Success Stories in Sports vs. Alcohol: 5 Notable US Athletes Who Overcame Addiction and Came Out on Top

The following athletes’ triumphs over alcohol addiction are their success tales.

Athletes might seem like the last people to give in to addiction. They are the ones who have the mindset that “my body is a temple”, which arises from strict exercise regimens and iron will.

This is true in general but not always. There exist multiple explanations for why certain athletes may be vulnerable to alcohol addiction. First of all, playing professional sports is an extremely demanding and stressful job. If successful, you may attract millions of admirers, establish yourself and your family for life, and receive recognition and awards.

If you fail, though, or get hurt, your career won’t last long enough for you to pursue other profitable careers. A professional retirement from sports can be a devastating awakening. Even for the most accomplished athletes, their active career is quite short. The typical retirement age for football players is 27. It’s 29 for basketball players, and even for marathon runners—who often mature later—a decline in performance after 29 is expected.

This gives these still relatively young athletes, people above all, a whole new life to start, which can cause anxiety and, in some cases, lead to drug or alcohol self-medication.

How Many Athletes Deal with This Issue?

When discussing the USA, (such a great sporting nation) alone, college is frequently where the issue first arises. Research has indicated that college players may be more vulnerable to alcohol misuse than their counterparts who aren’t sports. A culture that emphasizes “work hard, play hard” and a lot of leisure time in the off-season can both lead to excessive drinking. The temptations to get into a bad relationship with alcohol are everywhere for those who are prone to do so.

Athletes who have struggled with alcohol addiction have been the subject of some well-known stories; happily, many of them have found success. These are only a handful of the well-known American athletes who overcame alcohol addiction.

  1. Josh Hamilton (Baseball)

One of the most renowned baseball players of every era is Josh Hamilton, the status he earned while playing for the MLB (Major League Baseball) teams Devil Rays, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, and Texas Rangers. 

When Hamilton’s storied baseball career began in 1999, the Devil Rays signed him as the first overall draft pick. After that, he went to the World Series (the MLB Finals) several times, won MVP, and was named an All-Star five times. He hadn’t used alcohol or drugs much before joining the pro sports. Then about four years into his MLB career, he became involved in alcohol and drug (cocaine) abuse. 

Hamilton battled alcohol and drug addiction for eight years, which caused his career to spiral out of control. From 2003 to 2005, his addiction kept him out of baseball. At that moment the outfielder for the Texas Rangers started treating his addiction in 2008, and in 2010 he was named the American League MVP.

Regretfully, he also experienced multiple relapses and persisted in his efforts to manage his alcohol addiction. After retiring from baseball and going through a lengthy rehabilitation process, he now declares that he’s drug and alcohol-free. Hamilton talks publicly about how hard it is for him to stay sober at present and how fortunate he is to be able to educate others about the significance of pursuing sobriety.

  1. Vin Baker (Basketball) 

The Seattle Supersonics won 61 games in the NBA (National Basketball Association) after basketball hero Vin Baker joined the squad back in 1997. But power-forward eventually succumbed to the pressures of celebrity, and his joyous drinking became a ritual meant to cover up growing unease. He struggled with rehab clinics after being kicked off his squad due to his frequent episodes of binge drinking until a fifth visit and a newfound faith helped him to achieve recovery.

After running out of money during his basketball career, Baker worked as a priest and a barista before joining the Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant coach and eventually making a comeback to the NBA, now in a different role though. He has been clean for 12 years now and counting.

  1. Anthony Ervin (Swimming)

Ervin, a swimmer who won an Olympic gold medal (50-meter freestyle at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney) and two World Championship golds, used alcohol and pharmaceuticals to treat his Tourette’s Syndrome symptoms. After he eventually started drinking regularly, he quickly confessed to having a sex addiction as well. After sobering up, he was eager to resume swimming and returned to the 2012 Summer Olympics, finishing fifth overall in his heat. 

The first United States citizen of African descent to medal gold in an individual Olympic swimming event has now trained children at a nearby swimming school and made a concerted effort to maintain sobriety.

  1. Darryl Strawberry (Baseball)

MLB legend Darryl Strawberry battled alcohol and cocaine addiction during his playing career. The right fielder, who began playing pro when he was 21, went on to have an incredible career, spending 17 years with the Mets (where he entered the Hall of Fame), Giants, Dodgers, and Yankees, hitting 335 home runs and 1,000 RBI.

But behind the scenes, Strawberry was abusing drugs and alcohol, leading to drug suspensions and, finally, a criminal record for DUI and sexual solicitation. An 8× All-Star and 3× World Series winner, he served 11 months of his original 18 months sentence in prison in 2002 and has remained sober ever since.

Strawberry frequently tells his story at public speaking events and has emerged as a spokesperson for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

  1. CC Sabathia (Baseball)

Pitcher CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees has performed at packed venues across the nation. He was a six-time MLB All-Star, has participated in and won (in 2009) a World Series, and received an MVP award.

Even so, Carsten Charles Sabathia Jr. (full name), one of the MLB’s most durable pitchers, says nothing has worried him more than acknowledging he had a drinking issue. Nothing has scared him more than the realization that he needed professional addiction therapy, even to this day.

In October 2015, Sabathia sought help and he started his drug-free and clean life as a professional athlete after spending a month in drug rehab. Through the media, the family man and Yankees star encourage people who are struggling with addiction to get assistance.


These are only a handful of the numerous inspirational tales of athletes who overcame alcoholism. They’re presumably just the tip of the iceberg because few victims dare to disclose their struggles in public.

Everyone is susceptible to addiction. People don’t intentionally choose to become addicted, nor does it pick and choose them. We frequently witness that even the wealthy and well-known suffer from addiction to some extent. Successful people, especially sportsmen, turn to drugs, alcohol, or some other vice, such as gambling/sports betting (however, getting clean from the latter vice is within your hands given that each and every online betting site worth playing on in 2024, according to platforms at the site, has guidelines and steps to prevent addiction) for a variety of reasons, and some have lost the war against their addictions. Numerous well-known individuals have lost their lives to drug or alcohol addiction, but many more have recovered and are eager to start over.

Alcohol in specific may find its way into your life no matter who you are. It’s possible to live a clean and sober life – say it to someone you know who’s an addict. 

Never hesitate to seek the assistance you require if you’re one of those!