Alcohol use in this country is a problem that isn’t going away. We’ve all heard the excuses before. "I work really hard during the week. I deserve to have a drink on the weekend." Or, "It’s not against the law for me to drink. Besides, everyone does it."
Each April, since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) has sponsored NCADD Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues.
How can we as healthcare professionals, who have a deep rapport with these athletes/patients, convince them of the profound ramifications that placing alcohol into their body can have on their career?
The effects of alcohol use on the body are numerous. The detriments to the muscular system can be significant. Due to the decrease in sleep quality and quantity, the body cannot release enough human growth hormone, which is imperative for building and repairing muscles.1 Now that patient with the hamstring strain that’s struggling to heal may have an additional hurdle to clear in order to be game-ready. The liver produces a toxic substance as a byproduct of alcohol use that has a poisonous effect on testosterone, inhibiting the recovery and production of muscle tissue. Alcohol will dehydrate an athlete’s organs and muscles, delaying healing. 2 As a result, ATP production will be depleted due to the disruption of water balance within muscles, reducing energy production required for muscle contraction.3 Muscular injuries aren’t the only type affected by alcohol use. The Ohio Valley Center for Brain Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Center cites numerous reasons to abstain from alcohol consumption after a concussion, including impaired recovery, balance effects and seizures. Trying to help an athlete recover from an injury while under the effects of alcohol is fighting a losing battle.
Alcohol use in teens continues to occur at an alarming rate. The Center for Disease Control reports that in a 30-day time period, 39% of 9th-12th graders had consumed alcohol, with 22% of them admitting to binge drinking. With the information previously stated, what can Athletic Trainers (ATs) do to deter this use to protect our athletes’ safety and return to play? Additionally, what is appropriate for an AT to say to an athlete who is a minor regarding alcohol abstinence after an injury?
1 http://oade.nb.edu Notre Dame Office of Alcohol and Drug Education
2 http://studenthealth.ucsd.edu/partynutrition.shtml UC San Diego Health Services
3 https://www.princeton.edu/uhs/pdfs/NCAA%20Alcohol%20and%20Athletic%20Performance.pdf "For the Athlete: Alcohol and Athletic Performance" Gina Firth, M.A., L.M.H.C., N.C.C.; Luis G. Manzo, Ph.D.
Claudia Percifield, MS, ATC, LAT