You are here

NCAA Student-Athlete Substance Use Study: Executive Summary August 2014


  • Excessive drinking is down significantly among student-athletes. Since 2005, the percentage of male student-athletes who reported drinking excessively (defined as 5 or more drinks in a typical sitting) dropped from 63% to 44%. For females (based on 4+ drinks per sitting), the reported rate dropped from 41% to 33%. Overall, about 80% of student-athletes reported alcohol use in the past year, which is similar to the rate seen in studies of similarly aged non-athletes.
  • Alcohol excluded, student-athletes are much less likely to engage in social drug use than other college students. Among student-athletes, self-reported use of social drugs such as tobacco, marijuana and cocaine are much lower than the rates reported in other national studies of college students (e.g., University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study). For example, 22% of student-athletes claim to have used marijuana in the past year versus about 33% of college students generally.
  • Self-reported substance use is highest among Division III student-athletes. Across virtually every social drug (including alcohol, tobacco and marijuana), Division III student-athletes reported higher usage rates than seen among student-athletes in Divisions I and II. In some cases (e.g., marijuana), Division III use has reportedly increased while rates in Divisions I and II have remained stable or dropped.
  • Substance use is generally higher among male student-athletes. Although similar percentages of male and female student-athletes report using alcohol, men use other social and ergogenic substances at higher rates than women.
  • Student-athletes in lacrosse report substance use rates that are notably higher than in other sports. Examined across sport, men’s lacrosse student-athletes reported the highest or near-highest use of many substances including alcohol, cigarettes, spit tobacco, marijuana, synthetic marijuana and cocaine. Approximately 11% of men’s lacrosse players indicated that they have used cocaine in the last 12 months. Among women, lacrosse student-athletes reported high usage rates for alcohol, amphetamines, cigarettes, and marijuana. Men’s lacrosse players indicated the highest ADHD medication use, including 20% who reported using without a prescription.
  • Men’s basketball student-athletes generally report using these substances at much lower rates than other student-athletes. Men’s basketball players were among the lowest reported users of alcohol, amphetamines, anabolic steroids, cigarettes, cocaine, ephedrine, marijuana, spit tobacco and synthetic marijuana.
  • Nearly one-quarter of student-athletes reported using prescription pain medication. Approximately 23% of student-athletes reported using pain medication in the past year. Most student-athletes that reported use had a prescription for the medication. There were approximately 6% of student-athletes that indicated use without
  • Student-athletes who reported ADHD medication use were more likely to use without a prescription. Of the student-athletes surveyed, 9% reported using ADHD medication without a prescription. Overall use of ADHD medication, either with or without a prescription, was reported by 16% of student-athletes.
  • While cigarette use has declined, spit tobacco use has remained relatively high among men within certain sports. Reported cigarette use among student-athletes has declined since 2005, primarily due to decreases in use among women (16% used in 2005 versus 6% currently). About one-quarter of all men (2% of women) reported the use of spit tobacco in the past year, which is unchanged since 2005. The most frequent spit tobacco users (between one-third and one-half of sport participants) are men in ice hockey, baseball, lacrosse and wrestling.
  • The ergogenic aids and dietary supplements most commonly reported by men were testosterone boosters, creatine and amino acids. Men’s ice hockey, football, baseball and men’s lacrosse participants reported the highest use of testosterone boosters. Student-athletes in those four sports plus wrestling were the most common users of amino acids and creatine.
  • A majority of student-athletes see drug testing as a deterrent. Approximately 60% of student-athletes reported that they believe drug testing among student-athletes should continue and that imposing penalties would be fair and appropriate.
  • Student-athletes are more likely to support drug testing for professional and Olympic athletes for student-athletes. Approximately 80 percent of student-athletes believe that Olympic and professional athletes should be drug tested, whereas 60 percent believe college student-athletes should be drug tested.

Study Background

  • Findings based on a spring 2013 NCAA-administered survey of approximately 21,000 student-athletes.
  • The NCAA has conducted a national substance use survey on a quadrennial basis since 1985. However, due to changes in the survey methodology, comparisons with current results are limited primarily to data from the 2005 and 2009 studies.
  • One to three teams were invited to participate at each NCAA school. We estimate that about 65% of schools participated.                                            
  • Surveys were administered at each participating institution with the assistance of the Faculty Athletic Representatives. Data were collected anonymously; results cannot be tied to a particular student-athlete or school.
  • Study investigators are Markie Rexroat and Nicole Hollomon from the NCAA Research staff.