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Drugs & Health Blog

How Does Pro Football Tackle Players’ Drug Use?

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
The NIDA Blog Team

The Super Bowl is only a few days away. From the game itself to the halftime show to the commercials (of course!), the event has something for everyone. Most people who tune in, however, won’t realize that behind the scenes, a different competition is going on: the National Football League (NFL) vs. drug use.

Some NFL players may abuse prescription drugs to cover up the pain that can result from football-related injuries. Or they may take performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), like anabolic steroids, trying to make themselves stronger and (they hope) play a better game.

The NFL’s drug policy—which it developed along with the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA)—takes a stand against PEDs as well as other substances. But the policy doesn’t score with some critics, who think it isn’t strict enough.

No illegal kicks

The League bans players from using, possessing, or distributing drugs like cocaine, marijuana, painkillers such as opioids, MDMA (Molly or Ecstasy), and PCP. Amphetamines are also banned unless the player has a genuine, proven need to use them for a medical condition. The policy also covers alcohol use that’s associated with breaking the law: for instance, failing an alcohol breath test.

In 2014, the NFL and NFLPA agreed on a separate policy for PEDs. It bans players’ use of anabolic steroids, stimulants, human or animal growth hormones, and related PEDs.

NFL players are tested for drugs at certain points throughout the season, and again at other times if a player fails a drug test, or is arrested in connection with drug use, or shows signs of drug abuse.

Time to move the goalposts?

  • If a player violates the NFL’s drug policy once, he receives 90 days of treatment and the unannounced testing.
  • Second-time violators get two years of treatment and testing, plus a four-game suspension if they don’t stick with the treatment or they test positive.
  • Three-time offenders who don’t stay with treatment or who have a positive test for marijuana get a 10-game suspension, and a year-long ban from the League for using other drugs.

People who think the NFL drug policy should be tougher point to players like Josh Gordon, the Cleveland Browns’ 24-year-old wide receiver, who has already faced four suspensions (two of them lasting a year each). And in 2014, there were 41 drug-related suspensions in the League—an all-time record—and the current season may break that record.

A lot of people look up to the players, and critics worry that when so many NFL players are violating drug policy, it sends a bad message. The League may or may not “move the goalposts” for players who use drugs—but either way, the consequences for those players are a reminder that using banned or illegal drugs for any reason is a losing game.

What do anabolic steroids do to your body? Take our quiz to find out.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


nice description
WOW! That was very strong. :0
Screw you guys i'm going home
The list can go on and on for banned substances. Manufacturers that make designer drugs are always looking for new chemical compounds that will get their shipments into the U.S. for a short amount of time. It's sad that a lot of people don't understand how strong these things are and will OD. More related to sports are the supplements that are NOT FDA approved. Some of tho ingredients in those content are banned in a major sports league that kids don't even know about. They end up getting disqualified...
no that is not true
I didn’t know that the NFL took this many precautions in drug abuse it’s really interesting and great to see they they take actions in this problem that happens a lot in the NFL. I like this article because it gives a lot of information on what happens if they get caught with the drug like they can get suspended for 90 days and get treatment or that they get announced tests it’s very interesting.
I think pro athletes should not be using drugs to make them better because that makes the game unfair
I think it's good because it will stop football players from taking drugs. The football players probably don't wanna be suspended.
Players have a tougher time abusing drugs, which may make them forget about attempting to do so. The NFL is doing a good job of keeping everyone safe from drug abuse.
It's terrible how drugs are associated with the NFL. It's terrible that an NFL player can be prescribed on pain killers and become addicted and mess up there whole carrie
I think the nfl is doing well with it and they need to become stricter and have test for the drugs and have penalties for them
why would you use drugs that ruin your life when your making millions a year? like i understand that the use of steroids can make you bigger but is it really worth the out come?

Good question! Most doctors want to be helpful, and opioids can provide a lot of relief for a patient in pain. We are working across the federal government to help doctors become more educated and intentional about their prescribing habits.

