Athletes and Alcohol: A Losing Game

By Angela Criswell

Sports represent a positive influence in the lives of many students.

Physical activity, social bonding, strong role models, and high performance expectations all combine to promote physical, social, and emotional strength and well-being.

At the same time, research shows that student-athletes are at higher risk for using and abusing alcohol than their non-athlete peers.

Perhaps those same qualities within sports that promote health and well-being may lead student-athletes and even the adults around them to underestimate the vulnerability of a young athlete to alcohol’s harm.

First and foremost, youth athletes face the same risks associated with alcohol’s impact on the developing brain as other youth.

Athletic strength or prowess provides no immunity to alcohol’s ability to alter the brain chemically and, over time, structurally.

Young athletes who consume alcohol, however, also face a significant impact on the body’s ability to recover from training and therefore benefit from it.

A training regimen works because each workout session puts the body’s muscles under strain.

In the hours and days after that workout, the body recovers and adapts to better meet the challenge.

Each successive workout and subsequent recovery produces more adaptation — greater physical strength, speed, and skill.

But, if you hinder a body’s recovery from a workout, the body can’t adapt.

Finally, the strain of working out produces degeneration instead of adaptation.

The result is poor athletic performance and, ultimately, injury.

Muscle synthesis and repair is reduced, especially for fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, are increased, and testosterone, an essential hormone created during recovery, is reduced for up to four days.

That’s the science of it, but what does this really mean?

Research from the American Athletic Institute shows that one evening of heavy drinking can completely reverse up to 14 days of a young athlete’s training effect.

And, young athletes who drink are twice as likely to be injured as their non-drinking teammates.

So, underage drinking is not a winning formula for any student athlete. The consequences are evident on and off the playing field.

Angela Criswell, Coordinator of Alcohol Prevention Enhancement Site for Kentucky, 859-225-3296.