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Does Attending a Sporting Event Increase Substance Abuse?

Alcohol Consumption at a Sporting Event

The problem of substance abuse does not exist in isolation. Social pressures and tradition make an impact on how, when, and where substances are abused. Sporting events, for instance, carry a traditional association with alcohol. This association may even cause those attending a sporting event to increase their substance abuse.

Alcohol: Sport’s Drug of Choice

Alcohol abuse is often associated with sporting events for the following reasons:

  • Tradition – Watching sports and drinking alcohol have been associated since long before the prohibition era of the early 20th century.
  • Tolerance – Non-drinking fans and event staff regard drunken behavior and even smuggled alcohol as an unavoidable part of the experience.
  • Commerce – Professional sports arenas and, increasingly, schools generate revenue by selling alcohol at sporting events. Even if no alcohol is for sale, strict prohibition of it could drive away ticket buyers.

While any substance could be abused at a sporting event, such a crowded public setting is a poor match with drugs that are illegal, require smoking or injection, or cause extreme stimulation or sedation. Major championship sports events, however, can attract fans interested in extreme experiences and sensation seeking, who would be ready to take the extra risk of illicit drugs.

Alcohol Abuse at Sporting Events

Researchers have made attempts to measure the prevalence and intensity of alcohol consumption at sporting events. Results of a study looking at the drinking patterns of male baseball fans was published in a 1998 issue of The Annals of Emergency Medicine. Over the course of six baseball games, 41 percent of men tested with a breathalyzer were found to have some alcohol in their systems. Men in the 20 to 35 year age group were most likely to have been drinking. More than 10 percent of the men in that age group exhibited a blood alcohol content that exceeded the legal limit for safe driving.

A 2011 article appearing in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research indicated that 8 percent of fans leaving professional baseball games or football games were too drunk to drive. They were more likely to be drunk if they had participated in a tailgating party before the game.

Cause and Effect

Although these studies indicate a high rate of alcohol use, they do not clearly indicate that attending the sporting event led to an increase of alcohol abuse. In theory, the same people could have had even more to drink if they had stayed home.

A 2007 article in The Journal of American College Health, however, reported results from a survey of a broad spectrum of fans attending college football games. On average, the fans drank much more on the day they were attending the game than they had on their previous outing of socializing or partying. In other words, attending the sporting event did appear to increase substance abuse.

Home Field Disadvantage

Substance abuse at sporting events can cause a wide range of problems that include the following:

  • Development of individual addiction problems
  • Security and safety problems at the events
  • Intoxicated driving problems after the events

Sports venues may consider placing restrictions on drinking at tailgate parties or even trying to control the situation by regulating alcohol sales inside the event.

Safe at Home

If you or someone you know is prompted to drink or use drugs when attending a sporting event, call our toll-free number to learn more about situations and substance abuse. Addiction coordinators are available 24 hours a day.