I had no idea and it was never even on my radar to think it.
Athletes potentially have a higher risk towards substance misuse and addiction than the average high school student.
“He’s a BEAST!”
was the exclamation of two football coaches as they watched my son leap over the hurdles for his first time ever. With no previous training in hurdles, he filled an empty slot at a meet and he powered over them like a bull with the agility of a gazelle. He was recruited for the football team on the spot.
That’s my boy!
Caleb was an athlete who excelled, earning him status from awards won at the state level, in recognition being a co-captain on both wrestling and football teams, and with purpose leading as an example of determination with a never-give-up attitude, for his teammates. Sports was his identity. It was his true joy. I am comforted in knowing that he experienced the highs of accomplishment and pleasure in his experience as an athlete; literally, they were the best years of his short life.
Little did I know, shortly thereafter, he began experimenting with marijuana during this time of his life. With accomplishments come expectations and pressure to perform and work to surpass your own records. Beating your body into submission brings pain; no pain, no gain, as they say. I am fairly confident that he occasionally used weed to reduce anxiety and ease the pain of sore muscles.
This is where it all began.
Fast forward two more years………..An injury, was re-injured, and then re-injured again; smashed and rammed on the footfall field and stretched and torqued on the wrestling mat; surgery became inevitable. Surgery provided opiates to manage the pain. While I cannot say that this opiate use was the cause of his downward spiral into addiction, it certainly exacerbated the course in more than just the obvious way. More than self medicating for physical pain, my son was self medicating for emotional pain. It is my firm belief, that the injury and surgery that prevented him from finishing his senior year of wrestling season, plummeted him into depression. You see, when an accomplished athlete suddenly cannot engage with his sport anymore, his identity and purpose is suddenly stripped away. This secondary pain became primary to the path of substance misuse for Caleb.
My athlete was certainly one of those at higher risk for addiction.
But, no one would know this looking on from the outside; the facade of bravado that dominates the athletic realm, masked the inner pain he endured. Coupled with a genetic predisposition, it was a perfect set-up to propel him toward substance abuse.
Addiction became a BEAST bigger than he could have thought possible; It overpowered him like a bull and stole up on him like a gazelle.
BEAST v.s BEAST
…there could be only one winner as they battled to the death…
What could have altered this course for my son?
That is the proverbial cry of this grieving parent, and every parent, who has lost a child to substance use disorder.