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Drug Testing High School Athletes

Group of high school girls running on a red track during a track meet  

High school athletes who perform well can find themselves the center of attention regarding school popularity, admiration from the community and talent scouts.

This type of success makes teenagers susceptible to seeking performance-boosting drugs to help them sustain their successes or drive them to new heights. Because of that risk, drug testing of high school athletes has developed into a hot topic. Many people wonder if high school athletes should be drug tested and the debate is a prominent issue in many communities.

High School Athletes and Steroid Use

Students use steroids in high school sports to boost their performance on the field, enhance their recovery or improve their workouts during the offseason.

Steroids are appearance and performance-enhancing drugs (APED) students use to change their body composition in the hopes of improving their looks or skills. Some students want to build muscle or lose weight to improve performance on the field while others aim to look better for themselves or others.

There are different types of steroids, but the term usually applies to anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are the most common APEDs and rely on testosterone to increase muscle mass. They also increase stereotypically male body characteristics.

The precise percentage of high school athletes that use steroids is challenging to discover because teens, especially athletes, may hesitate to disclose this information fearing punishment. Studies have estimated that nearly 5% of males and 2.5% of females in high school used steroids at least once during their lifetime.

Various factors affect APED use, including self-esteem and depression. One major driving force is students who participate in sports that place great importance on weight and size. For this reason, football players, wrestlers, and weightlifters are all at higher risk of steroid use.

Risks of Steroid Use During Teen Years

Steroid use always carries serious risks, but the developing body and mind of teenagers make exposure to APEDs more concerning. The risks of anabolic steroids and other APEDs influence many aspects of a person’s life and have direct effects on their physical and psychological well-being.

The effects of steroids on teens include:

  • Cardiac issues like blood clots, stroke, and heart attacks
  • Skin problems like acne
  • Hormonal changes to the hair, voice, breasts and sex organs
  • Liver problems with blood-filled cavities and tumors

As if these physical health issues were not concerning enough, teens on steroids will face unwanted mental health issues like:

  • Aggression – being physically or verbally abusive to loved ones or strangers
  • Mania – a period of increased energy, decreased need for sleep, poor decision-making skills and an extremely good mood
  • Delusions – odd or bizarre thinking patterns that are not grounded in reality or rationality

With the combination of aggression, mania, and delusions, the teenager could negatively impact their life or the lives of people around them. Many teens on steroids will experience “‘roid rage,” which is a period of sudden and violent aggression with changing moods.

When a teen is using steroids, they can expect other side effects like:

  • Poor school performance
  • Declining social skills and relationships
  • Unhappiness and depression

The Pros and Cons of Drug Testing High School Athletes

Like all debates, the high school drug testing debate has pros and cons. Those who think student-athletes should not be drug tested may feel like the testing is infringing on the students’ privacy and freedom to use a substance if they wish to. They may believe that it is not the duty of the public school system to police what drugs students are consuming.

Those who support drug testing student-athletes offer another perspective. They frequently cite the 2002 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that gave additional power to the schools for the purpose of drug testing. Previously only student-athletes could be tested, but now, any student in “competitive extracurricular activities” agrees to be tested.

Proponents of testing look at the potential short-term and long-term consequences of drug use as a rationale for their decision. Teenagers, with their developing brains and bodies, encounter great dangers from substance use.

In the short-term, using a drug can result in poor choices, accidents, injuries and risky behaviors including unsafe sex. Some of the results of those actions are permanent. In the long-term, drug use can lead to dropping out of school, mental health problems, poor social skills, family stress, serious physical health issues, and addiction.

By testing students, schools hope to discourage teens from using steroids or catching those who do so that they can recommend treatment options to stop the progression of substance use. Those who stay away from alcohol and other drugs during high school are less likely to develop substance use disorders later in life. With 22% of people who use steroids first using the substance as teens, these policies can protect many from the dangers of steroids.

Other Performance-Enhancing Drugs of Concern

Performance-enhancing drugs are a classification of substances that can also include:

  • Non-steroid anabolics: This type of drug includes medications like insulin and human growth hormone (HGH), which may be abused to enhance physical performance. Though legal for medical conditions, teens may acquire and misuse these substances.
  • Thermogenics: This type of drug is used for burning away body fat, which is ideal for endurance athletes and long-distance runners. These often increase attention while decreasing appetite.

Many times, students will combine these APEDs with other substances to create more dramatic results. Teens using steroids like HGH may add supplements like creatine or steroid precursors to achieve the wanted results. Creatine for teenage athletes can increase someone’s stamina for exercise.

Student-athletes may go to great lengths to find success without considering the negative consequences of their actions. Parents, coaches, and educators can step in to prevent the unwanted effects of steroids and other APEDs.

If your teenage student struggles with steroid abuse or other substances, contact Next Generation Village to speak with a representative about how professional treatment can help. Help them take their first step toward a healthier future, call today.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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