Study: High School Seniors Playing Contact Sports Are 50% More Likely to Misuse Prescription Stimulants in the Future


High school seniors who played contact sports appeared to be the most likely to abuse prescription stimulants during school, and up to 10 years after graduating.

High school seniors who play sports were suggested to be more likely than nonathletes to misuse prescription stimulants in young adulthood, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. Among the 12th graders who play sports, contact sport athletes are even more likely to misuse prescriptions than noncontact sports athletes, according to the study findings.

"Misuse of prescription opioids was higher for respondents who participated in contact sports during the 12th grade. However, participation in this type of sport was not associated with initiating this type of drug use in young adulthood," said lead author Philip Veliz, PhD, associate research professor at the University of Michigan (U-M) School of Nursing, in a press release.

Since 2010, rates of prescription opioid and stimulant misuse have declined among adolescents, Veliz said. Regulations resulting in this decreased use were implemented during the middle of the study, which took place from 2006 to 2017, and Veliz said this did impact the study findings.

"However, this study found that some types of former high school athletes are at greater risk of misusing these drugs and initiating them during early adulthood (between ages 19 and 21)," Veliz explained in the press release.

Researchers drew from over a decade of data that was collected for the Monitoring the Future study. Among 4,772 U.S. high school seniors, approximately 31% overall indicated misusing prescription drugs at least once between the ages of 17 and 18. With respect to contact sport participation, the percentage of 12th graders who indicated past-year prescription stimulant misuse was 11%, which increased to about 18% by ages 21 to 22.

The data came from students who play high-contact sports (football, ice hockey, lacrosse, wrestling), semi-contact sports (baseball, basketball, field hockey, soccer) and noncontact sports (cross country, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, track, volleyball, weightlifting).

In the study, Veliz said he was surprised that athletes in noncontact sports were more likely to initiate stimulant misuse during young adulthood. Noncontact sports may have a culture of self control or an aversion toward physical harm, but participants in these sports could still be highly competitive, Veliz said in the press release.

Other studies have found that young adults who participate in noncontact sports could be more academically inclined. These adolescents could see athletics as resume builders for college applications and may falsely believe that stimulants could boost academic performance, as well as physical.

"The findings reinforce screening during adolescence as nearly 1 in 3 high school seniors engage in prescription drug misuse," Sean Esteban McCabe, PhD, senior author and director of the Center for the Study of Drug, Alcohol, Smoking, and Health (DASH) in the University of Michigan School of Nursing, said in a press release. "Increased prescription stimulant misuse following high school warrants ongoing monitoring during young adulthood, especially among athletes."


High school athletes in contact sports likely to misuse prescription stimulants throughout their 20s. News release. University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation. August 10, 2022. Accessed August 15, 2022.

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