In general, the authors also note, high school seniors who reported drinking more at the first survey were also the heavier drinkers throughout young adulthood.
It’s not the first time a study has linked participation in team sports to drinking - although it’s not necessarily the case that playing sports causes a teen to drink more. Terry-McElrath said there are still many theories as to why these athletes tend to drink more than others.
Drinking may be an important social activity on some teams, and there may be peer pressure to drink in post-game environments. And, sports are closely tied to the alcohol industry - just consider all the beer advertisements during the Super Bowl, she said.
Especially in more competitive athletes, “their competitive spirit on the athletic field may translate over into drinking behaviors as well,” said Darren Mays, a researcher at Georgetown University Medical Center who has studied alcohol use in adolescent athletes.
Or it could be related to stress, said Mays, who did not participate in the new research.
“These are young people who are typically under pressure to perform athletically and academically (and) drinking might be a coping mechanism,” he told Reuters Health.
Young athletes should be sent the message that “being a competitor and being at the top of your game does not have to mean high alcohol consumption,” Terry-McElrath said - and high school coaches should be educated about this issue as well, she added.
Nadra Lisha, a graduate student at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California who has also studied this association, said that people who exercise a lot and those that use alcohol might be so-called sensation-seekers who get a thrill from both activities.
“Drinking might not be as detrimental to their life, whereas smoking something - it would be much harder to exercise the next day,” Lisha, who was not involved in the current study, told Reuters Health.
Terry-McElrath agreed. “Individuals who tend to be high drug-users often can’t keep up in a really competitive environment,” she said. Also, they’re likely to get kicked off of teams that do drug testing, she added.
She said the results can be seen as “encouraging” for the possibility of both treating and preventing drug use in young people.
“If we can encourage an enjoyment in general exercise, we may be able to see a lowering of participation in drug use,” she said. “It’s at least a starting point.”
SOURCE: Addiction, online May 11, 2011.