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Performance-Enhancing Drug Use In High School Sports

Football in one hand, and performance enhancing drugs in the other.  

High school and college students are using performance-enhancing drugs. About 1 in 16 teenagers report using steroids to increase muscle mass. They may do so to gain a competitive edge or to help fix a perceived “flaw” in their physique.

Commonly Used Drugs In High School Sports

The most commonly used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) are available over-the-counter (OTC). In general, these supplements are typically safe for most adults and people over 18, but a pharmacist or doctor should always be consulted before starting a new supplement.

However, the supplements may be risky for use in high school sports because of their effects on developing teenagers.

Common OTC performance-enhancing supplements include:

  • Caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee, tea and energy drinks. Most people are familiar with it but may not know that it can enhance an athlete’s performance. Caffeine is available in many pre-workout supplements and is used to provide bursts of energy.
  • Creatine naturally occurs in the body with muscle breakdown. Creatine supplements are taken to help speed up the recovery of muscles after an intense workout.
  • DHEA is a testosterone precursor. DHEA is not as dangerous as synthetic testosterone in steroids and is available OTC.

Most OTC supplements are safe for use by adults but may be unsafe for teenagers. Teenagers (or their parents) should speak with their doctor before starting a workout supplement. Many supplements can impact the cardiovascular system and negatively impact a student athlete’s performance.

Not all PEDs are available at the drug store. Many are illegal to use without a prescription. The following PEDs are only available by prescription:

  • Anabolic steroids (synthetic testosterone)
  • Erythropoietin (EPO, used to increase the number of red blood cells carrying oxygen)
  • Human growth hormone (HGH)
  • Stimulants (amphetamines and methylphenidate used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder)

Possession or use of a prescription drug without having a prescription is a federal crime. While a doctor can prescribe all of the previously mentioned medications, none of their intended uses are for sports performance enhancement. Therefore, it is always a crime to use a prescription drug as a PED.

Steroid-Use In High School Sports

Of all PEDs, steroids are the most well-known. Steroids are synthetic (human-made) testosterone analogs that increase muscle mass by themselves or indirectly by ramping up natural testosterone production.

Most people who abuse steroids are in their twenties or thirties, but about 22% of those who abuse steroids are teenagers.

The desired effects of steroids are to increase muscle mass and improve sports performance. Side effects of steroid use are common and can be permanent. Side effects may include:

  • Baldness
  • Body and facial hair growth in girls
  • Breast growth in boys
  • Depression and mood symptoms
  • Increased tiredness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Unexplained muscle growth

Illicit steroids may be obtained from a dealer. They are often made in a clandestine laboratory overseas or stolen from veterinary offices.

Stimulant-Use In High School Sports

Prescription stimulants are legitimately prescribed to treat ADHD or narcolepsy (a sleep disorder). Examples of such stimulants are Adderall (amphetamine salts), Ritalin (methylphenidate) and long-acting versions of these medications.

Stimulants increase subjective measures of performance but have been shown to harm sports performance. For example, people taking stimulants might feel more energized and less fatigued, but studies show their muscles produce less force.

Side effects of prescription stimulants may include:

  • Changes in sex drive or ability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Grinding or clenching teeth during sleep
  • Increased energy
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Nose Bleeding
  • Rapid mood change
  • Stomach cramps
  • Talkativeness
  • Weight loss

Stimulants are commonly purchased by students from other students who have a legitimate prescription. Selling a prescription is a federal crime.

Signs a Teen Athlete Is Using Drugs

Drug use can be difficult to spot. Part of being a teenager is change — friend groups, identity, and physical characteristics all can shift during a person’s teenage years. However, changes outside of the norms of teenage life may indicate drug use.

Parents or friends of teenagers should look for the following red flags of drug use:

  • Aggressive or paranoid behavior (i.e., “Roid Rage”)
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Disregard for personal hygiene
  • Frequent changes in social circles
  • Pupils that are too small or too big
  • Secretiveness
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden lack of motivation
  • Unexplained changes in weight
  • Unexplained mood changes

Someone concerned about a teen’s possible drug use should always attempt to bring it up with the teen first. Have a discussion with the teen before jumping to any conclusions. However, if evidence of drug use is mounting, consider bringing in an addiction professional for help.

Risks Of Drugs In High School Sports

Most PEDs carry a risk of addiction and abuse.

After using a drug consistently, a person’s body may become dependent on the presence of that drug. Once dependent, a person may have difficulty stopping using the drug without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are uncomfortable and may motivate a person to continue dangerous drug use, even in the face of the following risks:

  • Addiction risk
  • Physical health risks
  • Emotional and mental health risks

Preventing Teen Use Of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Preventing drug use means getting involved in a teen’s life. Have open conversations with them that do not stigmatize their behavior. Aggressive approaches are likely to alienate a teenager and discourage them from speaking out in the future.

Other techniques may include:

  • Clarify your expectations as a parent or friend. Tell them you want them to succeed in their chosen sport, but not to sacrifice their health to do so.
  • Discuss proper training techniques. Weight and endurance training are natural and healthy ways to improve performance. Using drugs is cheating and gives an unfair advantage against other athletes.
  • Go to their games and become involved. Speak with coaches and other parents and have open discussions about PEDs.
  • Ensure communication between parents and teens. Speak openly about the nutritional supplements they use. Encourage them to get a regular doctor and bring their supplements to the appointments so the doctor can advise them on proper usage.

If you’re concerned about your teenager using performance-enhancing drugs, contact Next Generation Village to speak with a representative about how professional addiction treatment can address a substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health disorders. Your teen deserves 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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