For a high school student, having athletic skill and a talent for competitive sports can be thrilling and can potentially lead to a free college education through an athletic scholarship. For a college student, having professional athletic skill and talent opens doors for the possibility of a professional career and lucrative income.
Unfortunately, according to the Mayo Clinic, the intense pressure to excel in a particular sport or the goal of obtaining a lucrative professional contract also motivates athletes to attempt to improve their physical capabilities through the use of performance-enhancing drugs, such as steroids or methamphetamines or other stimulants.
Equally as destructive to the body and maybe even more dangerous to both the body and mind is the growing use of prescription drug painkillers to manage injuries and pain; this chronic and constant use often leads athletes, unknowingly, into a state of substance dependence and addiction.
Most Commonly Abused Drugs in the Athletic World
Among the most commonly abused drugs in the athletic world are various types of performance-enhancing substances, also referred to as ergogenic blends. These include erythropoietin, anabolic-androgenic steroids and stimulants.
Erythropoietin is a natural substance that increases stamina by boosting red blood cell count, but when too much of it exists in a person’s body, it thickens the blood. This creates a situation where the heart must work up to three times as hard to maintain the person’s level of activity. This leads to a significant increase of stroke or heart attack.
Steroids help build muscle at an accelerated pace, but when taken long-term, can lead to high cholesterol, heart problems, malignant tumors and liver failure. Psychological impairments include depression, violent tendencies, and dramatic, angry mood swings. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Association, dehydration, psychiatric disorders and skin lesions similar to those seen in AIDS patients are also a possibility among those who abuse steroids on a regular basis.
The Utah Poison Control Center for Health Professionals reports that at the turn of the century, something called “designer steroids” were introduced to the market, and subsequently became quite popular because most drug tests cannot detect them in an athlete’s system.
However, according to the Cleveland Clinic, they have no approved medical use in any area and the level of danger with which they are associated is still essentially undocumented. For this reason, medical professionals who treat those using such substances have little or no guidance concerning potential health hazards.
Stimulants such as amphetamines, cocaine, or even excessively high doses of caffeine are sometimes used by sports professionals for the purpose of maintaining specific levels of alertness. They are also used to increase aggressiveness in boxing, wrestling, or martial arts competitions.
Some competitors also use them to maintain a particular level of alertness. Because stimulants heighten brain speed and promote a feeling of invincibility, many individuals find themselves quickly becoming addicted to substances of this type. However, drugs in this category also increase respiration and heart rate, which can result in high blood pressure, tremors, irregular heartbeat, anxiety or even death.
Synthetic hormones are the drug of choice for certain individuals in the sporting world. Among one of the most popular is Adrenocorticotropic hormone–ACTH–which is a protein hormone. This blend is primarily taken to reduce inflammation and allow the athlete to continue competing when he or she would otherwise be too exhausted to go on. This is because it dulls the pain associated with weight lifting, boxing or going beyond one’s natural capacity regardless of the physical activity. Unfortunately, unless taken under the advice of a doctor for a specific medical condition, protein hormones can lead to bleeding ulcers, weakened muscles and bones, and extreme aggression.
Some athletic performers also abuse a type of drug called diuretics. Abuse of this drug is common for the purpose of losing weight, even though the weight lost is typically only water weight. This is because diuretics increase the body’s flow of urine and those who abuse this type of drug the most are usually those who must adhere to a weight restriction, such as professional boxers. However, diuretics are also sometimes taken by athletes when they must take a drug test. This is because diuretics dilute urine and in certain cases conceal the presence of other drugs, such as steroids or erythropoietin supplements. The side effects associated with such medications include kidney failure, heart damage, cramps, dizziness and dehydration.
Although some individuals may be surprised, the abuse of narcotics is also a big problem among athletic performers. This is because pushing one’s body beyond its natural resistance or subjecting it to excessive physical strain on a regular basis can result in chronic, unrelenting pain. In certain cases, anti-inflammatory medications bring relief, but for debilitating or long-term pain that never abates, opioid analgesics are sometimes the only effective remedy. As one may suspect, this can lead to chronic abuse of such medications.
Unfortunately, it does not take as long as a person may think to develop a dependency. This is because a tolerance typically builds up quickly with narcotics, leading to the need for a constant dose increase to maintain the initial effect. This is why most doctors only prescribe opioid analgesics for short-term pain management. Few patients, even those using narcotics for legitimate reasons, have much success when they must use medication of this type on a long-term basis. However, those who are in constant pain from using their bodies beyond normal endurance often feel they have no other option. Sadly, once an addiction takes hold, it may become a lifelong problem, even after the person’s athletic career is over.
Seeking Treatment for Substance Abuse
The overuse of medications or illicit substances by an athlete may offer short-term benefits for the person, but detrimental, long-term effects outweigh any initial positive reaction. The professional field of sports requires strenuous work, leading many to fall into the trap of taking inappropriate substances and overusing pain killers.
It is an unfortunate fact that many individuals who develop such problems do not seek help for fear of being banned from a particular sport or losing their job as a professional athlete. However, drug abuse of any type can rarely be overcome without enrolling in an appropriate recovery program at a qualified treatment center. Anyone who has found himself or herself in the destructive cycle of inappropriate drug use should seek professional help as soon as possible so that recovery can begin before long term damage is done to his or her body.
If you or someone you know has an addiction to painkillers or performance enhancing drugs, please get help. There are anonymous and confidential resources and options available to help stop the substance dependence. Call our advisors for guidance. It’s free and confidential, 1-800-259-1361.