Exploring the role of sport in the development of substance addiction

Laurie A. de Grace, Camilla J. Knight, Wendy M. Rodgers, Alexander M. Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose Potential benefits of participation in sport are widely known. However, sport participation has also been associated with risks, including consumption of alcohol and drugs and such risks may be enhanced among certain populations. The purpose of this study was to examine the possible links between participation in sport and the subsequent development of substance addiction. Method Realistic Evaluation guided the study, with data collection occurring through semi-structured interviews. Interviews were conducted on a university campus or at a residential treatment center. The study included a total of 21 participants: 7 people who had between 3 and 29 years of sobriety, 13 people in a residential addiction treatment program, and 1 counselor. Results Participants were grouped according to their sport backgrounds as 1) limited sport backgrounds, 2) recreational sports, 3) competitive athletes or 4) competitive athletes whose sport was terminated. Five main contexts were identified: 1) Familial History, Stability, and Illness, 2) Perceived Acceptability of Alcohol, 3) School and Social Atmosphere, 4) Sport Culture, Demands, and Expectations, and 5) Termination of Sport Involvement. The three main mechanisms were identified as: 1) Psychological Characteristics, 2) Coping Strategies, and 3) Availability of Substances. Conclusions The prevalence of substance abuse in sports settings might be under-represented in extant literature. The prevalence of substance abuse in sport contexts poses heightened risk of addiction for individuals who are already vulnerable for other reasons such as the presence of predisposing behaviors, psychological characteristics, or circumstances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-57
Number of pages12
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan. 2017


  • Qualitative research
  • Realistic evaluation
  • Sport
  • Substance addiction
  • Substance use


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