When the news of athletes battling a drug addiction features prominent on the evening news, most people shake their heads and wonder, how can that happen? In a world where athletes are looked up to as heroes and role models, particularly those who gain fame and notoriety either by their athletic prowess, their looks, or by marriage, many have fallen prey and succumbed to this disease.

Me? I’m not a bit surprised. I am them, or at least I was.

Heralded athletes such as Darryl Strawberry, Michael Phelps, Andre Agassi and the great Lawrence Taylor, who said, “coke was the only bright spot in my future,” have become addicted due to performance enhancing drugs, painkillers or just the partying that comes with fortune and fame. Sports is a mental game, so why would these professional athletes who have worked so hard to get to this place in their career, put substances in their body that affect thinking and physical performance?

The answer is that everyone one of us is human and therefore impressionable. No one is immune. We can all fall prey to a very clever and insidious disease that can take over your life from the very first time you try drugs.

Replacing The Love of The Game with Addiction

I was well into my twenties – a “late bloomer” compared to friends – when drugs took over my life. From a very young age, baseball was my life and my identity. I played all through grade school and middle school, in the playground by myself practicing pitching before school and in high school on the varsity team. Baseball was my escape from a terrible home life where my mother became an emotional wreck and my brother descended into mental illness after the death of my father when I was nine. My mother had kept my brother (aged seven) and I in the dark about his death (we didn’t even attend the funeral) and without the support of a once-loving family, I developed a knot in my stomach that never went away.

Baseball in high school kept me very busy and gave me the motivation to apply to college with the hopes that I could continue playing with my eye on the major leagues. I tried out and made it on to the team at the University of Miami. I ended up transferring to the University of Tampa where I graduated from and spent the next 3 years as a starting pitcher. As an athlete it was very important to me what I did and did not put into my body, and that included drugs. I was completely adverse to any sort of drug, even Tylenol, as I did not want to do anything to change my body chemistry. After college, I played professional baseball in the Dominican Republic before ending my career due to arm surgery.

Mourning the loss of baseball and coincidentally the loss of my first love relationship at the same time, I felt lost. I suddenly found myself completely alone, without the thrill of competition and the high that comes with playing and being respected as an accomplished athlete. A friend happened to offer me cocaine one day and after repeated pressure to try it, my prior resolve weakened. One line later, I was addicted. The drug instantaneously relieved the knot in my stomach and I was left with the thought “where have you been all my life?”

It’s amazing to say that the first snort of cocaine would cause an addiction that lasted 24 years, ruined every relationship I had and almost lost the two most precious things in my life: my daughters.

A New Approach – Prevent Substance Abuse Before it Starts

It may seem that I am the exception to the norm, but in all honesty, drugs have become so prevalent in our world that young people actually use drugs as their recreational choice. We really struggle as a society to understand why this happens, to recognize the danger our children face on a daily basis and to work towards a solution, not just for the cure to addiction, but also for the prevention of it in the first place.

In the fifth year of my recovery, I began to write my memoir. It started as a catharsis of all that I been through and ended with a burning passion to deliver a powerful message. “Just say no” is no longer realistic. Drug addiction is a disease. The disease ravages not just the body, but also the mind. Once the disease takes hold, there is no ability to just say no. Therefore, we need a different kind of message, a different kind of plan.

I am now in my ninth year of recovery. My book, “Walking Out the Other Side: An Addict’s Journey from Loneliness to Life”, now graces the shelves of bookstores and can be found in the results of a search for recovery books on Amazon. I am working towards speaking directly to young people and their parents about the dangers of drugs, the possibility of immediate addiction, and what we can do to prevent it. I hope that my message is heard and we as a society can work to avoid addiction rather than focusing our attention solely on recovery.

Addiction Treatment for Athletes

At Cornerstone Recovery Center, we know that addiction knows no boundaries. We have helped clients from all walks of life get help for drug or alcohol addiction. To learn more about our addiction treatment programs, contact us online or call 888.711.0354 to speak with one of our admission specialists. Communication is always 100% confidential.

Alan Charles is a motivational speaker and author of “Walking Out the Other Side – An Addict’s Journey from Loneliness to Life”.