Athletes, Energy Drinks, Addiction & Substance Abuse – A Risky Combination

Podium’s Podcast of the Week: An Interview with Dr. Conrad Woolsey

by Stephen Walker, PhD, CC-AASP and Conrad Woolsey, PhD

When contemplating his doctoral research at the University of Missouri, Conrad Woolsey wanted to solve a problem.  He had observed a lot of risky behaviors amongst his fellow students, including those who were student-athletes.  His name may ring a bell for many of our readers, and that is because Woolsey was one of America’s top throwing specialists, an NCAA Champion, 8 time All-American, and Olympic Trials competitor prior to being sidelined by repetitive knee injuries and a major shoulder injury.

Not one to aim low, Woolsey chose a doctoral research project that would explore many factors involved in health risk behaviors amongst student-athletes.  He set about sampling the entire population of student-athletes representing the University of Missouri in Division I competition in every sport.  A huge undertaking to be sure, but the topic was one of great interest and concern to sports medicine specialists everywhere as he began to explore new territory in understanding health risk behaviors.  The incidence of substance abuse and health risks amongst collegiate athletes gave Dr. Woolsey pause, especially when he began to understand the connections to other, lesser known contributors to the problem.  It was the relationship with energy drinks in the mix, that then caught his attention.  In a number of studies since his doctoral thesis, Woolsey has continued to explore this topic.

What Woolsey has uncovered concerns me greatly – why?

Energy drinks are not regulated by the FDA – and – many of them contain herbal drugs and formulaic combinations that make stimulants like caffeine seem like child’s play in comparison.  The USA has been slow to recognize the health risks inherent in many of these products.  Those that pose the greatest risk contain stimulants like Evodamine, known for significantly increasing body temperature.  Evodamine can also cause people to shake uncontrollably.   Another of the dangerous ingredients is Yohimbine HCL.

The lack of awareness consumers possess about these products is key, and their popularity has skyrocketed since they first appeared in the marketplace.  Some of these products are so potent that an 8oz can contains 4 times the caffeine per ounce as a traditional Red Bull.   The health risks of these energy drinks in combination with exercise can pose noteworthy problems for our cardiovascular system.  Heart problems in the form of tachycardias and other arrhythmias have been observed in a number of deaths associated with energy drinks.   The risks are similar to ephedrine, the weight loss stimulant pulled from the market several years ago.

The nutritional composition of many of these drinks are not well understood by many healthcare providers.  Coaches, trainers, and athletes themselves need to listen to this podcast for their own health and welfare.  Parents of young athletes need to take note of these risk factors for they are serious and the ready access to these products by consumers of any age is a worry.

Extreme Sports – the Perfect Target for Marketing

The marketing strategies these companies use is one that hawks the benefits to athletes similar to those developed through the use of mental training techniques – feel stronger, improved focus and attention, etc.  The X-Games, extreme sports team sponsors and other event promotions are frequently sponsored by energy drinks, as they glamorize their consumption.  The lack of regulation of these drinks and easy access is surpassed in concern only by the potential “gateway” triggers as an entry to harder drugs and more frequent abuse of alcohol.  Users will attempt to self-medicate with these products in an attempt to “mask” inebriation.  The problem then becomes an even greater risk because those using underestimate the adverse effects of their alcohol consumption. Fortunately for families facing alcoholism issues there are many treatment centers all over the country but private alcohol detox in California sets the standard.

Woolsey, and his colleagues Waigandt & Beck have published this reasearch, which is currently in Press with the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology (JASP) scheduled for publication in January 2010.  Thanks to Dr. Conrad Woolsey for this important work.  He can be reached at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma where he is an assistant professor of Applied Health & Sport Psychology – and – a consultant to the athletic department.  He has written extensively on this topic and lectures throughout the country.

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Click here to listen to the Podcast:  Conrad Woolsey – Athletes, Energy Drinks, Addiction & Substance Abuse – A Risky Combination

4 thoughts on “Athletes, Energy Drinks, Addiction & Substance Abuse – A Risky Combination

  • February 28, 2010 at 2:21 am

    Good information in your blogpost, I saw this report on television yesterday about this same thing and since I am going to be married a few weeks from now the timing couldn’t have been better! thanks for the ideas!

  • May 18, 2010 at 1:16 am

    What is the best way to recover from Substance Abuse ?.`~

    • May 18, 2010 at 6:57 pm

      Hi Elliot – no quick fix there…and a qualifying question begs to be asked. Is the issue “addictive disease” (compulsion to use, loss of control during use, continued use in spite of contraindications) – or – a full blown chemical dependence. The methods that have been successful vary. However, I know several people who have had success working AA and the 12 Step program. They may get hung up on a part here and there…and if they can move past the hang up and accept the support system and work it through the Inventory – they have a fairly decent chance. Whether dealing with an addiction or not – The Serenity Prayer is applicable in almost every situation and every day….”God grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change, the COURAGE to change the things I can, and, the WISDOM to know the difference.”

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