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What Tyler Skagg’s Overdose Tells Us About Substance Abuse In Sports

Posted on 09/13/19: Uncategorized

It’s always unfortunate news when you hear of someone passing away. Recently, Tyler Skaggs (Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher) passed away at the age of the young age of 27. However, this death was not due to health complications or anything of medical nature, it was due to overdose. Skaggs was found in a hotel room unresponsive; he had overdosed on a mixture of fentanyl, alcohol, and oxycodone. This mixture caused Skaggs to become intoxicated to the point of passing out, leading to terminal aspiration of gastric contents (choking on his vomit). The overall ruling was that this death was an accident and in no way intentional. But how does an all-star athlete like Tyler pass away so soon in such a horrible way? This sort of incident just goes to show us that addiction has no bias and it can affect anyone. When it comes to sports, there is a surprising number of athletes that struggle with addiction as well. In this article, we’re going to discuss addiction in sports and what can be done about it. 

Addiction in Athletics

To better understand the prevalence of substance abuse in athletics, let’s first discuss just why an athlete would fall into addictive behaviors. There are many reasons as to why an athlete may start abusing a substance, and they are as follows:

  1. Pressure to Perform: Athletes are expected to give 100% effort in every game they play. This expectation can put a lot of stress on athletes that struggle with insecurity or are perhaps starting to perform under expectations. If an athlete starts to perform below a coach’s expectations, they may be put on the bench of even kicked off the team. These kinds of expectations can be unbearable for people that feel like they can’t meet them. Professional athletics pays very well, and if you get kicked off the team it could feel like losing your dream job. 
  2. Injuries: Since athletes are constantly under the pressure to perform, they are always pushing themselves to the point of giving 110%. Since our bodies can only take so much pressure, something eventually snaps when we push ourselves too hard. This happens to athletes all the time. If an athlete suffers from an injury, it can prevent them from playing. When an athlete is unable to play, what can they do? They can pretty much rest, go to physical therapy, or take medication for their injury. When they’re unable to go and perform for their sport, they may start to have feelings of inadequacy, in which case they may resort to some substance in an effort to cope with negative feelings. During an injury, athletes could also get addicted to their prescribed pain medication. 
  3. Family History: Some athletes, depending on their background, could also be genetically prone to addictive behaviors. If family members in the past struggled with addiction, that person may be predisposed to substance abuse as well.
  4. Mental Health: Mental health is something that has become a growing issue in this world. People are often too stubborn, prideful, or afraid to ask for help if they have a mental health issue. This could be an even greater issue for athletes. Athletes are groomed to be tough and strong and if they admit to having a mental health issue, they may be afraid of people thinking they’re weak in some fashion. However, mental health is just as important as physical health. It’s okay to not be okay! 
  5. Accessibility: Being an athlete also means you are in the spotlight, especially if you are apart of a major league team. In a way, athletes are essentially celebrities that are athletic. Athletes can have fame and fortune just like any actor or actress could. Because of this, athletes could have greater access to illicit substances because of their social status.

Commonly Abused Substances

Now that we have discussed why athletes may abuse substances, let’s discuss what kind of substances are commonly abused in the world of sports:

  1. Steroids: Probably one of the most commonly abused substances are steroids. Steroids are typically used to give athletes that extra edge in their performance. Most sports have integrated systems to test athletes for these performance-enhancing drugs, but they still fall through the cracks from time to time. These drugs are used by bodybuilders to increase muscle mass while cutting down fat and body weight. The drug increases the amount of testosterone in the body, producing the previously mentioned effects, which can be highly desirable for athletes looking to enhance their performance. However, this substance has some side-effects that many athletes fail to consider: smaller testicles (males), enlarged breasts (males), erectile dysfunction (males), shrunken breasts (females), body hair growth (females), loss of estrogen (females). 
  2. Adderall: This drug is typically used in treating ADHD, but people in recent years have started to abuse it for its effects. Because of its ability to help people focus, athletes have started to implement this into their performances. If an athlete feels more focused and in-tune with their sport, they can perform better. However, this is an inauthentic way to go about performing better. This drug can also be highly addictive, leading to withdrawal if regular usage is stopped. It can also lead to side-effects like anxiety, sleep disorders, nausea, depression, and mood swings. 
  3. Narcotics/Alcohol: Narcotics and alcohol are commonly abused substances at after-parties for athletes. If a game is won, the team or some team members may go out to celebrate at a club or bar. If this is regularly done, the people engaging in these behaviors may start to develop an addiction to their substance of choice (cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, etc.). This is a very common occurrence in the world of sports. 

Lives Lost to Addiction in Sports

Unfortunately, the list of lives lost to addiction in sports does not stop at Tyler Skaggs. Here is a list of athletes you may know who have sadly passed away too soon due to addiction: 

  • Eugene Lipscomb, age 31, football, Heroin
  • Derek Boogaard, age 28, hockey, prescription drugs and alcohol
  • Andy Irons, age 23, surfing, prescription drugs
  • Don Rogers, age 23, football, cocaine
  • Len Bias, age 22, basketball, cocaine
  • Erica Blasberg, age 25, golf, prescription drugs
  •  Edward Fatu (Umaga), age 36, professional wrestling, prescription drugs
  • Christopher Bowman, age 40, figure skating, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and prescription drugs  
  • George Best, age 59, soccer, alcohol
  • Peter Jackson, age 33, rugby, heroin

Lives Saved from Addiction in Sports

Though lives have been lost to addiction in the past, lives in sports have also been saved from addiction in sports! Here is a list of athletes that have escaped the grasps of addiction:

  • Ryan Leaf, football, prescription drug and alcohol
  • John Daly, Golf, alcohol
  • Diego Maradona, soccer, cocaine
  • Darryl Strawberry, baseball, alcohol and cocaine
  • Michael Phelps, swimming, alcohol
  • Andre Agassi, Tennis, crystal meth
  • Cris Carter, American football, ecstasy, marijuana, crack cocaine, and alcohol
  • Jason Williams, basketball, prescription drugs
  • Gareth Hock, rugby, cocaine and ecstasy
  • Chris Harren, basketball, heroin and prescription drugs

As you can see, addiction is a scary thing to deal with and it can result in fatal consequences. However, it can be beat! Athletes should not be afraid to ask for help if they can see that they have a problem with addiction. As we said earlier, it’s okay to not be okay, ask for help


If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, contact Sober Living of AZ now to get the help you need. Sober Living offers an acclaimed recovery environment that merges upscale and luxury accommodations with affordability, clinical expertise and an unwavering commitment to patient care and aftercare. Call us now at 602-737-2458.

Content for Scottsdale Recovery Center and Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers created by Cohn Media, LLC. Passionate and creative writing and broadcasting, covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best. www.cohn.media

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