Competitive sport involvement and substance use among adolescents: a nationwide study

Subst Use Misuse. 2015 Jan;50(2):156-65. doi: 10.3109/10826084.2014.962049. Epub 2014 Oct 7.


Background: The empirical research examining the impact of sports participation on alcohol and other drug use has produced mixed results. Part of this problem may be the result of how different types of sports participation create different experiences that shape certain types of behaviors that either facilitate or deter substance use.

Objectives: We examined the association between different types of competitive sports participation and substance use among a nationally representative sample of adolescents.

Methods: Two recent cross-sections from the Monitoring the Future were merged to capture a large subsection of adolescents who participate in either high-contact sports (football, wrestling, hockey, and lacrosse), semicontact sports (baseball, basketball, field hockey, and soccer), and noncontact sports (cross-country, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, track, and volleyball).

Results: Multivariate analyses revealed that adolescents who participated in high-contact sports had higher odds of using substances during the past 30 days and initiating substance use at early ages. Further, adolescents who participated in noncontact sports had lower odds to indicate smoking cigarettes and marijuana during the past 30 days.

Conclusions: Parents, educators, and policy makers need to consider that some sporting contexts may be a catalyst to engage in risky behaviors like substance use.

Keywords: Sport participation; adolescents; alcohol use; illicit drug use; substance use.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Drug Users / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Sports / statistics & numerical data*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • United States / epidemiology