Parents often put their kids in sports to keep them out of trouble. But new research from the University of Alberta suggests that may have the opposite effect.
“It was very evident that there’s a strong relationship between alcohol and sport, particularly binge drinking,” said Laurie de Grace of the university’s Faculty of Physical Education.
For her Master’s degree, de Grace interviewed addicts in a recovery centre. Many who were former athletes – at any level – reported they were introduced to alcohol or drugs by their sport’s culture.
“For the team sports, they seem to start drinking and using marijuana as a team activity,” de Grace said.
Those most prone to addiction were the ones who already had risk factors, including a family history of addiction or mental illness, low self-esteem and a highly competitive personality. de Grace remembers one participant’s story in particular.
“She said that she had to be the best at every sport that she did,” de Grace said. “But then when she lost her sport, she wanted to be the best heroin addict that she could be.”
“The competitiveness just couldn’t be controlled.”
For Brantt Myhres, the research results hit home. The former NHL player discovered alcohol as a teenager.
“(Addiction) ran sort of rampant in the family. So it was no wonder that when I started drinking at 16 years old, I fell in love with it,” he said.
“We’d practice (hockey) after school at three o’clock, and then it was almost a mandatory thing where everybody would go to the bar after practice.”
As Myhres’ salary increased, the drinking led to drug use.
“Once the cocaine comes into play, it takes you to a totally different level,” he said.
“You go from drinking with your friends at the bar to basically finding yourself at nine in the morning, sitting by a glass table. And you can’t leave.”
The U of A study found hockey enforcers, like Myhres, had an especially high risk of addiction.
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“Fist fighting somebody in front of thousands of people, it’s barbaric in a way. So the only way I could justify that was to start medicating with drugs and alcohol,” Myhres said.
“I couldn’t do that role sober.”
After three suspensions, he was banned from the NHL in 2006. But Myhres is back in a new role.
With nine years of sobriety under his belt, he’s created a player-counselling program for the Los Angeles Kings.
“As long as there is a little bit of willingness to get better and get help, then there’s an opportunity for me to step in.”