30 Athletes Who Famously Fought Addiction and Went to Rehab
Athletes may be able to run faster, jump higher, lift more or throw farther than you or me, but they are still human beings at the end of the day. Thus, they have the same issues that anyone else has, and for many, these issues deal with addiction.
Many of your favorite athletes may have struggled with substance abuse at one time or another, whether it’s been well-documented or not. Addiction is something that transcends class, race, gender and nationality, and it also transcends sports. You can find athletes in just about every sport imaginable that have dealt with substance abuse, and there are many who are in the midst of a lifelong battle with addiction.
Some of the athletes here have made it through to the other side, while for others, it’s still a fight. Here are 30 athletes who struggled with addiction — several of which have become an inspiration for others dealing with similar issues.
30. Darren Waller
Darren Waller Stats
Career: 6 seasons (2015-16, 2018-present)
Stats: 270 REC, 3,184 YDS, 16 TD
Bottom Line: Darren Waller
Waller became an addict at 15 years old and escalated from abusing opioids to alcohol to cocaine. His habits continued into his pro career, and he was suspended by the NFL for four games in 2016 and then the entire 2017 season.
He eventually landed in a rehab program in Maine that turned his life around, and since then, he’s become one of the NFL’s best tight ends. Waller posted back-to-back, 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2019 and 2020, but what he’s most proud of is founding the Darren Waller Foundation. Its goal is to prevent youths from following the same destructive path that he did and to also help support youths and their families during their treatment journeys.
29. CC Sabathia
CC Sabathia Stats
Career: 19 seasons (2001-19)
Stats: 251-161 (.609 W-L%), 3.74 ERA, 3,093 K
Bottom Line: CC Sabathia
One day before the Yankees were to begin their 2015 postseason, Sabathia announced he was checking himself into an alcohol treatment center. He had struggled that season with the worst record of his career and admitted to doing things unbecoming of a team’s ace. Sabathia was binge drinking in his hotel during road trips and would also drink in the locker room when it wasn’t his day to pitch.
After exiting following a month-long rehab stay, Sabathia admitted there was no other option for him to get sober. He returned to the mound the following season, and his production returned as well. He had a late career renaissance over the next few years before retiring after the 2019 season.
28. Vin Baker
Vin Baker Stats
Career: 13 seasons (1993-2006)
Stats: 15.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.0 BPG
Bottom Line: Vin Baker
Baker made four NBA All-Star teams from 1995-98, and then his career seemingly fell off a cliff. It’s not normal for a then-27-year-old to have his skills deteriorate so quickly, but Baker would later reveal that he was battling alcoholism while playing in the NBA. He said he would binge drink in the hotel after a bad game, and he even showed up to practice one day with the Boston Celtics still hungover. The Celtics coach smelled the alcohol on Baker, kicked him out of practice, and the team eventually released him.
He would bounce around with a few more teams after leaving Boston, clearly a shell of his former self. His career ended in 2006, but he admittedly didn’t become sober until 2011. After kicking his addiction to alcohol, Baker rebounded by becoming an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks and winning an NBA championship in 2021. He also created the Vin Baker Foundation, which hosts a 5K run called “Addiction Ends Here.”
27. Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson Stats
Career: 14 seasons (2008-present)
Stats: 24 PGA Wins, 2 Major Wins
Bottom Line: Dustin Johnson
Many golf fans didn’t even know the PGA Tour had a drug policy until Johnson was suspended in 2014 after testing positive for cocaine. This was Johnson’s third positive drug test after previously testing positive for marijuana and cocaine.
Johnson never admitted to the third failed test and only released a statement that he was tending to “personal issues.” But Johnson was a well-known partier back in the day, with one fellow golfer admitting that “it was one of the least-kept secrets on tour how much he likes to party.”
Johnson has seemingly cleaned up since then, with no reports of further drug usage or failed tests. He’s also won eight tournaments since his suspension, including two major championships.
