Well-Being Prevention & Cures

High school seniors in contact sports more likely to misuse prescription drugs in their 20s

Researchers found that seniors who play a contact sport are 50 percent more likely than those who did not play contact sports to misuse prescription stimulants in the following decade.
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Story at a glance


  • Researchers collected data from more than 4,000 high school seniors from 2006 to 2017 and then followed them for a decade to measure the relationship between participation sports and prescription drug misuse. 

  • The team looked at contact, semi-contact and non-contact sports, finding athletes are more likely than non-athletes to misuse prescription stimulants. 

  • Approximately 31 percent of seniors aged 17-18 said they misused prescription drugs in the past year of the study period. 

High school seniors who participate in sports are more likely than non-athletes to misuse prescription stimulants during their 20s, but those involved in contact sports are even more likely than their peers to do so, according to a new study

University of Michigan researchers collected data from 4,777 12th graders from 2006 to 2017 and then followed them for a decade to measure the relationship between participation in high school sports and prescription drug misuse. 

The team looked at contact, semi-contact and non-contact sports, finding athletes are more likely than non-athletes to misuse prescription stimulants. They found seniors who play a contact sport are 50 percent more likely to than those who did not play contact sports to misuse prescription stimulants in the next decade. 

Further, the percentage of athletes involved in contact athletics who said they used prescription stimulants as seniors increased by 7 percent from ages 21 to 22. Approximately 31 percent of seniors aged 17-18 said they misused prescription drugs in the past year of the study period. 

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The study’s lead author Philip Veliz, an associate research professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, said while opioid use among athletes in contact sports was higher, participation did not initiate misuse. 

Veliz said the misuse of both opioids and stimulants decreased over the decade, the “study found that some types of former high school athletes are at greater risk of misusing these drugs and initiating them during early adulthood.” 

Researchers said the study’s findings “reinforce screenings” monitoring for drug misuse among high school athletes.  

“Increased prescription stimulant misuse following high school warrants ongoing monitoring during young adulthood, especially among athletes,” Sean Esteban McCabe, senior author and director of DASH, the Center for the Study of Drug, Alcohol, Smoking, and Health in the University of Michigan School of Nursing, said in the release.