Drug Addiction and Athletes: The Pressure to Be the Best

Among high school, college and professional athletes, the pressure is on to run faster, punch harder and play longer. While drug use in sports has been going on for as long as sports have been around, the current surge of performance-enhancing drugs dates back to the 1960s. Today, drug use in sports is common, with many good players jeopardizing their health, lives and livelihood by abusing performance-enhancing drugs.

Drug Athletes and Drug Use: Then and Now

Drug use in sports dates all the way back to ancient Greece. Even the word “doping” comes from the root Dutch word “doop,” a reference to a thick opium juice thought to dull the pain of sports injuries so athletes could play longer. Even the Greeks experimented with diets and herbs to enhance sports performance.

Today’s athletes use a combination of legal, legitimate science and illegal performance-enhancing drugs to be the best in their sport. The pressure to be the best is intense at all levels of play. High school athletes may face intense pressure to win for their teams as well as to win coveted scholarships — often necessary to offset the high cost of a college degree.

Once these athletes are enrolled in the university of their choice, they have to keep a good GPA and continue proving their prowess on the court or field in order to keep those scholarships. For those with talent and drive, a coveted professional sports contract may be tempting enough to get them to reach for performance-enhancing drugs.

What Are Performance-Enhancing Drugs?

Performance-enhancing drugs are substances that athletes use to improve their abilities beyond their natural scope. Many of these substances have legitimate medical uses. There are over 192 substances commonly associated with drug use in sports today.

The 11 categories of banned substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances include:

  1. Anabolic agents, including steroids
  2. Hormones and hormonal supplements
  3. Hormone antagonists and modulators
  4. Beta-2 agonists
  5. Beta blockers
  6. Alcohol
  7. Diuretics and other substances used to mask drug abuse
  8. Stimulants
  9. Narcotics
  10. Cannabinoids
  11. Glucocorticosteroids

Each category on the list affects different parts of the body. Stimulants, for example, promote weight loss and improved reaction time and alertness, while also reducing tiredness. Narcotics, on the other hand, dull pain so an athlete can play through an injury.

As you can imagine, playing through an injury isn’t a smart idea, but when the stakes are high, some athletes will try anything to stay in the game and win. Injured athletes can’t play and may lose lucrative scholarships, endorsement deals or other perks of their sports. They may miss important games leading to playoffs or division wins. This makes it extremely difficult for some athletes to say “no” to performance-enhancing drugs when the stakes are so high.

Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

As with most drugs, athletes begin taking performance-enhancing drugs as a shortcut to a desired outcome. Unfortunately, the drugs themselves gradually take over, until an athlete may feel he can’t compete without them. One drug tends to snowball into others, and stimulants are topped off with alcohol to relax, or more stimulants may be needed to rev up for the next day’s game. It’s a vicious cycle that’s easy for athletes to get caught up in.

Some of the most common effects of performance-enhancing drugs include:

  • Altered hormonal composition — Hormonal composition could be altered to the point of affecting sexual characteristics or sexual expression. Many hormone-based performance-enhancing drugs rely on testosterone or include drugs to boost testosterone production or expression with the hope of building muscle mass. The results may be big muscles, but they can also include aggression, increased body hair, deeper voice, baldness and other changes. Men may develop breasts and women may get a deep, masculine voice. High blood pressure, inhibited growth and development in teens and other physical problems can develop over time.
  • Heart damage — Many of the substances listed here affect blood pressure, which in turn can affect the heart. Untreated high blood pressure from drug use in sports can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
  • Joint pain and weakness — Abusing drugs like human growth hormone and other performance-enhancing drugs can backfire and damage joints and muscles.
  • Dehydration and muscle cramps — Stimulants, alcohol and diuretics flush water from the body, but all can lead to dehydration and muscle cramps.
  • Kidney, liver and brain damage — Many of the substances abused by athletes can lead to kidney, liver and brain damage. Anytime you take drugs, you risk damaging these vital organs.

Dealing With Drug Use in Sports

In sports there will always be temptation to take quick shortcuts to succeed. Sometimes those shortcuts involve drugs. But just like abusing drugs recreationally can lead to dependence, so can abusing drugs to improve sports performance. The desired goals may be different, but the outcomes are the same:  psychological and physical addiction, damage to your health and reputation and problems living your life to the fullest.

It can be tough to say “no” to performance-enhancing drugs when your scholarship, your livelihood and your pride are on the line. But when faced with a heart attack, stroke or weak bones, muscles and joints, which would you prefer? Steroids, supplements and drugs, or a healthy body that you can rely on for bigger and better things?

Life is about much more than winning the next title or competition. At 12 Keys Rehab, we can help you regain your health and peace of mind. Athletes and their families are invited to contact us today to learn more about ending drug addiction. Performance-enhancing drugs can be as physically and psychologically addicting as the hardest street drugs. Just because you buy them from your trainer instead of a street dealer doesn’t make them any safer.

Contact us today for holistic recovery that can help you reach your athletic goals in a safe and natural way.

The Addiction Blog