The NCAA has released a study where substance use was surveyed, anonymously, across college athletics, and while some of the numbers are surprising, others are not.
Among the highlights of the report were high reported uses of illegal and banned drugs by swimmers, especially male swimmers. 6.9% of male swimmers in 2013 reported to have used amphetamines, while .1% admitted to anabolic steroid use and .6% reported that they used ephedrine. For amphetamines, only lacrosse, wrestling, and baseball reported higher numbers.
The numbers were much lower for female swimmers, both in terms of absolute percentages and in terms of rankings. Only 2.3% of female swimmers admitted to amphetamine use, 0.0% reported anabolic steroid use, and .8% reported ephedrine use.
Other key notes mined from the report:
- 17.9% of male swimmers smoked cigarettes in the last 12 months – an increase from 2005 and 2009.
- Just 3.8% of female swimmers reported using cigarettes in the last 12 months, a sharp decline since 2009, and part of an overall sharply-downward trend among female athletes.
- Both male and female swimmers saw increases in marijuana use since 2009 – with males up to 32.7% and females up to 20.3%
- Among all drugs surveyed in the “social” category, male swimmers had higher reported usage rates than their counterparts in football and basketball, except that football players were much more likely to use “spit tobacco.” That includes alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, marijuana, and synthetic marijuana.
- .3% of college athletes from all sports said that they used amphetamines for the first time when under 10 years old. .1% said that they used anabolic steroids younger than 10. If you don’t believe that athletes as young as 10 years old are doping, believe it.
- Female swimmers were more likely to take “energy boosters” and “protein products” than any other athlete besides volleyball players.
- Male and female swimmers were more likely to take sleep aids, like Ambien, than any other sport surveyed. This might speak to a pattern developed from early morning practices that needs to be seriously considered.
- Swimmers had the second-highest reported use of marijuana, behind only lacrosse players.
- Among all student-athletes, 12.2% reported that “10+” is their typical number of drinks per sitting. The only “number of drinks per sitting” that is higher among those surveyed is “none”.
These numbers will be eye-opening for many within swimming who believe that swimmers are using far more illicit substances than those in other sports. In reality, there seems to be a pattern of substance abuse within the sport that needs to be addressed – either from a cultural perspective or from a “coping with my sport” perspective.
Editor’s note: The skeptic will point out that even though the NCAA says it has taken significant precautions to ensure accuracy of data through anonymity, that athletes in certain sports may still feel more or less pressure to report usage honestly. A football player or basketball player could more rightfully presume that someone is digging around and trying to find individual survey responses. If those responses are found, they have much more to lose in future earnings than would a swimmer or a lacrosse player. That, however, doesn’t change some of the more alarming statistics discovered for swimmers, regardless of whether it changes their rankings.
Tip of the hat to Brian Rauscher for sharing this report with us.