Harnessing Sports as a way to Decrease Substance Abuse in Youth
By Chidinma Nwakalor
Co-op student, Parent Action on Drugs
Youth involvement in sports is often seen as an avenue for positive youth development. Interestingly, the age at which participation in sports is highest among teenagers is also the age at which most teenagers will begin experimenting with substances. This, coupled with the fact that sport participation in school decreases the tendency of illicit substance use in youth, indicates an opportunity to harness sports as a way to decrease substance use among teenagers in Canada.
A recent resource created by the Canadian Center for Substance Abuse (CCSA) suggests that youth participation in sport might be a useful way to prevent illicit drug use (eg. marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens and prescription pills) among youth. However, the report shows that the relationship between sports and substance use is variable. For example, in-school sport participation under the supervision of a coach was associated with decreased substance use overall, while in-school sport participation without a coach was associated with increased alcohol use but decreased use of marijuana and other illicit drugs such as cocaine. Furthermore, out-of-school sport participation was associated with an increased tendency to use marijuana among youth. These findings suggest that youth engagement in sports is best when it is within a school environment and under the supervision of a coach.
The review also recognized that youth who participated in sports were more likely to have better self-esteem, which is related to decreased use of alcohol and other substances among youth. Carefully designed sport programs in schools may be a good way to promote the protective effects of self-esteem for substance use in youth populations. Increasing consciousness and knowledge about the interplay of participation in sports and substance use is important to ensure that the full benefits of sport participation are realized and that the risks are reduced to a minimum.
The full resources created by the Canadian Center for Substance Use and the primary references can be found at http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Substance-Use-Sport-Youth-Surveys-Summary-2016-en.pdf