26. Michael Ray Richardson
Michael Ray Richardson Stats
Career: 8 seasons (1978-86)
Stats: 14.8 PPG, 7.0 APG, 2.6 SPG
Bottom Line: Michael Ray Richardson
In the 1979-80 season, Richardson became the first player in NBA history to lead the league in both assists and steals. He was a four-time All-Star and was on a Hall of Fame trajectory until an addiction to cocaine prematurely ended his NBA career. Despite being in and out of rehab, he became a victim of the NBA’s version of Three Strikes and was banned for life by David Stern in 1986.
He could have applied for reinstatement after two years but decided against it and would spend the next 15 years playing overseas and in minor pro leagues. Perhaps, he thought going back to the NBA would send him back into addiction, as Richardson was able to finally kick his habit overseas. Once his playing career ended, he then coached both domestically and internationally, winning two titles in Canada.
25. Bobby Ryan
Bobby Ryan Stats
Career: 14 seasons (2007-21)
Stats: 107 G, 159 A, 266 PTS
Bottom Line: Bobby Ryan
Ryan had a troubled childhood that included his father being charged with the attempted murder of his mother, fleeing to Canada, and then his father eventually being arrested by U.S. Marshals three years later. So, he didn’t have the best foundation in his life, and as he got older, he drank to cope. This came to the forefront during the 2019-20 season when Ryan, who was a 2015 NHL All-Star, missed three months of ice time due to struggles with alcohol abuse. He entered the league’s player assistance program after admitting to unsuccessfully trying to overcome the issues on his own.
And Ryan, who was drafted by the Disney-founded Anaheim Ducks, had a Disney moment of his own when he returned to the ice. In his first game back in front of his home crowd, he scored a hat trick, which was the fifth and final of his career.
24. Walter Davis
Walter Davis Stats
Career: 15 seasons (1977-92)
Stats: 18.9 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.0 RPG
Bottom Line: Walter Davis
During the 1980s, Davis was one of the NBA’s best scorers while also being addicted to cocaine. He twice entered rehab, and then all hell broke loose in 1987. The entire Suns team became embroiled in a drug scandal, and Davis ended up testifying against his own teammates in exchange for immunity. That earned him the unfortunate nickname of "Waltergate," and it also hastened his departure from Phoenix.
Davis’ addiction also caught up to his production, which slipped considerably in 1987. He was able to stick around for a few more seasons but looked nothing like the six-time All-Star he was earlier in his career. He retired with 19,521 points, just shy of the 20,000-mark, which would have essentially guaranteed him enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
23. Ricky Williams
Ricky Williams Stats
Career: 11 seasons (1999-2003, 2005, 2007-11)
Stats: 10,009 YDS, 66 TD, 4.1 AVG
Bottom Line: Ricky Williams
A five-time violator of the NFL’s drug policy, Williams played in only 13 of a possible 64 games over a four-year span due to suspension and injury. It all started in 2004 when Williams essentially retired from the NFL due to marijuana. He sat out that entire year before returning in 2005, albeit after a four-game suspension to start that season. He was then suspended for the entire 2006 season for another violation and was suspended another 10 games the next year. However, he was durable when he was on the field as he played in all 16 games in each of his last four NFL seasons.
Since retiring, Williams has become an advocate for medical cannabis, and he co-founded an herbal wellness company in his hometown of San Diego, California.
22. John Daly
John Daly Stats
Career: 35 years (1987-present)
Stats: 5 PGA Wins, 2 Major Wins
Bottom Line: John Daly
Daly lived all over the country, from California to Arkansas to Virginia to Missouri. But no matter where he was, he had to live in an abusive household with his alcoholic father. That trait, unfortunately, was passed onto the next generation, and Daly struggled with alcoholism for much of his life until 2008. It was then when his swing coach Butch Harmon said, “The most important thing in (Daly's) life is getting drunk."
Daly refuted that claim, but the evidence was in Harmon’s favor, as just months later, Daly was taken into custody after being found drunk outside a Hooters. That moment ended up being a turning point, and Daly said he made a commitment to stop drinking alcohol. Doing that, along with a lap-band surgery, enabled Big John to become Slim John, losing more than 100 pounds.
