The Pressure to Be Stronger, Better, and Faster: Athletes and Substance Use Disorder

An athlete addicted to performance-enhancing drugs is lifting weights.

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With the Winter Olympics on the way, the headlines can often be filled with athletes suspended for substance use. Performance-enhancing drugs aren’t uncommon in sports programs, but not every program tests for substances. Let’s take a look at the phenomenon of athletes and substance use disorder and how you can help your clients in the future.

The Pressure to Perform

Competing in a sport can become the highlight of a person’s life, especially if they are passionate about the game. Winning at your favorite game can be a high like no other. What can get in the way is the pressure to be the best on your team, in your league, in the state, country, and even in the world. Since there are so many different people competing with so many different backgrounds and resources, the stakes feel higher. Some have access to better training, more time to train, and might have the raw talent to boot. As people become better and better at the sports they compete in, there comes the point where they’ll do anything to win.

Influence of Coaches and Parents

The pressure to be the best doesn’t just come from within. Many athletes feel outside pressure from their coaches and parents, who want to see them succeed. A win for the athlete is also a win for the people who cheer them on. This pressure can become toxic and lead to an athlete feeling like they always need to measure up. Failing to meet expectations might feel like the worst-case scenario.

Due to this pressure to be the best, some athletes might feel tempted to take something to improve their athletic ability. Performance-enhancing drugs aren’t a new concept, but they gained media attention because many sports associations created strict rules about athlete substance use. This crackdown hasn’t entirely stopped athletes from taking substances in secret. While some athletes feel pulled on their own to take stimulants, steroids, or even growth hormones, some are directly pressured by parents and coaches to take these drugs despite the harm they can cause.

Signs a Client Could Be Using Performance Enhancing Drugs

If you’re concerned that your client might be using substances to perform better, watch for these symptoms that they might be using performance-enhancement drugs. These symptoms can include:

  • Sudden or pronounced changes in the body: Performance-enhancement drugs can cause significant changes to the body, including muscle gains and increased acne.
  • Severe emotional changes: Steroids can change a person’s mood, leading to angry outbursts and lowered moods.
  • Over-the-top concern about athletic performance: A client might become more concerned about how well they are performing or improving, putting them at greater risk.
  • Heightened concern over physical appearance: An athlete might suddenly care more about how they look, whether it be body changes or not meeting physical expectations.

Why They Cause Harm

Many performance enhancement drugs result in dangerous and sometimes deadly side effects whether they are used seemingly responsibly or not. It’s easy for an athlete to misuse these substances, as the limits of the drug might not meet the standard they’ve set for themselves to perform. Out of desperation, a person might overuse, worsening the side effects and causing irreversible damage.

Steroids, for example, can have harmful side effects like infertility, aggressive behaviors, severe acne, depression, and blood circulation problems. Stimulants like amphetamines can cause dehydration which is dangerous when physically performing, insomnia, heart palpitations, and even stroke. Growth hormones can cause joint pain, vision problems, diabetes, and hypertension.

Some performance-enhancement drugs haven’t been clinically tested regarding their long-term effects. There is still a lack of information about how using these could impact a person’s body in the future. Since there is a lack of data on long-term effects, and plenty of short-term effects, using these substances can be a major risk.

Success Isn’t Everything

Winning a competition might feel amazing, but that win isn’t worth long-term injury or addiction. There might be enormous pressure to be the best, but being the best isn’t worth the potential harm at the end of the day. If an athlete feels too much pressure to be the best, they might need to remember why they began competing in the first place. It wasn’t for the medals and trophies. It was for the love of the game.

A person shouldn’t have to sacrifice their well-being to win. Instead, your client might need to remember what made them happy to compete in the first place. They need to remember everything else that added to their love of the sport they play, including their friends, their sports community, and playing the sport with their own natural athletic ability they’ve spent years improving. None of that should be thrown away by using harmful substances.

Athletes constantly feel pressure to be the best at what they do. Winning might mean everything to someone who competes, whether in a local league or the national stage. The temptation to take performance-enhancement drugs can increase, primarily through outside pressure from people who are rooting them on. Watch for the signs that your client might be turning to these substances to win at any cost. It might be tempting to take these substances to win that medal or trophy, but the risks are just too high to take that chance. While testing and enforcement have become more thorough, there still might be a few who slip under the radar. Intervene before it’s too late. If you would like to know more about performance-enhancing drugs and what to look for in your clients or your loved ones, call Jaywalker Lodge today at (866) 529-9255. We are just a phone call away. 

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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