Drug, alcohol and gambling addictions have become “the curse of the Premier League.”
That’s according to West Ham vice-chairwoman Baroness Karren Brady, who has criticised the amount of pressure placed on young footballers today. Her comments come in response to Everton midfielder Dele Alli’s admission that he recently attended rehab for a sleeping pill addiction, also revealing he was molested as a child.
Alli suggested addiction in football is ‘more common than people realise’, with recreational drugs like nitrous oxide and prescription pills becoming increasingly popular among athletes.
The Sun reported the latest figures from the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) indicate 120 active and former footballers are receiving aid for stress, anxiety, depression and even suicidal tendencies. However, it’s understood that figure is closer to 600 when accounting for players across all major associations.
“I’ve been in football for more than 30 years and I can tell you addiction has become the curse of the Premier League,” wrote Brady in her latest Sun on Sunday column.
“I’ve seen players with all sorts of addictions — gambling, drugs, alcohol, and sex. Almost all have one thing in common — an unstable upbringing.
“There is so much pressure on footballers to ‘live the dream’. They are often incredibly young, just teenagers. Fame and too much money can ruin any young player. And for those without a strong family foundation and at least one influential parent, it can prove a lethal cocktail that leads to self-destruction.”
The figures in question relate to the 2021/22 season and relate to those athletes who have received what ‘well-being interventions’ from the Sporting Chance clinic, which provides mental health support for professional sportspeople.
The PFA’s numbers show 77 players checked into rehab during that campaign, with substance abuse one of the most common reasons for their visit. That represents an increase of just over 30% compared to the previous season’s admission numbers.
England international Alli, 27, was widely praised after participating in a tell-all interview with Gary Neville on The Overlap, providing key context behind his struggles in recent years. The Toffees player left Tottenham under a cloud last year and endured an ill-fated loan at Besiktas earlier in 2023, all while dealing with his demons.
“With our schedule, you have a game, you have to be up early in the morning to train, you’ve got all the adrenaline and stuff so sometimes, you know, to take a sleeping tablet and be ready for the next day is fine,” he told host Neville.
“But when you’re broken as I am, it can obviously have the reverse effect because it does work for the problems you want to deal with. That is the problem – it works until it doesn’t.
So yeah, I definitely abused them too much, and don’t get me wrong, I’d stop sometimes and go a few months without them, but I was never really dealing with the problem you know.”
In the same interview, Alli revealed he was sexually abused by one of his mother’s friends at the age of six and was selling drugs by age eight. He was only 24 when his Spurs career started to career off its trajectory, and he considered retiring from the sport altogether.