21. Sugar Ray Leonard
Sugar Ray Leonard Stats
Career: Roughly 12 seasons (1977-82, 1984, 1987-91, 1997)
Stats: 36-3-1 (25 KO), Six World Championships
Bottom Line: Sugar Ray Leonard
During one of his many retirements in the 1980s, Leonard admitted that he missed the arena of competition and needed something to substitute for that feeling. That substitute became cocaine, and he said he used it whenever he missed the thrill of being in the ring. He also admitted to abusing alcohol, and his then-wife testified that the former boxing champion would become physically abusive while under the influence of alcohol. Leonard said his drug abuse stopped in 1986 when he woke up and said, “What I saw in the mirror was scary.”
He unretired shortly after and defeated Marvin Hagler to win the WBC middleweight title in 1987. More retirements and unretirements would follow until his last fight in 1997, but Leonard didn't finally give up alcohol until 2006.
20. Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels Stats
Career: 24 years (1984-98, 2002-10)
Stats: 14 WWE Championships, 4 WWE World Championships
Bottom Line: Shawn Michaels
Michaels surely didn’t discriminate when it came to substances, as he began with cocaine in the 1980s before turning to steroids in the '90s. But he didn’t stop there, admitting to also abusing alcohol and prescription pills so often that he would pass out, and his friend, Triple H, would have to roll Michaels to his hotel room on a luggage cart. A 1998 back injury that kept him from wrestling for four years only gave him more of a reason to use painkillers and muscle relaxers, and that’s when the Heartbreak Kid hit the bottom.
Fortunately, getting married and having a kid helped Michaels realize that his drug abuse was keeping him from the best parts of his life. He also became a Born Again Christian around this time, and completely turning around his life allowed him to return to the ring for the second half of his Hall of Fame career.
19. Maxx Crosby
Maxx Crosby Stats
Career: 3 seasons (2019-present)
Stats: 25 SACK, 142 TKL, 4 FF
Bottom Line: Maxx Crosby
Crosby admits that alcoholism runs in his family, and the disease finally caught up to him after his rookie season in 2019. He knew he needed help, so he checked into rehab a week before the COVID-19 pandemic essentially shut down the world. He was in rehab for a month, and then after exiting, he went right into a sober living facility until 2020 training camp rolled around. Many people didn’t even know that Crosby had struggled with addiction until 1.5 years later when he declared himself 18 months sober.
And then, after racking up 25 sacks in his first three NFL seasons, Crosby signed a $95 million contract with the Raiders two years to the day after first checking into rehab.
18. Tim Raines
Tim Raines Stats
Career: 23 seasons (1979-99, 2001-02)
Stats: .294 BA, 808 SB, 2,605 H
Bottom Line: Tim Raines
Raines admitted to using cocaine during his career, but he was still a Hall of Famer. So, imagine just how great he could have been without using the substance. Raines said he would keep a vial of cocaine in his back pocket and would snort it during games. He also said he would slide head-first into bags so as not to break the vial in his pocket.
He estimated that he spent $40,000 on cocaine in 1982, which was 20 percent of his salary that year. Yet, even with all of this, Raines was one of the best leadoff hitters of all time and was able to rehab his image later in his career.
17. John Lucas
John Lucas Stats
Career: 14 seasons (1976-90)
Stats: 10.7 PPG, 7.0 APG, 1.4 SPG
Bottom Line: John Lucas
An All-American in both basketball and tennis in college and then the first overall pick of the 1976 NBA Draft, Lucas was fiercely competitive. But that drive that made him such a great athlete also made him want to “outdrink everybody,” according to his own words. He also took part in recreational drugs, and after two failed drug tests, the Houston Rockets cut him in 1986, just weeks before the team made an NBA Finals run.
Lucas would eventually return to the NBA, but his biggest impact came after retiring. He helped dozens of athletes with their own substance abuse struggles, including JaMarcus Russell, Rod Strickland, Tyrann Mathieu and Darryl Strawberry (up next).
