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 Kick Off...Mental Health for Rugby League

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Alcohol use & abuse
 
 

alcohol abuse

 
 

 

It is easy to understand why Alcohol is considered responsible for the indiscretions of many of the game’s players. Most, if not all, of the incidents of antisocial or aberrant behaviour of late has involved the use of alcoholic substances; but is it the real reason? Are they all addicted to alcohol? If we take away these substances, do they suddenly turn into eloquent, articulate, erudite companions and responsible citizens; well balanced and self assured, with a sense of altruism and above reproach; all with healthy self esteem & a realistic appraisal of themselves & their societal environment? I would suggest not.

  

Alcohol is mind altering, to varying degrees, and has the action of lowering or removing inhibitions; reducing self control and unleashing hidden aspects of our personality, desires & feelings that otherwise can largely be constrained. They’re used to ease emotional pain, depression & anxiety, provide temporary false sensations of well being and confidence; even artificial euphoria; but they don’t create it. They are simply able to utilize and manipulate (chemically) the neuronal pathways in the brain and the mind of the individual.

 

‘Out of Character’ behaviour as a result of overindulgence in alcohol can sometimes be the result of repressed feelings or inner frustration. It can be as a consequence of underlying poor self esteem. It may also be as the result of the pressures & expectations, both on the field and off. The conflict between the projected, ‘created’ image and the ‘real’ individual can also contribute significantly to inappropriate methods of coping & poor behaviour.

 

The attributing of blame & responsibility to alcohol, drugs or any other external factor misses the point completely. Similarly, the expectation that players or others involved in the game should behave appropriately at all times based on the money they are paid, their purported responsibility as role models, the expectations of the club, the league and the fans & so on, is also somewhat unreasonable & naïve.

 

Having established that the game is a product, it is easy to see why these assumptions & expectations are verbalized. Those to whom it is targeted are commodities of the product that are employed for an agreed amount of money (commercial worth) to perform a task that is in no way related to other incidentals and by-products. The players’ services are not engaged to act as role models; society has placed this burden upon them. They are not recruited for their impeccable standards of behaviour, their eloquence or their interpersonal social skills. They are there to play a game; to perform on the field and according to the club’s, coach’s & fan’s wishes.

 

Inexcusable inappropriate behaviour is not acceptable and should not be tolerated by anyone. It matters little who they are, or what profile they have. It is more than disappointing to the general public when anyone of higher status, profile or image transgresses basic societal standards, values & morality; because of the message it sends to those who are impressionable and vulnerable. It is particularly unsavoury that the subliminal association of Rugby League & antisocial activities is being sent out to those aspiring to become involved in the game or whose talent & skill enables the opportunities that Rugby League offers.

 

For this reason, the issue of irresponsible, aberrant behaviour must be addressed. The method, however, should involve scrutiny of personality types, coping skills, defence mechanisms, ongoing education & support and nurturing/mentoring. The current approaches being suggested, while sincere & well intentioned, are akin to the age old story of the ‘boy & the dyke’. In this version one hole is plugged resulting in temporary control of the bursting dam, though before too long more holes start to emerge, and pretty soon you’ve run out of fingers.

 

What has led to the use & abuse of these substances and what continues to contribute? There are certain specific fundamental factors for the increased proclivity toward alcohol consumption. Below are seven (7) factors identified that relate particularly to Rugby League.

 

·         Cultural & ‘sub-cultural’

·         Profile

·          Self Esteem

·         Coping mechanisms & problem solving skills

·         Underlying mental health problem

·         Sports sponsorship

·         Projected image of the sport

 

Western society is renowned for its ‘social’ consumption of alcohol and the associated problems. Australia is particularly prominent demographically with this practice. A country whose first currency was ‘rum’ has probably predetermined its future culture to some extent.

 

So entrenched in our culture, alcohol consumption is often viewed and portrayed in a positive light; even humorous and admired. The current US President Barak Obama averted a potential ‘race war’ through a ‘quiet beer in the White House rose garden’ with the protagonists involved. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke was renowned for his beer drinking exploits. Many of our sportsmen have ironic records with respect to alcohol consumption; former test cricketer David Boon (the keg on legs) being one.

 

Having a beer with your mates is part of everyday life for many people. It is considered a convivial, socially appropriate and acceptable activity. Take it a little further and we have the night life activities that are also promoted as the ‘norm’; out clubbing is a perfect way to ‘unwind’, ‘forget the troubles of day to day existence’, ‘have a bit of fun’, ‘meet those of the opposite sex’ and further socialize with friends. All of these situations should be perfectly safe, though they are fast becoming a cultural scourge. It is here where the excesses of alcohol, opportunity for drug use and abuse, sexual misconduct and aggression & violence often take place.

