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Synopsis: Athletes are at high risk for binge drinking and the consequences that follow.
Source: Nelson T, Wechsler H. Alcohol and the athlete. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33(1):43-47.
The purpose of this article was to study the harms and incidence of "binge" drinking in the college athlete. The participants in the study were students younger than 24 years of age who responded to a questionnaire sent to a representative sample of 4-year colleges. The response rate for the questionnaire was 60%. A total of 12,777 students of which 2172 were athletes responded to the questionnaire. Athletes were defined as those participating in physical activity for more than 1 hour per day. A drink was defined as imbibing 12 oz of beer, 4 oz of wine, or 1 shot of whiskey. Binge drinking was defined as drinking 5 or more drinks in a row for men or 4 for women. This measure of binge drinking was previously determined to be a strong predictor of adverse social consequences for alcohol consumption.
The results showed that athletes reported significantly more binge drinking, heavier alcohol use, and a greater number of alcohol-related incidents, including driving while drunk and driving with someone else who was drunk. Athletes reported a greater number of social and parental issues related to their drinking. They reported drinking because they were uncomfortable with the opposite gender and to fit in with friends. Individual athletes reported that 70% of their friends were binge drinkers. Athletes also reported that they received greater exposure to educational efforts discouraging alcohol use than nonathletes did.
"And the survey sez". . . Athletes are at high risk for the ill effects of binge drinking.
The educational efforts by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), individuals, universities and team physicians need to aggressively reach out to athletes. Although our high-profile student-athletes perform at top levels and are placed upon pedestals by fans, their behaviors show insecurities as they drink to fit in with friends and to feel comfortable with the opposite sex more than the typical college student. Personal insecurity affects even these high-performance achievers.
Errors in judgment are common while under the influence of alcohol and may place the lives of the athlete or teammates in significant danger. Serious alcohol related injury to athletes could have significant effect on the athlete, team, and school. The most alarming information gleaned from this study is the fact that an athlete who is a binge drinker will drive drunk or drive with someone who is drunk more often than the typical college student. Certainly, as physicians we are not responsible for alcohol-related injuries, but it is sad to witness a starting varsity athlete survive the season and end up in a wheelchair paralyzed due to an alcohol-related motor vehicle wreck.
As team physicians, we should keep our attention focused on the total care of our athletes. Alcohol misuse should be viewed as a significant problem. Maybe during the preseason assessment of the athletes or in our history and physicals before surgery, a more thorough assessment of the athlete’s alcohol consumption should be performed. Proactive prevention measures should be considered. It is reasonable to assume that these young athletes are seeking good role models, and physicians are in the position to provide the example and proactive intervention.
The risks to self, team, families, and friends are too great to ignore. Although this study suffers from only 60% survey return, it still is sobering to think our disciplined athletes succumb to peer and other social pressures and place themselves and others at risk for serious injury. We must continue to work with the NCAA and our respective colleges and universities to educate our athletes about the harmful effects of alcohol use on athletic performance and life. We should consider setting up a multidisciplinary approach to the treatment and prevention of alcohol-related issues.