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Look Out for Alcohol Use in Athletes

Alcohol consumption is widespread, in fact it is the most commonly used drug worldwide and athletes are no exception. Prevalence Sadly many of today’s youth have turned to alcohol in order to deal with mounting modern day stressors. In fact, it is estimated that about 80 percent of college athletes reported alcohol use in the past 12 months. Effects on Performance Alcohol is a neurotoxin and compromises mood, balance, steadiness, reaction time, and fine motor skills. The results on sports performance are self-evident. Hangovers, characterized by headache, nausea, and fatigue, may affect performance up to several days after indulging. Alcohol also impairs body temperature regulation resulting in potential hypothermia in the cold. Its diuretic effect may lead to profound dehydration in extreme heat. Alcohol can also interfere with deep or stage 4 sleep. Not only is restful, restorative sleep impaired, growth hormone secretion — essential for muscle growth — is greatly compromised. Longer term effects of alcohol consumption include gradual cognitive impairment, heart issues, liver damage, malnutrition, fat gain, and possibly blood clotting disorders. Alcohol increases estrogen and decreases testosterone levels; thus a decrease in lean body mass may ensue with chronic consumption. Intervention Suspicion of alcohol abuse in athletes might be a consideration when performance diminishes and emotional instability and chronic fatigue are present. The athlete must understand that alcohol abuse is a progressive disorder — without treatment consumption will tend to gradually increase. The enlistment of a physician, athletic trainer, and parents is necessary in cases where severe abuse is suspected.

Empathy Genetics play a strong role in the development of alcohol abuse. The indulging athlete likely has a strong family history of alcoholism, drug usage, or mood disorders and should not be judged as weak. Some studies suggest that alcohol abuse is commonly used as a means to self-medicate as treatment for depression and or anxiety — two conditions that can be treated by both medication and psychotherapy. Alcohol abuse by athletes is prevalent and there are no benefits. Performance is impaired, health risks abound and progression to full blown alcoholism may occur in time. Athletes need to be instructed that if they want to bring their “A game” to competition, even a few drinks is a bad idea.

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