For millions of people, Saturdays and Sundays in the fall are devoted to football. Fans come together to celebrate the game and its players week after week, but there’s a dark undercurrent in college and professional sports that is often ignored.

On college campuses across the country, Friday night is the beginning of the party weekend. Some of the young men who play on Saturday afternoon may be binge drinking through the night before. In the NFL, alcohol abuse can mingle with prescription pain pills, creating a dangerous chemical cocktail.

What Causes Substance Abuse in Athletes?

Many young people start abusing alcohol and drugs in high school. This behavior may be a reaction to physical or emotional abuse or stress, or it may be a way to fit into a peer group. Whatever the cause, substance abuse in high school often carries into college.

For decades, colleges have been known for the wild behavior of their students. Binge drinking and drug experimentation have long been considered normal parts of the college years, but recently, colleges are starting to pay attention to the damage being caused by heavy drinking.

Collegiate athletes often feel an increased pressure to perform that may lead to binge drinking. The availability of alcohol and the desire to party may be other factors that open the door to substance abuse at universities.

For those college athletes who make it into the NFL, binge drinking can continue unabated. With the influx of income, there’s no shortage of places to go and parties to have, and because of the toll that professional football takes on the body, prescription pain pills frequently enter the mix.

Many professional football players become addicted to the prescription pain pills they’re receiving from their team. This abuse can lead to devastating health problems, loss of athletic ability, harder drug use, legal trouble and death.

The Sad Case Of Johnny Manziel

One athlete who exemplifies the tragic impact of substance abuse is former Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel, often called Johnny Football. A Heisman Trophy winner and first round draft pick for the Cleveland Browns, the young quarterback seemed to have everything going for him.

Less than two years after being drafted, Manziel was cut from the Cleveland Browns. His agent has canceled their contract, wanting nothing to do with the troubled athlete. Manziel also faces assault accusations from an ex-girlfriend.

His college career was one of extremes. Before playing his first game, he was charged with disorderly conduct and possessing a fake ID during a bar brawl. On the field, his plays were electric, catapulting him to stardom and leading to a Heisman trophy.

With entrance into the NFL came money and further notoriety. He began partying more and was often late for meetings and practices. Against the wishes of his coaches, he took advantage of a bye week to fly to Austin and party. On another occasion, he vanished for several days and was found hiding out in disguise in Las Vegas. The assault accusations are simply the next in a long line of problems for the young athlete.

Without help, Johnny Manziel will continue to spiral down into addiction and destructive behavior. Stories like his are all too common in college and professional football. Substance abuse can consume lives and destroy futures; players like Johnny Manziel need intervention in their lives.

What Can Be Done?

Due to football’s popularity, the substance abuse issues that plague the sport are often ignored. Fans don’t want to see people who struggle with substance abuse. Instead, they want to watch men in peak physical condition compete for the accolades of millions.

More awareness is a good first step toward fixing substance abuse in football. Fans and teams should not be so quick to ignore the destructive habits of players. Teams could also benefit from increased education and accountability. By providing more information and assistance, college and professional football organizations may be able to help people like Johnny Manziel and recommend him to getting treatment.

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