Substance use and other health risk behaviors in collegiate athletes

Clin J Sport Med. 1996 Jul;6(3):183-9. doi: 10.1097/00042752-199607000-00008.


Objectives: To (a) determine the prevalence of alcohol and other drug use, and health risk behaviors among a general university population; and (b) compare health risk-taking behaviors between genders, and varsity athletes and their non-athlete peers.

Design: Descriptive survey of multiple health risk behaviors, including physical, mental health, alcohol and other drug, and sexual risk taking.

Setting: Two large midwestern universities.

Participants: A convenience sample of 86% of 1,210 eligible students (271 athletes and 775 nonathlete peers) completed a self-administered, anonymous questionnaire during team meetings or class sessions.

Intervention: None.

Main outcome measures: Differences between gender and athlete status were assessed using Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel statistics for the following variables, determined by questionnaire responses: physical risk, mental health, alcohol and other drug use, and sexual behaviors.

Results: Common risk behaviors in the entire collegiate sample included riding in a car with a driver who was under the influence of alcohol, driving and swimming under the influence of alcohol, binge drinking, and low rate of condom use for all types of sexual intercourse. Risk-taking behaviors varied by gender, with men showing more risk behaviors than women, except for suicide and sexual behaviors. Male athletes had a higher prevalence of risk behaviors than their male nonathlete counterparts, in contrast to female athletes, who had fewer risk behaviors than their female nonathlete counterparts.

Conclusion: In contrast to previous studies, results of the present study show, when results are stratified by gender, that not all athletes engage more frequently than nonathletes in high risk behaviors. Results suggest that educational and early intervention strategies to decrease risk may need to be tailored according to gender and athletic status.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / trends
  • Attitude to Health
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sampling Studies
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sports*
  • Substance-Related Disorders*