Within sport there is a noted paucity of research on the reasons as to why sportspeople drink in excess (O’Brien, Kolt, Webber & Hunter, 2010). In sport, alcohol is seen as the most widely used drug in the athletic population. Studies have shown that up 88% of intercollegiate American athletes use alcohol (O’Brien & Lyons, 2000) and men between the age of 18 and 24 have been shown to have an increased chance of problem drinking (Thornley, 1985). To help us understand alcohol addiction of athletes, we shall look at it from a behavioural and social perspective.
In todays society teenagers are now being introduced to alcohol from a very young age. Most teenagers will start drinking from a social perspective so that they feel as though they fit in with their friends. Peer pressure plays a large role within the drinking culture in sport and it can be said that there are a large majority of individuals who drink so that they are accepted socially into a group. In relation to the social norms of drinking, it is argued that a person’s behaviour, beliefs and attitudes are influenced by their perceptions of how their peers behave (Perkins, 2002). Individuals use role models and peers as a barometer of how they will act (Nattive & Puffer, 1991). It can be argued that athletes can be heavily influenced by the social norms of drinking and by seeing their peers drink. The normative expectations in relation to drinking can cause sports players to drink with other people through a sense of duty rather than for their own desire (O’Brien, Kolt, Webber & Hunter, 2010). Therefore the social norm attached to drinking can be very strong for an athlete as it causes a large amount of pressure for a player to drink (Foxcroft & Lowe, 1995).
Research has shown that it is common practice for athletes to consume alcohol after a sport event, to help relax, celebrate or drown sorrows (Davies & Foxall, 2011; Bacon, 1973). Most teams will often engage in drinking after a game on the weekend. In the UK, there is a common pattern of behaviour for males who participate in sport to drink alcohol while watching a sporting event (Eastman & Land, 1997). Collins and Vamplew (2002) described how important the centrality of the pub is in a person’s sporting life. The pub has an extremely strong link with sport teams and activities and has a shared tradition of a masculine culture (Martens, Dams-O’Connor, Duffy-Paiement & Gibson, 2006).
To understand how an athlete can become addicted to alcohol we shall look at the addiction from a behavioral perspective. Classical conditioning has been found to play an important role in the development and maintenance of an addictive behaviour (Greeley & Westbrook, 1991). The cue exposure theory is linked very closely to classical conditioning and it argues that cues are important in the development of addiction (Heather & Greeley, 1990). A cue that was present when drugs are administered will more likely cause a conditioned response (cue reactivity) (Greeley, Swift & Heather, 1992). The number of cues which a can be associated to an addiction are infinite. There are two types of cues; exteroceptive and interoceptive. Exteroceptive cues occur before the use of a drug and can include things such as the smell of an alcoholic drink. Interoceptive cues include things such as mood cues (depressed mood). The response to these cues may be autonomic, behavioural or symbolic expressive (Drummond, Tiffany, Glautier & Remington, 1995). Autonomic responses can include aspects such as changes in heart rate. Behavioural responses include an increased likelihood to use that drug and symbolic expressive include things such as urges to drink. When an athlete becomes addicted to alcohol it can be argued that they will be constantly around different cues that are increasing their urge to drink, such as being with players who enjoy drinking (social cues). As well as this there are many interoceptive cues that could have an influence on a player. Throughout a players career there are many setbacks and pressures which can affect a players mood state in many ways. The negative mood state that an athlete might experience from injury or under performance could as a cue for a person to drink. When a player is withdrawn from their sport this could act as another cue for the individual to drink.
Overall it can be seen that there are many factors which can lead to a player becoming addicted to alcohol. Alcohol addiction can have a large effect on a player and it can be seen that the normative drinking environment is just one of many factors which can trigger an addiction to alcohol.