When it comes to teen sports injuries and addiction, many doctors believe that there is a fundamental correlation.
“Sports are probably the leading cause of injury in kids, but I think it is important to understand that sports in general are protective. We know kids who play sports compared to kids who don’t are typically less likely to be involved in risky behaviors,” said Dr. Alex Diamond, assistant professor of Orthopedics and Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
As the team physician for Vanderbilt University, Dr. Diamond and other physicians in his department treated approximately 26,000 athletes of all ages in 2016.
“As physicians, we need to be mindful when treating children with injuries what situations require pain medication and what situations can be handled without pain medication,” said Dr. Diamond. “Most of them can be handled without pain medications.”
While opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone can be effective in alleviating chronic pain, they are also very addictive and can lead to illicit drug use, which can lead to early death, especially in females — female addicts are 54% more likely to die prematurely because of their drug use.
Dean Porterfield, Director of Adolescent and Young Men’s Services at a non-profit addiction treatment facility called Cumberland Heights, gives his input.
“We take kids from all over the country. The primary diagnosis is substance abuse, but it is not uncommon, though, that the underlying issues once you take those substances away are anxiety, depression, or trauma,” said Porterfield. “A notable factor with the young adult population that we serve is that several of them are athletes who have experienced high school or college sports injuries that have required surgery and have become addicted to painkillers.”
Porterfield noted that adolescent stress and self-esteem issues are a major cause of kids turning to drugs in the first place. And it’s true — there are plenty of teens who struggle with self-esteem issues and fitting in. In fact, 92% of teens feel that even metal braces would keep them from fitting in with their peers.
“Just being an adolescent adult in general is full of ups and downs,” Porterfield said. “When they realize this substance can help alleviate that, they get hooked pretty quick.”
Porter explained that when painkiller prescriptions run out or the medicine becomes too expensive to obtain, injured athletes often turn to heroin because it’s an alternative that’s both easily accessible and affordable. After that, it doesn’t take long for the athlete’s passion for sports to turn into a passion for drugs. He said that the solution lies in finding other options to treat injuries that don’t have the same risks, such as physical therapy, proper casts, and anti-inflammatory medications. In fact, four in 10 people try to exercise to relieve lower back pain.
“As a parent you need to be diligent on what pain medication your kids are getting,” said Dr. Diamond. “For the most part, the narcotic pain medication is not needed for what we are seeing in our children. It is very rare.”
Porterfield has a final suggestion for parents: stay involved with your children’s lives. Look for signs of possible drug dependency such as missing money and missing prescription medications. Take note of any new friends or new places your child visits. And above all, stay diligent.