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As March Madness takes over our news feeds, college athletes are once again in the national spotlight. With this focused attention, these student athletes are often under extra pressure, especially when it comes to alcohol and drug use. Fortunately, a recent study from the NCAA has found some positive and promising findings about athletic substance abuse.

While alcohol consumption is extremely common among college students, excessive drinking among student athletes has significantly decreased over the past ten years. Excessive drinking is defined as five or more drinks in a sitting for males, and four or more drinks in a sitting for females. This number has dropped from 63% to 44% for male college athletes and from 41% to 33% for female college athletes.

Social Drug Use
The NCAA study found that student athletes are much less likely to engage in social drugs, which include marijuana and cocaine. For instance, 22% of student athletes reported using marijuana in the last year compared to about 33% of the general student population. Of all college athletes surveyed, men’s basketball players generally used these substances much less than other athletes. They were also among the lowest reported users of amphetamines, anabolic steroids, cocaine, ephedrine, marijuana, and synthetic marijuana.

Prescription Drugs
Almost 25% of student athletes reported using prescription pain medication at some point in the past year. Most states that they did have a prescription for the medication, but nearly 6% admitted to using it without a prescription. Use of ADHD medication was also high on the list, with 16% of college athletes taking it in general and 9% taking it without a prescription.

Since 2005, the use of cigarettes in female student athletes has seen a huge decline, from 16% using then to 6% currently. While cigarette use in men has also decreased in this time period, the use of spit tobacco has remained relatively high. About one quarter of male college athletes reported using spit tobacco, with the highest percentage of users being men in ice hockey, baseball, lacrosse, and wrestling.

Why the Changes?
One of the biggest changes that student athletes reported was the rise in drug testing. About 60% of college athletes stated that they believe drug testing and the resulting penalties are a major deterrent in using drugs and/or alcohol. By having a fair and appropriate policy, colleges can continue to hope to see all of these numbers decline.

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