NCAA study of substance use and abuse habits of college student-athletes

Clin J Sport Med. 2001 Jan;11(1):51-6. doi: 10.1097/00042752-200101000-00009.


Objective: To determine the substance-use patterns of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) student-athletes for alcohol, amphetamines, anabolic steroids, cocaine/crack, ephedrine, marijuana/hashish, psychedelics/hallucinogens, and smokeless tobacco.

Design: Self-reported, anonymous, retrospective survey.

Participants: Male and female student-athletes from 30 sports competing at 991 NCAA Division I, II, and III institutions.

Main outcome measures: Respondents were queried about their use of eight categories of substances in the previous 12-month period. In addition, data were collected regarding substance use according to team, ethnicity, NCAA Division, reasons for use, and the sources for drugs.

Results: The overall response rate was 64.3% with 637 of 991 schools reporting with usable data on 13,914 student-athletes. For the eight categories of substance use, alcohol was the most widely used drug in the past year at 80.5%, followed by marijuana at 28.4%, and smokeless tobacco at 22.5%. Although anabolic steroid use was reported at 1.1% overall, some sports demonstrated higher use, and 32.1% obtained their anabolic steroids from a physician other than the institution's team physician. There were wide variations in the pattern of substance abuse according to sport. The results were also analyzed according to division, and it was found that the likelihood of alcohol, amphetamines, marijuana, and psychedelics use is highest in Division III. In addition, the probability of ephedrine use is highest in both Division II and III, while Division II had the highest likelihood of cocaine use. Finally, the results were analyzed according to ethnicity and we found that the likelihood of use of smokeless tobacco, alcohol, ephedrine, amphetamines, marijuana, and psychedelics is highest for Caucasian student-athletes.

Conclusion: The study demonstrates a wide variation of use across NCAA divisions and sports, as well as among ethnic groups. The majority of student-athletes engage in substance use, especially alcohol. According to the survey, substance use is highest among Division III student-athletes and also among Caucasians. By examining reasons for use, the study will assist professionals in designing specific interventions for various substances. This study provides a methodology for surveying a large number of NCAA student-athletes, which will be repeated every 4 years to identify trends in substance abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Data Collection
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sports*
  • Students
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*