Trends & Features

The cost of enhanced performance: Exploring the link between addiction and a career in sports

At times, sports personalities resort to drugs to self-medicate because of injuries, pain, or mental health issues. Some want to delay retirement from sports or achieve certain goals before retirement. Such reasons may lead them to unfair means.

The use of these performance-enhancing drugs is still a widespread problem, and the detection of such drugs often turns into a sensational scandal. The scandal gets followed more vigorously by the media than the actual sport itself. Apart from this, the scandal also gets more attention from the general public.
Types of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Sports people might use drugs to enhance their performance or to mask the effects of another drug. Here are some of the most commonly used drugs:

● Anabolic androgenic steroids – to add muscle, reduce body fat and give strength a boost
● Human growth hormone/growth factors – to stimulate tissue growth and increase lean body mass
● Erythropoietin (EPO) – to increase the level of red blood cells, haemoglobin and oxygen supply for enhanced and effective operation; also to increase motivation
● Diuretics – to hide the traces of other drugs
● Creatine – for bursts of power
● Stimulants (like amphetamines) – for more aggressiveness, alertness and lower fatigue
● Narcotics – to reduce or hide the pain
● Beta-blockers – to reduce heart rate, for relaxing effect in sports that require extreme precision
● Corticosteroids – for being able to exert more and recover faster
● Synthetic oxygen carriers – to fuel muscles with extra oxygen

Some sports personalities might resort to other forms of performance-enhancing tricks like blood doping (with autologous transfusion or homologous transfusion) and gene doping.

The Ultimate Cost of Doping

Although athletes might reap some temporary benefits through the utilisation of performance-enhancing drugs, the costs, in the long run, might exceed the benefits a few times over. If a sports personality is caught doping, the scandal can affect the sports career in these ways:

● The person or/and the team may be stripped of earlier sporting achievements, honours, and titles
● The sportsperson might end up being branded a cheater and lose all respect and credibility
● It may lead to a loss of position and income
● The person might face a sports ban
● Sponsorship deals might be cancelled
● The person might face isolation from peers in sports since others would want to avoid any kind of association with the scandal
● Destruction of future career prospects

The career losses, the negative publicity, and tarnished reputation will affect emotional and mental well-being. The career effect of doping might snowball into a larger problem. If the athlete/sports personality is the sole breadwinner and the only source of income is sports, the family might suffer financially. Relationships with family and friends will also get affected. The athlete/sports personality might resort to alcohol or drugs to numb the negative feelings. It might result in an increased dependence on drugs or a full-blown addiction to drugs.

Negative Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs: Physiological and Psychological

Performance-enhancing drugs also have detrimental physiological and psychological effects.
These often get ignored by athletes in the zeal to win or set new records. Sometimes they buckle under the pressure to perform. However, as seen in many cases, the negative physiological and psychological side effects catch up with them even before they can derive any adequate benefit from the drugs. Some of the physiological and psychological side effects of the commonly-used drugs are listed below:

Anabolic Steroids:

● Acne issues
● Abnormal liver function or liver tumours and even cancer
● Increased tendency to get swollen or torn tendons
● Increased ‘bad’ cholesterol levels (LDL) and decreased ‘good’ cholesterol levels (HDL)
● Issues with blood pressure, heart, and blood flow
● Deeper voice, more body hair, loss of hair on the head, and menstrual problems in females
● Breast tissue development, reduction in sperm production and impotence in males

● Anger issues/roid rage and conduct disorders
● Prone to depression
● Poor body image
● Increased suicidal tendencies
● Risk of addiction

Erythropoietin (EPO):

● Flu-like symptoms
● Diarrhoea
● Muscle and joint pain
● Blood clot risk
● Hypertension
● Blocked arteries
● Heart attack
● Seizures or stroke
● Swollen feet and fingers due to fluid-build up
● Skin rashes
● High levels of potassium

Human Growth Hormone:

● Carpal tunnel syndrome
● Increased cholesterol levels
● High blood sugar/Diabetes
● Muscle and joint pain
● Fluid build-up
● Acromegaly – Excessive growth of some parts of the body
● Cardiomegaly – Heart grows bigger
● Vision problems
● Tumours
● Heart Failure

● Panic disorder
● Anxiety
● Depression
● Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
● Emotional instability
● Mental fatigue and low energy levels


● Dehydration
● Severe muscle cramps
● Electrolyte imbalance
● Dizziness
● Low blood pressure
● Gastrointestinal problems
● Kidney damage and renal failure
● Coordination and balance problems
● Heart rate irregularities
● Thickened blood, increased risk of thrombosis


● Weight gain
● Muscle or belly cramps
● Bloating
● Stomach discomfort and digestive problems
● Liver damage
● Kidney problems


● Sleep issues
● Strain on the cardiovascular system and heart rate irregularities
● Circulatory failure
● Increase in blood pressure
● Possibility of heat stroke
● Convulsive fits
● Respiratory paralysis
● Suppression of hunger and thirst
● Fluid loss
● Possibility of total exhaustion and death

● Risk of substance dependence
● Restlessness and aggressiveness
● Hallucinations and delusions, psychosis
● Depression
● Anxiety


● Impaired coordination
● Nausea
● Headache and dizziness
● Convulsive fits
● Possibility of fatal respiratory paralysis

● Impaired concentration
● Dependence and addiction
● Consciousness disturbances
● Loss of self-confidence
● Apathy
● Sense of invincibility


● Asthma attacks
● Erectile dysfunction
● Reduction in heart rate, heart failure
● Sleep disorders
● Low blood pressure

● Depression
● Delirium
● Psychosis
● Increase in suicidal behaviour

The Twisted Relationship Between Addiction and Sports

The number of drugs being used and abused in sports is growing. There is competitive innovation in the production of PEDs and the tests that detect the presence of these drugs. The number of PEDs seem to be as many as there are sports. Misuse of drugs has resulted in the death of many sports personalities. Accolades or temporary relief are not worth the detrimental psychological, physiological, social and economic effects. Drugs and their addiction can ruin sports careers. Sports personalities with severe addiction issues need to get admitted to drug rehab. Several drugs produce severe withdrawal symptoms; the patients need to be taken care of by experts. Centres like Rehab Guide can provide the necessary information on rehab programs and clinics.

Throughout the world and across all sports, drugs are being abused for the sake of performance enhancement. However, with determination and conscious efforts, this relationship can work (and does work) the other way around. Sports can help in recovery from addictions. Sports (exercise) and drugs use similar parts of the brain. They activate the reward pathways and trigger the release of serotonin and dopamine. Along with other treatment programs, serious involvement in sports might be able to help in addiction recovery. It is up to the sportsperson which turn he/she wants the relationship between addiction and sports to take.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button