Cardiff Metropolitan University
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An exploration of addiction experiences among high performance athletes

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posted on 2023-09-04, 09:11 authored by Sian Edwards

This PhD thesis explores the phenomenon of addiction in high-performing athletes. The purpose of the research was to better understand athlete addiction by considering three research questions: 1) What it is like to be an addicted athlete? 2) What factors do addicted athletes associate with the development and manifestation of addictive behaviours? 3) How do addicted athletes recover from addiction? Narrative inquiry was used to explore the addiction experiences of high-performing athletes. Participants’ stories were collected using narrative interviews and timelining. Stories were analysed using thematic narrative analysis (Reissman, 2008), enabling participants’ experiences to be examined within the wider context of their lives and histories. Analysis showed that addiction manifested in numerous behaviours (alcohol, gambling, exercise, eating disorders) that could be understood in relation to three characteristics: desire, lack of control, and harm. Participants identified sport as a major influence in the development and manifestation of addiction. Their stories depicted a pathological dedication to performance resembling the performance narrative proposed by Carless and Douglas (2006). Associated with this was an overwhelming fear of failure and rejection that drove their desire for mood-altering addictive behaviours. Addictive behaviours alleviated participants’ distress by either remedying the source of their emotional pain or helping them to escape it. The acceptance of harm as a necessary part of high- performance sport and the power relationships between coach and athlete further contributed to addiction by hindering help-seeking and/or external intervention. Recovery was possible and occurred in two stages:1) reaching a turning point (e.g., rock-bottom), and 2) a dynamic process of restorying in which performance values were challenged and alternative narratives were discovered. Based upon the findings of the thesis, the need for cultural change within high-performance sport environments is highlighted and the potential for sporting bodies (and those within them) to better support athletes is discussed.





  • School of Sport and Health Sciences

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD

Publication year


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