Drug abuse, alcoholism: Wasim Akram and other famous athletes who battled addiction

We look at some of the iconic athletes whose careers were affected by a dark life

By Leslie Wilson Jr

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Published: Tue 1 Nov 2022, 9:13 AM

Last updated: Tue 1 Nov 2022, 9:36 AM

Former Pakistan cricket great Wasim Akram has sent shock waves through the sporting world with the revelation that a cocaine addiction almost took control of his brain.

The story of his battle with substance abuse which he was forced to kick after the early passing of his wife Huma is told in his autobiography Sultan: A Memoir', excerpts of which were published by The Times, London.


One of the most feared left-arm fast bowlers in the world ever, Akram claimed 414 Test and 502 ODI wickets during an outstanding career, before he retired from international cricket after the 2003 World Cup.

"I liked to indulge myself; I liked to party," he described his post-cricket life as a wild, globe-trotting expert commentator.


Akram, now 56 and an in-demand expert analyst of the game, is not the first sportsman or sportsman to fall victim to drug abuse.

Here we look at some of the iconic athletes whose careers were affected by a dark life.

Jennifer Capriati

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

When Jennifer Capriati made history to become the lowest-ranked seed to win the 2001 Australian Open, where she defeated Martina Hingis in straight sets, tennis pundits predicted a bright career for the American with the flash two-handed backhand.

Although she would go on to win two more Grand Slams, an Olympic gold at the 1992 Summer Games, and be inducted into the International Hall of Fame Capriati’s glittering career took a big hit with cases of taking drugs, shoplifting, and scandalous affairs.

The star was arrested for shoplifting and was arrested by the Florida police and charged with possession of cannabis.

Capriati confessed to having had to struggle with her fame which came at a very young age and that she had even contemplated taking her own life because she was too fat, as an escape from it all.

Instead, she turned to drugs, dropped out of all her tournaments, and headed to rehab.

Capriati was charged with battery and stalking her former boyfriend on Valentine's Day.

She currently lives a quiet and secluded life spending time at her home in Miami.

Michael Phelps

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Record-breaking Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps may not have had a problem rewriting the history books in his sport but had far greater issues with his weakness for recreational drugs like marijuana.

A 6ft 4inch giant with a wingspan of over six feet, Phelps is regarded as the most successful Olympian of all time with a cache of 29 medals, including a record of 23 golds, Phelps had no equals in the pool.

However, Phelps once shocked the world when he allowed himself to be photographed by a British newspaper smoking marijuana at a student party at the University of South Carolina. He was lucky to escape with a warning and was not prosecuted for his bad taste in publicity.

He apologised after the incident saying he will not make the mistake again.

Phelps did not get away scot-free as he was banned for three months by the US Swimming Federation which also cost him a lucrative endorsement deal with US food giant Kellogg Co.

Diego Maradona

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

The Argentine football genius is the original enfant terrible for substance and alcohol abuse.

A wizard with the ball on the field, Maradona was also an outrageous ‘party animal’ who partied like there was no tomorrow. He was known to have tried and tested all forms of narcotics and was invariably the last person to leave the party.

Even though he suffered an overdose in 2000 and was hit by a heart attack in 2004, which forced a bypass surgery in 2005, it did not prevent him from continuing to live life dangerously and on the edge.

Over the years his dependence on prescription drugs combined with his fondness for recreational drugs and alcohol would lead to his tragic death at the age of 60.

However, for all his wrongdoings Maradona will probably always be remembered for the epic goal he scored against England at the 1986 World Cup and his controversial ‘Hand of God’ goal in the same match.

George Best

Blessed with poster-boy good looks, Northern Ireland’s dazzling winger George Best was always destined to be a star.

He boasted a larger-than-life celebrity appeal that matched his flamboyant playing style which combined speed, exceptional skills, and an ability to strike with both his feet.

Growing up with a working-class mother, a talented hockey player herself, Best was influenced by her habits, unfortunately even the curse of alcohol abuse.

By the time she died prematurely at the age of 54, due to a heart attack brought on by alcoholism, her son had already succumbed to similar dependence on spirits.

Best himself would die an alcoholic at the age of 59m leaving behind a rich legacy highlighted by an 11-year stint at Manchester United where he scored 137 goals, winning the European Cup as well as the Ballon d'Or.

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