Drugs Used in Sports: Their Effects and Their Health Risks

Addiction Resource > Drugs Used in Sports: Their Effects and Their Health Risks

These days, you might find many articles about drugs in sports performance. Nonetheless, their connection is under constant scrutiny by the dope watchdogs like WADA and USADA. These foundations prohibit the illicit use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Drugs and Sport Performance

Throughout history, people have enjoyed playing and watching sports. A sport of any kind provides physical fitness and mental toughness for the players. Meanwhile, these fans enjoy watching their favorite athletes winning and lifting the cup.

The use of drugs which enhance performance has gone up over the years. This is because the amount of money and fame that comes from winning is unbelievably high. We are talking about millions of dollars, here. As a result, it has raised questions about the ethics and fitness level of the sportspersons.

We come across news headlines reporting a top player’s failure to clear the dope test. It’s a test that monitors and detects the use of illicit and unapproved drugs that boost athletic performance.

Are you thinking of using any such illicit drugs to enhance your performance in track and field? You should really sit down and ask yourself again if it is the right thing to do.

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A Not-So-Healthy Relation Between Drugs and Sport Performance

There is no doubt certain drugs are able to put you ahead in the race. However, they come with a big warning sign regarding their negative side effects on your health and image.

What Are Performance-Enhancing Drugs?

Any drug that can temporarily boost your level of performance can count as a performance-enhancing drug. The problem is not with the beneficial effects of the drug rather it has everything to do with your health. Additionally, it may also tarnish your image and drag you through many legal problems.

Various drugs may improve sports performance such as stimulants, steroids, creatine, adaptogens, painkillers, cognition enhancers, hormones etc.

How Drugs Can Negatively Impact Sports Performance

Apart from the drugs that enhance your sports performance, some illicit drugs may also hurt it. Drugs are known to alter your physical as well as mental well-being. Understandably, your performance in the field may be hurt badly due to your drug use.

Common Drugs That Bring Your Performance Down

Cannabis, opiates, and alcohol

All these substances tend to reduce your breathing. They also slow down the exchange of oxygen between the lungs and the tissues. Greater availability of oxygen is one of the prerequisites for a top level sports performance. Therefore, using any of these drugs prior to the sporting event can negatively impact your performance. In addition to reducing your breathing, these drugs may also slow your heart beats. Consequently, you might starve your tissues of the essential nutrients and oxygen. All of these physiological changes are enough to lay you down in the field.

Drugs and Sport PerformanceStimulants, hallucinogens, and alcohol

When you are participating in any sport, mental toughness and focus can be as important as physical fitness. With any of these drugs acting on your brain’s ability to focus and make quick decisions, your performance will fall below par. Hallucinogens can also interfere with your perception of vision or sound.


When the injuries have taken a toll on your body, medications that shield pain may make you feel good. The problem with painkillers is that they delay the signal of the injury and cause a delay in recovery.

In addition, illicit use of drugs can also wreak havoc on your perception of important things. They include hunger, reaction time, muscle coordination, mental alertness, and mood.

Top 3 Performance-enhancing Drugs and Their Side Effects

1. Steroids

Some athletes use the steroids that are chemically and functionally close to the natural male hormone testosterone. They call them anabolic steroids. These chemicals increase muscle mass and strength. Steroids can also shorten the time of recovery from a hard training session. Sporting authorities all over the world prohibit their use in athletic competitions. Meanwhile many of the other anabolic steroids do have valid medical uses. They are available in the form of pills for oral use or injectables.

Side Effects of Anabolic steroids

Steroids come with a host of severe side effects some of which are potentially dangerous.

  • Enlarging breasts and prostate, baldness, testicular contraction, impotence and fertility problems in males.
  • Male-like voice, excessive growth of body hair, irregular menstruation and abnormally large clitoris in females.
  • Severe acne, liver problems, heart disorders, imbalances in blood levels of lipids and cholesterol, high blood pressure for both genders
  • And a whole range of other health problems

2. Erythropoietin (EPO, hematopoietin or hemopoietin)

This is a natural hormone from the kidneys. It regulates the production of red blood cells (RBCs). They administer erythropoietin externally, to the anemic patients in the form of Recombinant human erythropoietin. It causes the production of RBCs, the blood cells that carry oxygen. As a result, many athletes use this illicitly to enhance their performance.

Side Effects of Erythropoietin

Erythropoietin comes with a boxed warning for serious conditions which may be fatal sometimes. These include:

Drugs and Sport Performance

  • Myocardial infarction
  • Recurrent cancer
  • Stroke
  • Venous thromboembolism
  • Increased risk of death

3. Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

HGH is a very potent hormone produced by your pituitary glands. They will administer it exogenously via injection to treat a number of medical conditions in kids and adults. Due to its anabolic properties, many athletes abuse it to accelerate many processes. They include enhancing their performance, gaining extra muscle mass and reversing the physiological effects of aging. However, FDA does not approve of such use.

Side Effects of HGH

  • Arthralgia or joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • High blood cholesterol level
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Enlarged heart
  • Swelling of body parts due to accumulation of fluid in the tissues (edema)
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (a painful condition arising due to compression of nerve at the front of the wrist)


In conclusion, drugs and sports performance should not mix. The benefits which come from using these drugs may be very attractive. It can temporarily improve your performance. However, the health risks should be enough to make you think twice about using them. Drug testing have become very strict. It is not so easy to fool them anymore. More and more famous athletes have been losing their medals and prizes from some revelations. Moreover, scientific studies do not back many of the benefits.

Want To Know More?

Do you have any questions about drugs and sports performance? Or do you want to learn more about abuse of performance-enhancing drugs and its treatments? Talk to the experts near you. Connect with the best in your area.