 

For those of high profile or those of a ‘narcissistic’ persuasion, it is the ideal hunting ground for the attention they seek and the expectations associated with their status. Inhibitions are reduced, leading to opportunities for sexual conquest and basic underlying testosterone driven aggression can lead to violence.

 

Those with self esteem issues find alcohol and the environments in which it is consumed as comforting & strengthening; creating a ‘false’ confidence, albeit temporarily. Once ‘sober’, without the effects of alcohol and back in their usual day to day life, the poor self esteem and social inadequacies return; they were never gone in the first place.

 

Some use alcohol as a means of handling situations they find too difficult to comprehend or deal with. It may be relationship problems, work issues, family and simply blocking it all out for a time seems the best option. There are those who are also afflicted with ‘depression’ or ‘bipolar’ or other mental health disorders and/or illnesses that invoke the imbibing of alcoholic beverages and other substances.

 

One of the more disturbing problems associated with alcohol and the consequent aberrant behaviour of the sportsperson is that of ‘sponsorship’ by alcohol companies. Research conducted independently & concurrently by two (2) universities in two different countries (Australia & the United Kingdom) has suggested that overindulgence in alcohol and unwanted behaviour can be associated with this type of major sponsorship. By no means, is this to be viewed as the advocacy of cessation of such financial support, as many of those in government have proposed; though there needs to be a greater understanding of the associated problems and the need for alterations and adjustments to how that sponsorship is demonstrated.

 

The participants in the research were all sportspersons and their responses surveyed indicated several key points that proposed a ‘strong link’ between this sponsorship and alcohol consumption.

 

 

  • Many stated the increased access to alcohol led to increased consumption or more hazardous levels of drinking 

 

  • This supply of beverages was freely afforded by the sponsors at social events & occasions arranged between clubs & alcohol companies or at the company’s establishments 

 

  • Most believed that were ‘expected’ to partake in the product, given the nature of the company sponsoring them 

 

  • This increased access to, belief in expectation & obligation to partake and peer pressure led to hazardous ‘binge drinking’ behaviour 

 

  • There was a clear distinction between those sportspeople not receiving any financial support or sponsorship from alcohol companies and those who were receiving this type of financial input. ‘Binge Drinking’ being one of the major defining characteristics. 

 

Whether the sportsperson is correct in some of their assumptions or not, there is a clear message that changes need to be made in order that many of these misperceptions can be addressed.

 

Remember the recent ‘Sacking’ & scathing public outrage at the behaviour of the unfortunate Andrew Symonds; being ‘sent home’ from the World 20-20 Competition. Each photo or image projected via the print and televised media at the time initially showed him sporting a ‘Team training shirt’ emblazoned with the major sponsors logo; ‘a beer company’. How ironic for him to be discarded and humiliated for behaviour associated with ‘drinking’. Something seems rather ‘amiss’ with this scenario.

  

 
 

For more information regarding Alcohol & its effects, please click on the links listed below.

Alcohol

Binge Drinking

Alcohol's effects on the Brain & Body

Alcohol Fact Sheet

Alcohol 'Self Assessment'

Depression

 

 
 

Without intending to resort to 'scare mongering' and overly dramatic rhetoric regarding alcohol, it is important to accept the reality of excessive alcohol use & abuse. The facts speak for themselves; the statistics are there for all to view; the damage to the individual in all realms of existence; physical, psychological & social are definitive, as is the collateral damage to others. Families can be torn apart, violence, aggression, assault and abuse have been conclusively linked to excessive or dependant alcohol use, as has impulive risk taking behaviour & suicide. There are few positives to be experienced in the 'over-indulgence' in alcohol and care must be taken to ensure that consumption is self monitored and pre-emptive steps taken to maintain a sense of 'balance' & 'commonsense' when anticipating possible situations where 'excessive' use may occur. The loss of life through the development of serious illness, accidents & self harming, risk taking behaviour, suicide and so on, should guide the player in their decision regarding alcohol use. How sad it is to see children denied their fathers presence because of their inability to think sensibly and rationally when drinking.  
 
 
DOA 
 
 
 

 
 
 

Robin Williams 
 
 

 
 
 

Alcohol Abuse 
 

 

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