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Athletes That Have Overcome Alcohol Addiction

Because playing a sport involves exercising, it is often thought to be synonymous with good health. Despite this assumption, the pressures of sports can cause some athletes to struggle with an addiction to alcohol and other substance use disorders (SUD). With treatment athletes can overcome their addictions. 

A 2017 study determined that participating in sports can increase the risk for developing an addiction, especially for team sports. Substance use among athletes could possibly be attributed to a longing for social acceptance and the normalization and accessibility of drugs within the sports community. This research also found that role models, like coaches, do little to discourage the use of substances which perpetuates a work hard, play hard mentality. Most athletes thrive on being competitive, often wanting to be the best at everything they do. When applied to substance use, this hyper-competitiveness can be extremely dangerous. 

Fortunately, US professional sports leagues require routine drug screening. If these drug tests are not passed, athletes can be suspended. Leagues, like the NFL, can even request that athletes participate in treatment if necessary. Along with alcohol, prescription Opioids, stimulants, and performance enhancing drugs are the substances commonly misused by athletes. Here are some athletes who have overcome an alcohol addiction along with other SUDs.

Darren Waller

When Darren Waller was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, he was in the middle of struggling with an addiction. Waller started playing football at a young age and was introduced to pain pills in high school. Waller began stealing prescriptions from his parents’ medicine cabinet, asking injured peers for their medications, and attempting to outdrink everyone at parties. While playing football at Georgia Tech, Waller was caught cheating on a drug test and was required to participate in an outpatient program that was ultimately unsuccessful. 

In his first years in the NFL, the athlete failed multiple drug tests causing him to be suspended for the full 2016 season. Waller unknowingly ingested Opioids containing Fentanyl, the most common substance present in overdose deaths, and decided to seek treatment again. During his 34 day inpatient stay, Waller learned that using is not the battle and that drugs and alcohol are just a symptom of deeper issues. Eleven months after overcoming his addiction, Waller was reinstated by the NFL and later claimed by the Raiders. After the 2019 season, Waller started the Darren Waller Foundation to help kids with similar temptations and struggles. He believes being a service to others and realizing a greater purpose is the antidote to addiction.

Joe Namath

Former New York Jets quarterback, Joe Namath, addressed his addiction to alcohol in his autobiography All The Way: My Life In Four Quarters. For Namath, a life without sports after his football career ended caused him to develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The athlete, nicknamed “Broadway Joe,” claimed that he was drinking amounts of alcohol that were putting his life at risk. In 2003, Namath drunkenly told ESPN’s Suzy Kolber that he wanted to kiss her during a sideline interview. Because of this on-camera embarrassment, the athlete began an outpatient treatment program to overcome his addiction. 

“I had embarrassed my friends and family and could not escape that feeling. I haven’t had a drink since… That shame is where I found my strength to deal with the addiction. With the help of my recovery, I learned that I had used my divorce as an excuse to go back to drinking. That knowledge made me stronger as an individual,” Namath wrote in his book. 

In treatment, the Superbowl MVP from 1969 gave a name to his temptations and urges to drink, calling it “Slick.” He wrote that giving it this name has allowed him to listen differently when Slick whispers to him now. 

Brett Farve

In March of 2021, Brett Farve opened up on his podcast, “Boiling up with Farve,” about his struggles with addiction. The former Green Bay Packer developed a dependence on prescription pain pills after spraining an ankle during a game. He began using substances constantly and increasing the dosages rapidly. After having 2 drug induced seizures, Farve entered rehab and completed a 75 day program. Despite this, his addiction resumed in 1996. 

During this time, Frave’s alcohol consumption became a cause of concern to his wife. Although he was not drinking everyday, his tendency to binge drink was leading him to make poor decisions, such as drinking and driving. When he told her that he would quit, she didn’t believe him. In 1998, Farve returned to rehab and has not had alcohol since. 

Todd Marinovich

Todd Marinovich began his football training basically on the day he was born which earned him the nickname “Robo QB.” Marinovich’s father, who had big dreams for his son, attempted to create the perfect environment to ensure his child was as healthy as possible. This intense level of pressure led Marinovich to turn to substance use after being drafted in the first round by the Raiders in 1991. After failing a drug test, the team held an intervention for the quarterback and sent him to an inpatient facility for 45 days. Despite this treatment, Marinovich failed another drug test in 1993 which ultimately resulted in the end of his NFL career. 

In 2016, Marinovich was arrested after being found wandering naked in a stranger’s backyard while carrying a brown paper bag of drugs. Because of this incident, this athlete decided to seek treatment again to overcome his addictions. Today, Marinovich is an artist focused on impressionist-style paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Much of his art is football themed. 

Lawrence Taylor

Nicknamed “L.T.,” Lawrence Taylor spent all 12 years of his NFL career as a New York Giants linebacker. Taylor, a self-described adrenaline junkie, began using substances prior to being drafted in 1981. In 2010, the athlete admitted to not being able to remember the day he was drafted because of how much alcohol he had consumed. While drinking at these events is commonplace, the 41 beers Taylor had that day could have caused fatal outcomes. Throughout his career, Taylor used Cocaine and Crack but would pass drug tests by using his teammates’ urine samples. By 1988, he had failed 2 drug tests earning him a 30 day suspension. He abstained from drug use until his retirement in 1993. 

After the Football Hall of Fame member’s career ended, Taylor spent many years attempting treatment and relapsing. His substance use caused him to have several run-ins with the law including most recently in 2017 for a DUI. Since then, this athlete has overcome his addictions. In 2021, Lawrence co-founded a non-profit called Fore Life Inc. which aims to give a better chance at success to at-risk youth through golf.

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