Super Bowl Sunday, one of the biggest sporting events in the U.S., is less than three weeks away. Millions of football fans across the country will meet up with friends to watch the game, attend Super Bowl parties or go on outings. Sports are often viewed by fans as an escape from everyday life and a form of entertainment. Being a sports fan is something that becomes very much engrained in a person’s identity. While there are many benefits to being a sports fan, sports fans are susceptible to physical and emotional consequences of the stress, aggression and alcohol abuse associated with sporting events. It can be a challenge for those in recovery from alcohol abuse to maintain sobriety, but with the right precautions, it is possible.
Pros of being a sports fan
Research shows the benefits of being a sports fan. For example, emotional connectedness to a group such as a football team can provide a sense of community and belongingness and boost self-esteem. Fan identification is also psychologically important for many people and acts as a buffer for mental health problems such as anxiety, loneliness and depression.
Watching sports can be good for your brain, having long-lasting effects on areas of the brain for understanding language and learning, according to researchers from the University of Chicago. The results of brain imaging studies indicate that both playing and watching sports can actually stimulate areas of the brain related to planning, control and performing, and boost thinking and visualizing abilities.
Evidence shows the benefits of identifying with and cheering for your favorite team, which can boost happiness and self-esteem, and reduce depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.
Cons of being a sports fan
On the flip side, spectator events such as football games seem to represent all that is bad in American culture, and are associated with activities such as eating fatty foods, drinking too much and team rivalries that fuel aggressive and violent behaviors among fans.
Research indicates that fans at sporting events experience spikes in their levels of testosterone and cortisol (i.e., stress hormone) before and during games. Testosterone levels tend to decrease in the fans of losing teams, however, and tend to increase among the fans of winning teams.
Watching sports can be good for the brain, but can stress the heart as the excitement and anticipation of a game can lead to elevations in blood pressure and heart rate. Sports fans can become so emotionally involved in a major sporting event like the Super Bowl, that they have heart-related problems such as heart attacks — as these individuals’ stress levels soar after a loss.
The increased stress hormones released from their bodies mimic the body’s natural stress-response and boost adrenaline levels, increasing the risk for cardiovascular problems and exacerbation of pre-existing heart problems, especially in those over the age of 65.
After games, people can also experience grief, sadness and depression. While it is normal to feel upset after the team you identify with loses, there are times when long-lasting or overwhelming sadness is an indication of a more serious problem such as mental illness (e.g., depression).
The negative impact of being a sports fan while in recovery
Alcohol abuse is one of the biggest problems among sports fans — as large amounts of alcohol are consumed at games. Fans often tailgate and drink in the parking lot hours before the game. By the end of the game, almost half of attendees are under the influence of alcohol. According to researchers at the University of Minnesota, about one in 12 sports fans end up leaving the stadium drunk, which increases the likelihood of violence, ejections, arrests and alcohol-related car accidents and injuries.
It is a fairly common assumption that most people want to drink during the game to feel relaxed and have a good time. However, drinking large amounts of alcohol before and during games increases the likelihood that people will put themselves in dangerous or confrontational situations.
After the game on Super Bowl Sunday, thousands of people are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) across the country, and the day of the Super Bowl is one of the most dangerous and deadliest days to be on the road, with one of the highest number of drunk drivers on the highways, alcohol-related crashes and fatalities occurring that day. In California alone, there were 294 fatal and injury crashes, 77 of which were in Los Angeles County and 40 that were in San Diego County, on Super Bowl Sundays in the past five years.
Stay sober while celebrating with friends who drink
“Super Bowl Sunday celebrations and alcohol consumption go hand-in-hand,” according to California Highway Patrol’s Assistant Chief Chris O’Quinn. For sports fans in recovery for substance abuse, attending a sporting event or even watching a game with friends, such as the Super Bowl, can be a major threat to their efforts to remain sober.
Many sports fans in recovery may find that being around alcohol or being around others who are drinking triggers them, or increases their urge or temptation, to drink. How can a sports fan continue to enjoy watching sporting events and games, and remain sober when alcohol is always around?
Watch the game with friends who don’t drink
While some people will be able to watch games with friends who drink alcohol without feeling pressured or compelled to drink, the majority of people in recovery will have a difficult time being around people who drink. If watching the game with friends who drink increases the urge to drink, it may be beneficial to watch a game with people who are also in recovery to remove the temptation.
One useful piece of advice is to avoid the types of high-risk situations that make it more likely to relapse, especially for people who are early in their recovery. Although it can be difficult to avoid potential high-risk situations that trigger a person to drink, including attending a football game where other people are drinking, there are some things people in recovery can do to be prepared and feel more comfortable.
Make a plan to avoid triggers
If being around alcohol is unavoidable, make a plan for coping with urges or triggers to drink. Avoid potential triggers and situations to reduce the chances of relapse.
The Sovereign Health Group offers behavioral treatment programs for substance abuse, mental illness, eating disorders and co-occurring disorders. Patients receive evidence-based, individualized treatment plans based on their specific needs. For more information about eating disorders or the alcohol addiction treatment programs offered at Sovereign Health, please contact our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.
Written by Amanda Habermann, M.S. clinical psychology, Sovereign Health Group writer
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