„Phelps goes bong“. “Northug to go to jail for drunk driving crash and run”. „20 athletes who always party like it’s spring break“.
Headlines like these catch our attention in the media but are definitely not surprising anymore. Everyone knows that when athletes work, they work hard and when they party, they do it even harder. Scandalous Finnish ski jumper Matti Nykänen, for example, has stated that it took a lot of courage for him to jump sober. “There ain’t no business like show business”: it doesn’t matter if it’s the money, hazard or fame that makes athletes go crazy from time to time. The problem is that many of them probably don’t think about the consequences.
The so-called riskgroups
It is obvious that not all athletes like to party. Jaromir Jagr, Cristiano Ronaldo and Tim Tebow are just a few famous abstinent athletes. However, some groups are under bigger risk than others for drinking and partying. It’s no surprise that college athletes have been found to have more heavy drinking experiences than nonathletes. There might be several reasons behind it: the environment, lack of parental care or simply peer pressure. Interestingly, college athletes who are highly competitive and mostly goal-oriented are at higher risk of alcohol consumption, especially during the in-season. In contrast, those who are more oriented to win consume more alcohol during the off-season and less during the in-season.
As one could assume, frequent drinking and alcohol-related problems are more frequent among athletes in team sports than among individual athletes.
Why should the athletes think twice before partying the night away?
The worst thing an athlete can do to his or her body when partying is to keep it sleep-deprived. So athletes who party without alcohol but stay up all night are still putting their body under big stress. Insufficient sleep negatively affects the autonomous nervous system which helps to control the blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and many other physiological mechanisms. Also, lack of sleep promotes immune system dysfunction which makes it harder for the body to fight against infections and colds, vaccines are not as protective and the risk of heart diseases increases. Furthermore, sleep deprivation can inhibit cognitive performance which includes mechanisms such as paying attention, learning and working memory. Weight gain due to altered carbohydrate metabolism and changed food intake are additional examples of unfavorable consequences.
Sleep deprivation is most damaging for younger athletes. For example, adolescent athletes who sleep less than 8 hours per night are 1,7 times more likely to get injured compared to athletes who sleep more than 8 hours per night.
Other negative side effects of partying and consuming alcohol are the following:
- Impaired muscle growth
- Reduced testosterone levels
- Decrease in energy and loss of endurance
- Dehydration, cramps and muscle strains
- Reduced human growth hormone by as much as 70%
- Impaired reaction and coordination
- Increased injury risk
People are different and the risks can be very subjective depending on the athlete, duration of partying and amount of alcohol consumed.
„Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.” – Lou Holtz
I’m a believer in hard work and dedication. I believe that an athlete’s body is their tool and supreme care should be taken to keep that tool running smoothly. On the other hand, I do not believe in celibacy and complete abstinence if it is somehow forced upon – athletes should still enjoy life and be entertained. It’s one thing to raise a glass in celebration of a special event, it’s another thing to find yourself unconscious in the Olympic village or be mentioned on drunkathletes.com (yes, this page actually exists!). Every athlete should identify his or her goal and figure out the perfect way to get there. If the goal is to perform at the highest level possible then “fun“ things like partying the night away and consuming alcohol need to be sacrificed.
Every team should state their alcohol policy to raise the athletes’ awareness. Especially in the case of younger athletes, official informational bulletins not only about the risks of alcohol consumption but also about sleep deprivation should be handed out.
Saying “no“ to alcohol and partying should not imply taking the fun away altogether but rather preserving the results that were gained through hard work.