16. Darryl Strawberry
Darryl Strawberry Stats
Career: 17 seasons (1983-99)
Stats: .259 BA, 335 HR, 1,000 RBI
Bottom Line: Darryl Strawberry
Strawberry grew up with an alcoholic father and, unfortunately, became a chip off the old block. He battled alcohol and cocaine addictions for much of his career and much of his post-career. He was first suspended by MLB in 1995 for 60 days following a positive cocaine test. He then received a 120-day suspension in 1999 for cocaine possession and received his third and final suspension in 2000. That one was for an entire year, and it ended Strawberry’s career.
Yes, he’s been arrested and jailed multiple times since then, but in recent years, he has become a traveling minister alongside his wife, who he met at a drug recovery convention.
15. Nile Wilson
Nile Wilson Stats
Career: 5 years (2014-18)
Stats: Olympic Bronze Medalist
Bottom Line: Nile Wilson
An Olympic medalist on the horizontal bar for Great Britain at the 2016 Summer Games, Wilson’s career came to an end after a 2019 neck surgery. That’s also when his substance abuse began, as the pain led to him developing a codeine addiction as well as excessive drinking. This all coincided with Wilson being depressed about how his career ended and even becoming suicidal.
Wilson was able to overcome his low points once he realized that he wasn't defined by external factors such as fame or being an Olympian. He began focusing on being the person he wants to be for the loved ones in his life. He also encourages other athletes transitioning out of competition to seek help from people that understand their issues.
14. Ryan Lochte
Ryan Lochte Stats
Career: 18 years (2004-present)
Stats: 12-time Olympic Medalist, 6-time Olympic Gold Medalist
Bottom Line: Ryan Lochte
It wasn’t the incident at the 2016 Olympics, when Lochte falsely reported a crime that was the impetus of the swimmer seeking help, but rather something that happened more than two years later. An inebriated Lochte tried to kick down his own hotel door in California and then later that day got into a car crash near his home in Florida. This came at a time when the 12-time Olympic medalist was serving a suspension from USA Swimming for getting an IV infusion.
With so many negative things going on in his life, Lochte admitted that alcohol may have played a role in some of them, and he checked into rehab for alcohol addiction. He spent six weeks at a facility, and afterward, he said his stay helped put things in his life into a better perspective.
13. Tito Ortiz
Sport: Mixed Martial Arts
Tito Ortiz Stats
Career: 23 years (1997-2019)
Stats: 21-12-1 (10 KO), One-time UFC Champion
Bottom Line: Tito Ortiz
The UFC Hall of Famer admittedly had a very tough upbringing, as both of his parents were addicted to heroin. The apple didn’t end up falling far from the tree, as in his late teens, Ortiz admitted to being hooked on crystal meth. At that same time, he received a bit of luck, running into a JUCO wrestling coach at a bar who then convinced him to give the sport a try.
He would become a two-time JUCO All-American, made his UFC debut in 1997 and won the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship roughly five years after that chance encounter at a bar.
12. Chris Mullin
Chris Mullin Stats
Career: 16 seasons (1985-2001)
Stats: 18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.5 APG
Bottom Line: Chris Mullin
After spending the first 22 years of his life in New York, Mullin was then shipped across the country when he was drafted by the Golden State Warriors. Mullin struggled with the adjustment and admitted to having a drinking problem, which nearly derailed his pro career. He checked into a month-long rehab midway through his third NBA season and ended up replacing drinking with exercising, which got him into the best shape of his life.
Mullin’s NBA career would take off afterward, as he made the first of five straight All-Star teams starting with his fourth year in the NBA, and he would eventually become a Hall of Famer.
11. Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney Stats
Career: 19 seasons (2002-20)
Stats: 237 G, 119 A
Bottom Line: Wayne Rooney
Whenever you make your pro debut at 16 years old for one of the most prestigious soccer clubs in the world, there’s lots of pressure on you. To cope with that pressure, Wayne Rooney turned to alcohol in his younger days. He won’t say when he began drinking, but he didn’t stop binging until he was 24. Rooney said if he had a few days off in between games, he would lock himself in his house for two days and do nothing but drink.
