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What Is Post Sporting Career Depression (PSCD) and How Does It Lead to Addiction?

Post sports career depression is a relatively unknown condition experienced by many pro athletes after retirement. The effects of the condition on retired athletes’ mental health can often lead to substance abuse and addiction, with devastating results.

What Is Post Sporting Career Depression (PSCD)?

PSCD involves the development of depression in athletes after retirement. While athletes compete and train, they place their bodies and minds under extreme pressure to excel and achieve their goals. After retirement, their life can feel empty and their daily routine pointless. These negative emotions usually lead to depression if left untreated and unaddressed.

Symptoms of PSCD are similar to those of chronic depression and include:

  • Feeling sad or anxious
  • Helpless or guilty emotions
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • No longer being interested in activities you previously enjoyed

Who Suffers from Post Sporting Career Depression?

Athletes who compete at an elite level, like the Olympics, are accustomed to maintaining extreme levels of fitness, focus, and discipline. Depression in retired athletes typically develops once they are no longer required to work as hard or spend as much time in training as before.

Athletes who are more prone to developing PSCD include:

  • Solo athletes like those participating in swimming, running, cycling, or martial arts are more prone to developing these mental health conditions throughout their careers and then suffering a relapse once they retire.
  • Athletes with a history of alcohol or drug abuse or mental illness during or before their careers may also have a higher risk of developing PSCD once they retire and face a new set of mental health challenges.
  • Unsupported professional athletes who were never counseled or advised on balancing their professional and personal development. Athletes who take a balanced approach to training while ensuring their overall happiness are less likely to experience extreme lows once they retire.1

How Can PSCD Lead to Substance Abuse?

Depression and addiction often go hand in hand. Retired athletes are at a higher risk of developing a substance abuse disorder as they try to deal with their symptoms.

The stigma surrounding asking for help with depression or any other mental illness may discourage athletes suffering from PSCD from seeking help. Instead, some turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and help them feel temporarily calm, happy, or relaxed.

Some of the most common substances abused by retired athletes include:2

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Stimulants like cocaine or amphetamines
  • Opioids

Using these drugs, even temporarily, can cause your body to develop tolerance and dependence on them, making it almost impossible to function without a regular dose, as withdrawal only intensifies their depressed state.

When to Seek Help

Once an individual’s drug use affects their behavior and causes them to lie or become antisocial, it may be time to seek professional help. Finding a rehab that specializes in helping athletes is essential to promote long-term recovery. If you or a loved one suffers from addiction, contact our team at (949) 427-9099 to get the help you need.


  1. https://condorperformance.com/post-sporting-career-depression/
  2. https://www.anchortherapy.org/blog/retired-professional-athlete-anxiety-depression-mental-health-hoboken-jerseycity-hudson-county-nj-therapist-counselor

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