute injuries such as sprains, strains, or bruises. Rest the affected area, apply ice to reduce swelling and pain, compress the area with a bandage, and elevate the limb above the heart to reduce swelling.

2. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a non-invasive approach to pain management that can help professional athletes recover from injuries and improve their performance.

A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and prevent future injuries. Additionally, a few exercise programmes can effectively manage pain without opioids.

3. Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can be a great way to relieve muscle tension and reduce pain. A professional massage therapist can use techniques such as deep tissue massage or trigger point therapy to help reduce pain and promote healing.

4. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine technique that involves inserting thin needles into pressure points on the body. This can help to reduce pain, improve blood circulation, and promote healing.

5. Mind-Body Techniques

Mind-body techniques, such as meditation and yoga, can help professional athletes manage pain by reducing stress and promoting relaxation. These techniques can also help improve focus and concentration, enhancing athletic performance.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

If you’re a professional athlete struggling with this particular drug addiction, it is important to understand the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include anxiety, irritability, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

These symptoms can be uncomfortable, resulting in derailed efforts and performance. However, professional athletes can manage their withdrawal symptoms and overcome addiction with proper medical supervision and support.


If you are currently using opioids for pain management, it is important to talk to a medical/healthcare professional about alternative options. They may be able to help you transition to non-opioid medications or recommend non-pharmacological pain management strategies.

As a professional athlete, it is mandatory to prioritise your health and take a proactive approach to pain management.


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