Despite this, he still performed to his full capabilities, as he is the all-time leading scorer for both Manchester United and the England National Team.
10. Oksana Baiul
Sport: Figure skating
Oskana Baiul Stats
Career: 4 years (1991-94)
Stats: Olympic Gold Medalist
Bottom Line: Oksana Baiul
Baiul won a gold medal at just 16 years old at the 1994 Winter Olympics. She turned professional shortly thereafter, which meant touring all around the world and putting on skating exhibitions. Unfortunately, nearly everyone Baiul was on tour with was an adult, and there was lots of alcohol consumed while traveling. Baiul got caught up in that world and became an alcoholic as a teenager, culminating in her drunk driving arrest at 19 years old.
That proved to be a turning point in her life, and she first attended alcohol education before then going to alcohol rehab. Two-and-a-half months later, she completed the program and stated that she’s been sober ever since.
9. Keith Hernandez
Keith Hernandez Stats
Career: 17 seasons (1974-90)
Stats: .296 BA, 162 HR, 1,071 RBI
Bottom Line: Keith Hernandez
An 11-time Gold Glove winner and one-time batting champion, Hernandez admitted to using cocaine during his career. He said he even played a game with the Cardinals while under its influence, and he was part of the Pittsburgh Drug Trials involving nearly two dozen MLB players in 1987. Hernandez was accused of distributing cocaine to teammates, which he denied, but he couldn’t deny using the drug.
His drug use played a part in his being traded from St. Louis to the Mets, and Hernandez said he never used the drug while in New York. He helped the Mets win the 1986 World Series along with several other players with notable drug histories in Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden.
8. David Thompson
David Thompson Stats
Career: 8 seasons (1976-84)
Stats: 22.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.2 APG
Bottom Line: David Thompson
He’s the guy Michael Jordan hand-picked to induct himself into the Hall of Fame, and he’s one of six NBA players to score 70 points in a game. But David Thompson is also someone who cites depression and loneliness as his reason for turning to drugs. That happened in 1980 when Thompson was sidelined with a foot injury, and it was something he battled for seven years, even admitting to spending $1,000 a day on cocaine. In 1985, he was arrested for public intoxication just hours after trying out for the Indiana Pacers, and two years later, he was arrested for domestic violence.
He finally realized he needed more than just rehab and became a born-again Christian in 1987, which he credits with helping turn his life around.
7. Darren McCarty
Darren McCarty Stats
Career: 16 seasons (1993-2008)
Stats: 120 G, 155 A, 275 PTS
Bottom Line: Darren McCarty
A four-time Stanley Cup champion, McCarty is also a four-time rehab participant. He admits to abusing alcohol during his playing career, and that lifestyle caught up with him once he retired. He gained 70 pounds and was at risk of organ failure before he finally got sober, and he credits cannabis with helping him do so.
McCarty says THC helped him deal with the pain and also helped reinvigorate him to get in better shape. He now helps educate recent hockey retirees about the benefits of cannabis as opposed to taking pain pills.
6. Eva Marie
Eva Marie Stats
Career: 6 years (2013-17, 2020-21)
Stats: Diva Search Winner
Bottom Line: Eva Marie
In 2018, Eva Marie revealed in an essay that she’s an alcoholic and that she "will be an alcoholic for the rest of [her] life.” She also said that, even though she was five years sober at that point, she isn’t “cured.”
Eva Marie was a college soccer player when she first began abusing alcohol, and she would even spend three months in jail for several DUIs. It continued after her playing days while she was pursuing a career in modeling and acting in Los Angeles and didn’t stop until she joined WWE in 2013. She first mentioned her history with alcohol in the E! series, "Total Divas," and then penned that essay with hopes of helping and inspiring others who may be battling similar issues.