I think that the NFL are doing the right thing by not letting these guys do any kind of drugs. The guys who take growth hormones should be suspended, it’s unfair to the other NFL players who don’t take anything.
I don't think it's a smart thing for football players to do. They are going to argue that they didn't do drugs when it comes to game day
This blog post was very interesting and helpful. I learned a lot about NFL players and how they use drugs. It is very sad how many NFL players use and abuse drugs just to get stronger and play better in their games. I think that you should just practice everyday to get better and not use drugs which can lead to disaster.
This article really shows that it doesn't matter who you are anbody can get into trouble with drugs including athletes. I don't understand why these guys do drugs they get paid millions of dollars to play football and they ruin that by taking drugs. I agree with what the nfl and the nflpa are doing with suspensions. They deserve to be suspended because they are pretty much cheating by making themselves stronger than evryone by using steroids.
Athletes want to perform at their best no matter what. Some will workout and try to eat healthier to better themselves which is great. But their is so much dedication for these football players to get better they turn to illegal substances. Using these substances can give a short term or long term change to the athletes who use these. Athletes need to think before hat they partake in because they may regret it in the long haul.
Taking drugs to cover up the players pain will just make it worse in the long run. You shouldn't take drugs to boost your speed or strength.
It is a good thing that the NFL has these protocols in place. It must keep some athletes from using drugs such as steroids.
Personally I think players should be tested a few days before every game, so that no player who is actively using or abusing illegal drugs ever plays on an NFL field.
I think that football players shouldn’t even risk it. It can possibly ruin their personal lives or even their career if they violate the policy too much.
I think it’s good that drug abuse is taken seriously in the NFL and how it is banned to prevent the players from drug abuse
This article is very informative on the rules and regulations that the NFL has set for players and drug use. It also adds the underlying message that drugs can mess up your life, even if your on a seemingly untouchable pedestal, like a professional athlete.
The alcohol rule seems fair if not a slight bit harsher than what it should be, but drugs not including marijuana should result in way greater punishments. Marijuana has no deaths related to the drug itself so therefore I beleive the drug should be punished for use just not as bad as something such as marijuana.
I think that it’s good that players are getting caught once they are found doing drugs. However, I think after three times of them being caught they should be suspended for a season not just 10 games.
Why would football players risk their million dollar careers on something just as stupid as drugs?
Because many of them are IN PAIN. Because the league is so competitive they can’t afford to not play even when they’re IN PAIN. Because they’ve had so many undiagnosed concussions that they experience depression.
I do agree with the NFL’s ban on drugs and it’s rigorous drug testing policies as well as the punishments for using these substances even though fans may not like their favorite player out of the game
The NFL should have stricter rules on drugs. Kids look up to NFL Players, and players not being harshly punished for using drugs like steroids and heroin sets a bad example.
Why would football players risk their million dollar careers on something just as stupid as drugs?
I think football players doing drugs is jut stupid. Not only are they looked up to but they are also all over T.V.. The drugs will only ruin their careers and make them look bad.
After reading this article I now know that NFL players on any team will get in trouble or banned from the NFL if they use any drug or alchohol while they’re playing practicing, or training. There are drug test periodically through the season. If a player is caught with drugs in their system then they will be sent to a treatment center. The NFL is strongly against drug use.
This article was very informative and provided some shocking statistics. The fact that NFL players , who recieve so much money and fame, would risk all of that for drugs is crazy to me. While it is obvious that the NFLPA is working to fix this issue, I feel like the restrictions/punishments should be more severe. Doing so could prevent people from doing the drugs in the first place.
The laws on drugs in the NFL are not good enough. Players aren’t being persuaded not to use drugs enough by the rules. All players should be tested for drugs mandatory each season at least 3 times. Also, if a player is caught using drugs then they should be banned from the league permanently.
The nfl should be more tough on drug abuse they shouldn’t give suspensions after the third grade offense they should do it the first time. Also they should make sure the player has fully recovered and make sure he won’t try it again
I'm an athlete, I play football. I believe that the NFL has a solid base policy o drug-abuse, and if solutions do not come that is solely on the individual player, not the league.
this opens my eyes to how much drugs affect the sports i love watching
this is a very interesting story and they do need to put better guidelines


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