Study suggests college athletes aware of drug, alcohol risks


Published: Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 12:08 a.m.

Alcohol and drug use remain a temptation for students on college campuses.

But a recent NCAA study suggests that college athletes are growing more aware of the risks of using those substances.

The 101-page study, released this month by the NCAA's research department, concluded that drug and alcohol use among student-athletes is lower than the general student body. Among NCAA athletes overall, alcohol use is at 80.4 percent, slightly below the student average of 81.4 percent. Marijuana use, meanwhile, is at 21.9 percent for student-athletes, below the student body average of 32 percent.

In Division I, 78 percent of athletes report using alcohol and 16 percent report using marijuana. The anonymous survey included data from all NCAA member institutions from the time period of 2005 to 2013.

Dr. Keith Carodine, Florida's Associate Athletic Director for Academic Affairs, said he thinks education has played an important role in athletes making better choices.

"I think it's the kids, too," Carodine said. "I think particularly with the Division I numbers, the kids are being more serious about their sports, more health-conscious."

Carodine said at Florida, all students have to take an alcohol education program before registering for classes. During orientation, UF's athletes are required to take a life skills seminar that covers the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse.

During the school year, UF brings in speakers to different athletic programs to discuss the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol. Carodine referenced a recent speaking presentation "cars, bars and catastrophes," which documented an athlete signed to play Division I at Texas Tech who became a paraplegic after an accident that occurred while driving intoxicated.

"It is very powerful when he shows an image of a student who basically had a scholarship offer to Texas Tech sitting in a wheelchair because he was driving in an altered state and not paying attention," Carodine said.

But binge drinking still exists to some extent in college athletics. According to the study, 44 percent of male athletes and 33 percent of female athletes report to having five or more drinks at one sitting. Even more concerning, 23 percent have reported getting into a fight/argument while drinking, 14 percent reporting getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated at least once and 7 percent indicated they had damaged property or pulled a fire alarm while drinking.

Former Gainesville High standout guard Greg Gantt said he didn't encounter too much drinking or drug use among athletes during his four years as a college basketball player at Division I Florida Atlantic. Gantt played for FAU from 2009-13 and left as the school's all-time leading scorer.

"I think it varies depending on what situation you come into, depending on the players that were there before you," Gantt said. "The situation I came into, we didn't have a bunch of players on our team that were really into that. We were kind of a clean team. I only got drug tested once the whole time I was in college and we maybe only had a few players fail drug tests."

Drug testing remains a deterrent for college athletes, due to the threat of suspension or other disciplinary penalties. According to the survey, 56 percent of college athletes report testing has deterred them from using drugs in 2013, up from 51 percent in 2009. Florida's substance abuse policy calls for mandatory counseling for a first failed drug test and a 10 percent suspension from competition for a second failed test.

"Testing I would say for the most part is a deterrent for most athletes," Carodine said. "But testing without education is not, to me, effective. Along with those testing programs you have to have counseling."

The study also showed that college athletes are using prescription pain medication and prescription ADHD medicine more frequently.

"Part of education process talks about prescription medications and pain medications," Carodine said. "People get addicted to other people's prescriptions in everyday society. That's part of our educational process, to talk about those substances."

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