America is facing a drug epidemic, with drug overdose deaths reaching record highs in recent years. This is primarily due to the rise of opioid drug abuse, as more people are misusing prescription painkillers and illicit opioid drugs. Not only are they dangerous, opioid drugs are some of the most addictive out there. They are also some of the most common. Opioids are often prescribed to treat and relieve pain.
It’s no wonder why famous athletes have high potential for opioid abuse and addiction. They get hurt, require surgery, and are prescribed drugs to treat the pain. A ground-breaking study, conducted by ESPN and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that NFL players are especially at high risk. Specifically, NFL players misuse opioid pain medication at a rate four times greater than the general population.
Many NFL players recognize the dangers of opioid use and addiction today. But some NFL players have experienced opioid abuse, and substance addiction overall, firsthand. In fact, many of the NFL players you watch today are sober and in recovery from drug addiction.
We often say that recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes planning and dedication to reach the finish line. It also may require some adjustments along the way. In the case of a substance use disorder, getting sober takes time. And these NFL players can vouch for that, as most of these famed players are still running this marathon today.
- Aldon Smith (Dallas Cowboys)
Aldon Smith is one of the top defensive players in the NFL league today. In April 2020, he signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys, after a five-year hiatus from the playing field. The five-year break was a result of several suspensions, due to substance abuse.
Aldon Smith began his career with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. During his time there, he was named MVP, Defensive Rookie of the Year, and appeared in the Super Bowl. He also violated the NFL’s substance abuse and personal conduct policies, was arrested for a DUI, and eventually suspended from the team. Smith then moved onto play with the Oakland Raiders, but was released after an incident.
Prior to his new contract, Smith finished a treatment program and moved into a sober living facility. The Dallas Cowboys signed the defensive end when he was nine-months sober. And he is ready to re-establish himself and his name in the NFL. Because of the recovery process, Smith says, “I came out with a better understanding of who I am and what I want from my life. And it gave me a great appreciation for the game that I’ve been blessed to play, and I’m just so excited that the Cowboys — the NFL — have given me a chance to come back and finish what I started.”
- Darren Waller (Las Vegas Raiders)
Darren Waller is the tight-end and top pass target for the Las Vegas Raiders. While he is recognized as one of the best tight-ends in the NFL today, his journey in getting to this point was far from easy. When Waller was a teen, he struggled with drug abuse. In an interview with CBS Sports, Waller explained that he was sensitive and didn’t really fit in. So, he started using drugs around age 15, in an effort to make friends and cope with his emotions. “I thought that drugs were just the recipe for me to get through the stress. I know I became addicted quickly."
The drug abuse carried into his football career. During a stint with the Baltimore Ravens, Darren Waller spiraled into a dark place where he was using everything from pills to alcohol, marijuana to cocaine. He failed countless drug tests, which led him to be suspended from the league. In the year of his suspension, he found a job at a Farmer’s Market and received treatment for his substance use disorder. Since then, he has been sober for three years. He also rose to stardom with the Chiefs, and has decided to use his voice – and his story – to help others battling addiction.
"When I was out of the league for a year, the league and their drug program allowed me to go to an outstanding treatment facility," Waller explains. "The whole experience was amazing. I know, just from family members to people I grew up with, there are facilities like that that people don't have access to.”
Waller recognizes the barriers to treatment for many individuals, particularly those who are not in the spotlight or simply struggle financially. For this reason, he decided to “pay it forward” by creating The Darren Waller Foundation. Starting in 2022, Darren Waller will begin funding drug and alcohol treatment for families who cannot afford it.
- Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs)
Travis Kelce has been the leading tight-end for the Kansas City Chiefs since he was drafted in 2013. His NFL career, however, has not been without obstacles. According to the Kansas City Star, Travis Kelce has undergone eight surgeries within the last nine years, including a knee operation during his rookie year in the NFL. Due to his numerous injuries, this NFL athlete is no stranger to prescription pain medications.
While Travis Kelce was never addicted to drugs, he has grazed the surface of what opioid dependence feels like. He explained in one interview, “During my first surgery, I had no idea that these pain medications were something that I was going to want, that my body was going to want, and that I was going to feel uncomfortable if I didn't have these.”
After this experience, Kelce has taken great steps to ensure that other athletes – and the population overall – are educated when it comes to taking prescription drugs. He’s partnered with Cigna to spread awareness about the dangers of painkillers, and offer preventive solutions for those prescribed opioids.
Retired NFL Players in Recovery
The above NFL players you can find on the playing field today, but many more prominent figures in the NFL have also struggled with addiction. Below are some of the most well-known NFL players in recovery and/or who have battled substance addiction:
- Brett Favre (Green Bay Packers)
- Johnny Manziel (Cleveland Browns)
- Eugene Monroe (Baltimore Ravens)
- Ray Lucas (New York Jets)
- Jake Plummer (Denver Broncos)
- Kyle Turley (Kansas City Chiefs)
- Vance Johnson (Denver Broncos)
Anyone, of any background, can become addicted to drugs and alcohol. Many people can also overcome substance addiction, with commitment and support. To learn more about famous athletes who have been touched by addiction, click here. Or, to learn how to start your own road to recovery, please do not hesitate to contact us. Turnbridge is a recognized treatment facility for young men and women battling substance use disorders. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more.