All About Addiction

James O’Connor, Ali Williams, Tim Simona – it’s no secret that cocaine addiction is a pervasive issue among rugby players. As it turns out, there’s a reason for this. If you’re an athlete, are you at increased risk of addiction?

Cocaine Addiction in Australian Rugby


  • Have you noticed a heightened propensity for cocaine use among rugby players? It’s not your imagination.
  • Why are Australian rugby players at a higher risk of cocaine addiction? Read on to find out.

Cocaine increases alertness, aggressiveness, and improves reaction times – all of which arguably improve performance on the rugby field. Its draw is so strong, and its effects so intense, that cocaine addiction treatment is often necessary to overcome it.

In the wake of James O’Connor’s and Ali Williams’ recent cocaine bust, we’re taking a look at the relationship between cocaine and Australian rugby, and what draws them to one another.

On a more personal note: if you’ve always been passionate about playing sport, and have a history of struggling with addiction, your passion and your struggle may be related. Let’s explore how.

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The Prevalence of Cocaine Use in Australian Rugby

It may not be every day that an Australian rugby star’s drug use hits the headlines, but James O’Connor’s and Ali Williams’ recent cocaine bust is far from an isolated incident. Cocaine and Australian rugby have a long history. The high-powered sport and powdered stimulant go back at least a decade – and those are just the cases that have been exposed by the media.

In 2006, Australian rugby leaguer Wendell Sailor tested positive for cocaine use, followed by a two-year ban the league. More recently, Mourad Boujellal, owner of Toulon rugby club spoke of the cocaine-rugby relationship, saying, “It’s only my opinion, but I have the impression that in certain clubs and among many players, coke is very popular. We’ve had the alcohol stage, now we’re at another one. We can’t support that. That needs to stop.”

But why is cocaine so popular in rugby? To answer that question, we’ll explore the external, performance-related benefits of using cocaine as a rugby player, in addition to internal motivators that may draw sport players of all types to drug use.

Cocaine and Rugby: External Rewards

Cocaine has always been framed as a party drug by mainstream media. For many sport players, however, the stimulant isn’t just recreational, night-time fun – it has practical benefits that ‘justify’ daytime use.

French Olympic swimming champion Amaury Leveaux wrote a book about the performance benefits professional swimmers pursued by snorting cocaine. He describes the effects by saying that it “stimulates the nervous system, stops you from being hungry, being tired, helps you overcome exhaustion. It gives an athlete the feeling of being invincible, of being a superman. It is a feeling you cannot resist.”

These effects equally apply to rugby players. What’s more, the properties of cocaine may be even more closely suited to the challenges rugby players face, as compared to the challenges commonly met by swimmers. Rugby involves explosive bursts of energy, quick decisions and tough tackles. Cocaine combats all of those by decreasing reaction times while increasing alertness and aggressiveness.

Additionally, rugby is a very demanding sport, with very little recuperation time in comparison to other sport. Cocaine is uniquely attractive to rugby players recovering from tough practice sessions, due to its anaesthetic properties.

To top it off, cocaine is increasingly cheap and plentiful in Australia. With easy availability and clear performance benefits to boot, it’s no surprise that cocaine and Australian rugby go hand in hand. But there’s more: there are internal drives at work as well, making substance abuse even more likely.

Drug Use and Sport: Internal Drives

It’s more than just performance enhancement that draws Australian rugby players to cocaine. What frequently starts as experimentation with a party drug ends up taking on a performance-boosting function and, unexpectedly, filling a void. What results is an irresistible combination of internal drives and external rewards, which makes sport players particularly vulnerable to addiction.

If you have found yourself drawn to sport as well as drugs in your life, the same internal drives, in the form of neurological tendencies and risk factors, may be pushing you to pursue both.

These drives are low dopamine activity, heightened exposure to stress and an increased need for pain relief.

Low Dopamine Activity

There is some evidence to suggest that professional sport players and addicts have something in common: low dopamine activity.

In people with low-functioning dopamine systems, boredom reigns. They crave intensity and need more stimulation than most people in order to feel ‘normal’.  Substance abuse is one of the most common ways to stimulate the areas of the brain that crave reward, but other extreme experiences, such as the ones offered by competitive sport, may fit the bill as well.

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Heightened Stress Exposure

Sport careers are demanding, with constant pressure to perform brought on by family and fans. This invites all manner of stress, which is an independent, internal risk factor for substance abuse. Sport professionals will frequently find themselves in need of a release, and it won’t always be found in the healthiest of places. This, combined with the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality of sport teams, is the perfect recipe for addiction.

Increased Need for Pain Relief

Injuries are common in sport careers – including head and brain injuries. When these injuries occur, it’s common practice to prescribe painkillers. In populations that are at risk for addiction, like sport players may be, existing predispositions may shift into active addictions.

But there’s good news, too: addicts, like athletes, are often driven, skilled, obsessive and committed. The same traits that drive them to drug use and sport can be applied to the challenges of long-term recovery.

Meeting the Challenges of Cocaine Addiction Recovery

Sport is achievement-oriented, challenging and thrilling – just like recovery. If you’re ready to trade the struggle of addiction for the new challenges that recovery brings, contact us today for an overview of our treatment options.

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