Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: Athletes, Alcohol Abuse, and Violence- Is There a Connection? (Sports Med Res)
Friday, April 10, 2015

Athletes, Alcohol Abuse, and Violence- Is There a Connection?

Relationships Between Sport Participation, Problem Alcohol Use, and Violence: A Longitudinal Study of Young Adults in Australia.            

Scholes-Balog KE, Hemphill SA, Kremer PJ, Toumbourou JW. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 2015 March 11. [Epub ahead of print]

Take Home Message: Participating in athletics isn’t a risk factor for violence outside of competition. However, sports participants with alcohol use problems are more likely to later be violent than those without alcohol use problems.

Does sports participation create a violent person, or is it problematic alcohol use that fosters violence in a community? Data suggest both may play a role separately, but little is known about the influence each has on one another.  Therefore, the authors conducted a longitudinal survey study to investigate whether there was a relationship between sports participation, alcohol use problems, and violence among a community of Australian young adults. The authors also wanted to examine four major violent behaviors: physical intimate partner violence, emotional intimate partner violence, fighting, and assault. In 2002, the surveyors asked 3,948 students and parents to participate in the International Youth Development Study. Ultimately 2,884 students who were 11-15 year of age and in grades 5, 7, and 9 participated. Ten years later in 2010 2,262 participants (1,260 females and 1,002 males, 17-24 years old) completed the first survey used in this study. They completed the last survey in this study in 2012 when participants were 19-26 years old. Of the 2,262 people who partook in the survey only 1,347 participants participated in sports (60%). The survey asked about sports participation, fighting, common risk factors (such as cigarettes, drug use, anti-social behavior), alcohol use problems, intimate partner violence, and assault (how severe was the other persons injury/ies).  The authors found that overall sports participation in 2010 was not related to violent behaviors in 2012; however, sports participants who had alcohol use problems in 2010 were more likely to fight in 2012. In contrast, this was not the case among sports participants who did not report alcohol use problems.     

This study offers some interesting insight into the relationship between sports participation, alcohol use, and violence. The authors found that sports participation was not directly related with intimate partner violence, fighting, or assault. However, sports participants who had alcohol use problems were more likely to fight two years later compared with those who did not have alcohol use problems. This pattern was not found among young adults who did not participate in sports. It appears promoting healthy living through community-based sports participation may be unraveled by alcohol use.  The drinking culture and social stigma of excessive alcohol consumption within community sporting environments should be the main cause for concern.  Educational efforts may be necessary to assist in preventing alcohol use problems and alcohol fueled violent behavior among sport participants. The authors used a robust community-based approach among college-aged adults, which limits its usefulness for clinicians working directly with high school or professional sport settings. Furthermore, the authors relied on self-reported data in which some may have incorrectly reported being a sport participant or failed to report violent behaviors. Future longitudinal studies may want to assess if prior participation in different levels of sports or specific sports influence alcohol use and violence. In the meantime, this study should remind sports medicine clinicians that we should coordinate with the rest of the sports medicine team to address alcohol use problems among our athletes because these problem may increase the risk of violent behaviors as the athlete ages. We have obligations to our patients to protect their health and wellbeing on and off the field.

Questions for Discussion: Working in community-based sports leagues (city-leagues, intramurals, etc) is there a problem with violence and alcohol use?  Do you see a difference in cultural views regarding violence and alcohol in community-based sport leagues compared to a more formal athletic environment (high school, collegiate, professional)?

Written by:  Adam Rosen and Robert Dill
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban

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Scholes-Balog, K., Hemphill, S., Kremer, P., & Toumbourou, J. (2015). Relationships Between Sport Participation, Problem Alcohol Use, and Violence: A Longitudinal Study of Young Adults in Australia Journal of Interpersonal Violence DOI: 10.1177/0886260514567962

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