Intended for healthcare professionals

Editor's Choice

Alcohol and sport

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 12 June 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3869

Re: Alcohol and sport

Further to Godlee’s article on alcohol and sport, the issue of how good are we as a profession at capturing the damage inflicted by alcohol is raised and questions where the medical and public health voice sits in this debate. Perhaps we should look to sport itself to find the answer.

Athletes by their very nature are “risk takers” and frequently engage in risky life style choices, including their use of alcohol [1]. Binge drinking is also a common practice among the sporting population where success and failures on the sports fields are not dealt with as Kipling`s imposters, but rather accepted, embraced and lubricated by alcohol in the normal post-match analysis. This pattern of alcohol misuse frequently leads to anti-social behaviour, and much inappropriate drinking begins in the perceived safety of sports clubs [2]. University students in the United Kingdom who play sport and who personally receive alcohol industry sponsorship or whose club or team receives alcohol industry sponsorship appear to have more problematic drinking behaviour than UK university students who play sport and receive no alcohol industry sponsorship [3].

The American College of Sports Medicine, in its current comments, has confirmed that alcohol does not improve physiological performance. Further research has indicated that the “hangover” effect of alcohol significantly reduces aerobic function, and athletic performance [2] and is associated with an increase in injury incidence [4].

Perhaps the unfortunate link between alcohol and sport could be broken by using sportsmen and women as the public health voice. Paid champions bombard a gullible public on the benefits of different sports foods and supplements. There is a significant lack of hard scientific data to substantiate these claims, nevertheless a multi-billion sports supplement industry exists and thrives. These role models are powerful opinion formers, and perhaps should be mobilized to extol moderate and sensible alcohol use rather than be seen to give credence to excessive post-match imbibing. Their positive message may have a direct effect on the current pattern of alcohol misuse, with a knock on to health care spending.

Sport, not the alcohol industry, must take the lead in this important debate. Perhaps the quest for a game changing Claud Evin will lead us to the men and women already at our local sports grounds.

1. Anderson WA, Mc Keag DB. Substance use and abuse habits of college student athletes. Mission [KS]:National Collegiate Athletic Association ,1989

2. O Brien C P. Alcohol ad Sport, impact of social drinking on recreational and compedtitive sports performance. Sports Med1993; 15(2):71-77

3. O'Brien KS, Ferris J, Greenlees I, Jowett S, Rhind D, Cook P, Kypri K., Alcohol industry sponsorship and hazardous drinking in UK university students who play sport. Addiction. 2014 May 13

4. O'Brien CP, Lyons F., Alcohol and the athlete. Sports Med. 2000 May;29(5):295-300.

Competing interests: No competing interests

29 June 2014
Conor P O`Brien
Sports Surgery Clinic Santry Dublin
suite 3 SSC