Drug & Alcohol Use

When studying to achieve academic goals or training to reach elite levels, every choice impacts success. Individuals are free to choose when they are on their own but student-athletes should be aware of the positive and negative impacts of their choices so they can make informed decisions.

Coaches must model appropriate behaviour and monitor players in order to protect the health – first and foremost – and performance of the players on the team. In order to establish rules during the season or at a training camp, coaches must exemplify their values and build relationships with the players that they are coaching.

Alcohol has become a major influence in the lives of today’s youths. Those who have three to four drinks at least once per week will experience reduced performance of both mind and bodies. Even high school athletes consume excessive amounts of alcohol and can suffer a twenty to thirty percent loss in performance. Far too many collegiate athletes drink as a coping skill because of the tough school, training, and competition schedule.

Reasons NOT to Drink

  • It is illegal for minors (under 19 in Canada, under 21 in the United States to consume alcohol.  It is illegal to procure alcohol for a minor or sell alcohol to a minor.  Therefore, high school athletes should not be drinking in the first place.
  • Frequent drinking is expensive.
  • Alcohol impairs physical and mental performance (3 to 4 drinks).
  • Alcohol is high in carbohydrates without the nutritional benefits.

Advice for Coaches

  • This is one area were coaches must follow the first tenet of leadership and model the way for players.
  • All coaches should be mindful of decreased performance and other symptoms of alcohol use.

Performance Loss

  • The total performance loss by a high school player may be 20-30%
Performance Factor Loss Due to Regular Alcohol Use
Skill Development Alcohol reduces mental concentration and the accuracy of skill performance
Strength Explosive power and strength are reduced
Strength Endurance
  • 6.96% reduction
Speed Reaction time and acceleration in the first ten and twenty metres are reduced
Speed Endurance
  • 6.2% reduction
Muscle Repair
  • 63% reduction
Human Growth Hormone
  • 70% reduction
Testosterone Male drinkers may have the same levels as female athletes

Recovery & Regeneration

  • Drinking increases the time needed to recover from a workout or game.
  • Alcohol use can cancel the R.E.M. sleep (1½ to 2½ hours) needed for the brain to recover.
  • Alcohol also disrupts the critical recovery and regeneration that occurs immediately after physical activity.

Residual Effects

  • The effects of alcohol use can last up to ninety-six hours (four days)
    • Effects include: Raised blood pressure and heart rate, increased risk of injury (twice that of non-drinkers), and cortisol production (One drunk occasion equals two weeks lost training days)
    • Fatigue is increased and athletes become tired at an accelerated rate.
  • Brain activity is still reduced more than a year after quitting alcohol

Discuss Standards with Collegiate Teams

  • Players and coaches should all learn about the perils of alcohol use and decide on team standards, with consequences.
  • Many collegiate athletes drink as a coping mechanism to deal with the exhaustion of practices and games and the pressure of school; 75% of N.C.A.A. Men’s Basketball players identify themselves as drinkers.
Marijuana use can prove to be the thin edge of a wedge: it may seem harmless but it can make a big difference in high performance sport. The effects of cannabis on memory can harm both learning in the classroom and muscle memory used in skill development.

Rules Regarding Marijuana Use

  • Marijuana is one the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List.
    • Off-season use is allowed.
    • Cannabis is the second-most frequently detected substance in drug tests, after steroids.


  • In Canada, 9.1% of fifteen year-olds and 21.6 of those aged fifteen to twenty-five smoked marijuana
  • One-third of collegiate athletes admitted to marijuana use in the past year, compared to one half of non-athletes.
    • 11.2% used marijuana during the season compared to 28.4% in the off-season.
    • Male athletes were more likely to report drug use than females.

Academic Impact

  • Marijuana use can adversely influence the brain development that occurs during adolescence.
  • Chronic use of marijuana before the age of 18 can impact a person’s intelligence, attention span and memory for life.
  • Adolescents who smoked marijuana persistently showed decline of eight I.Q. points over the next twenty years.
  • Quitting later in life does not reverse the damage.

Physical Training Impact

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (T.H.C.), the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, leads to increased blood pressure and reduced stroke volume.
    • This reduces athletic performance in a way similar to heat stress or fatigue.
    • Cannabis use slows the electrical impulses which signal muscles to contract and relax, slowing

Emotional Control Impact

  • Athletes may use cannabis in order to lessen anxiety and fear before a competition, cope with poor performances and reduce depression during training.
  • Some collegiate athletes claim that shared marijuana use helps team building.
  • High performance athletes who use cannabis can experience decreased motivation to train and compete.

Attentional Focus

  • Sport demands the ability to absorb information and make decisions under pressure.
    • Marijuana use harms co-ordination, lengthen reaction times, impairs hand-eye co-ordination and interferes with visual perception.
    • T.H.C. remains in the central nervous system for thirty days – long after the affects of being high have passed – and continues to harm performance.

List of Resources