NCAA: Swimmers Biggest Users of Sleep Aids Among College Athletes; #2 in Marijuana Use

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.

See the full NCAA report here.

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.

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7 years ago

Im skeptical all athletes, swimmers or not, answered this honestly. I also would like to know the size of sample. Some of those other sports are lying.And the revenue sports athletes have a lot more to lose if they answered honestly if they felt anonymity was a problem. I teach high school where they have to fill out these sorts of surveys and you should see the smart ass answers teenagers give- I doubt college age are a whole lot different..

7 years ago

The weed doesn’t surprise me 😉 But the sleep aids did. When I was training for competitive swimming, up until about 5-6 years ago, I slept like a baby, as did most of my teammates.

7 years ago

Of all the statistics presented in the article, the one that jumped out at me is that nearly 18% of male swimmers reported smoking cigarettes in the last 12 months.

In the mid 70s my age group team had our fair share of alcohol and marijuana use (drinking age was 18 then), but I don’t recall any of my teammates smoking cigarettes.

Given the overall decline of smoking, that’s a disturbing trend.

Reply to  Chooch
7 years ago

Agreed – cigarette smoking is weird. I swam in the 80’s in college and I don’t recall a single person that smoked tobacco. Maybe this is some sort of mistake in the way the question was asked or something. Otherwise, this is truly disturbing.

Reply to  Chooch
7 years ago

I don’t know the survey, but if they happend to include the vaporized nicotine in with “smoked tobacco”, that may change things. When the students are back in Bloomington, there are quite a few of them (speaking of general student population, not swimmers) that are vaping.

ct swim fan
Reply to  Chooch
7 years ago

I was astounded b the cigarette smoking statistic. i don’t recall any of my team mates ever smoking cigarettes, maybe they did it when they were alone, but i doubt it.

7 years ago

I think a some of the data may be taken out of context.
Ritalin, adderal, etc I assume are amphetamines. If swimmers are taking it to help with school, that’s quite a bit different. If that’s the case, the number sounds about on average with the rest of the student population.

7 years ago

It would be interesting to see what the sample size was.

I’d also like to see this paired up with a similar sample size of non-athletes at the same colleges…to see how much of an environmental factor weighs in on this. Example: UC-Boulder likely has overall higher percentage of marijuana use campus-wide.

7 years ago

Though I didn’t swim on a University swim team, I was in a fraternity. My general impression (when it comes to alcohol and certain drugs) is that any large group of guys with a “fraternal bond” will tend to go a little overboard at times. And don’t deny that there is at least some degree of underclassmen “hazing” that takes place on nearly every university sports team – even if it isn’t the kind that would put them in the National news.

7 years ago

I remember taking those surveys in college and I agree with nona. On some of the more ridiculous questions it’s nearly impossible to not give a smart ___ answer.

Reply to  zfibster
7 years ago

my favorite survey in college was when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder… I ate entirely too much. binge eater. but was still 6’4″ 195 lol

Ole 99
7 years ago

Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14% of people know that. –Homer Simpson

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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