5. Brett Favre
Brett Favre Stats
Career: 20 seasons (1991-2010)
Stats: 71,838 YDS, 508 TD, 62.0 CMP%
Bottom Line: Brett Favre
After being named NFL MVP in the 1995 season, Favre had routine ankle surgery. However, he then suffered a seizure afterward, and his addiction to alcohol and pain pills became public knowledge when Favre entered a treatment center. He spent 46 days at an NFL-sanctioned center in Kansas, and he admitted afterward that his addiction may have kept the Packers from winning a Super Bowl.
But after beating his addiction, Favre would get that Super Bowl as well as collect a few more MVPs. Favre would win the second of three straight MVPs in the 1996 season, and the Packers would win the Super Bowl roughly seven months after Favre completed rehab.
4. Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi Stats
Career: 21 years (1986-2006)
Stats: 60 Titles, 8 Major Titles
Bottom Line: Andre Agassi
After becoming one of the faces of tennis during the early 1990s, Agassi had a dip in his career. Injuries can be partly attributed to his struggles, but so can crystal meth. Using the drug caused Agassi to fail a drug test, but he would lie to the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and say a friend spiked his drink, which was a lie he later admitted. The ATP bought the lie and bypassed suspending Agassi, but that moment was a wake-up call for him.
Agassi would then rededicate himself to the game of tennis and undergo an intense conditioning program to get in the best shape of his life. It paid off, and Agassi would go on to have a successful second half of his career and win the Career Super Slam.
3. Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury Stats
Career: 13 years (2008-15, 2018-present)
Stats: 31-0-1 (22 KO), Two-time Heavyweight Champion
Bottom Line: Tyson Fury
In 2015, Fury handed Wladimir Klitschko his first loss in over a decade and became the unified world heavyweight champion. However, a 2016 rematch never occurred because Fury tested positive for cocaine. He was hooked on both drugs and alcohol at this point, and that, in part, led to him ballooning to 330 pounds. Fury would be suspended and wouldn’t compete for nearly three years before returning to the ring in 2018.
He returned as the best version of himself, won two of three fights with Deontay Wilder and drew in the other. He also reclaimed his status as the best heavyweight in the world by winning the WBC and The Ring heavyweight championships.
2. Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps Stats
Career: 16 years (2000-12, 2014-16)
Stats: 28-time Olympic medalist, 23-time Olympic Gold Medalist
Bottom Line: Michael Phelps
Sometimes, it takes multiple public incidents for things to finally click within a person, and it took three strikes for Phelps. In 2004, he was arrested for a DUI while just 19 years old, which also came three months after winning his first Olympic gold medals. Then in 2009, Phelps was photographed using a bong at a University of South Carolina frat party. Finally in 2014 and just months after coming out of retirement, Phelps was again arrested for a DUI. It was after that incident that Phelps entered a rehab facility for 45 days and joined Alcoholics Anonymous.
This arrest hurt Phelps not only personally but also professionally, as USA Swimming suspended him for six months, which kept him from participating in the 2015 World Championships. His road to recovery started in rehab and continued afterward when he got engaged three months after leaving the facility. He would then return to the pool and won an additional six medals at the 2016 Summer Games.
1. Lawrence Taylor
Lawrence Taylor Stats
Career: 13 seasons (1981-93)
Stats: 142 SACK, 9 INT, 11 FR
Bottom Line: Lawrence Taylor
Imagine being as great as Lawrence Taylor was — possibly the greatest defensive player of all time — but still having such an intense desire to walk away from the game. Why did LT want to retire so badly at the end of his career? Because then he wouldn’t be drug tested and could do all the cocaine he wanted. Taylor admitted that was his thought process and was quoted saying, “I saw blow as the only bright spot in my future."
He began doing drugs as a rookie in 1981 and would use teammates’ urine to pass drug tests. He failed two drug tests during his career and was suspended for four games because of the second one. He’s been to rehab multiple times, been arrested multiple times, but Taylor’s battle with addiction is likely one he’ll deal with for the rest of his life.