Performance-enhancing drugs and teen athletes
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Mar 18, 2020.
Given that famous athletes have admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, it's not surprising that teens might turn to steroids and other substances to boost their sports performance.
If you're the parent of a teen athlete, start a discussion about performance-enhancing drugs. By explaining the consequences of using performance-enhancing drugs, you can help your teen steer clear.
Common performance-enhancing drugs
Among teens, common performance-enhancing drugs and supplements include:
- Creatine. Creatine is a naturally occurring compound in the body that's also sold as an over-the-counter supplement. It's used to improve performance during high-intensity bursts of activity and to help increase muscle mass.
- Anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the hormone testosterone, used to build muscle and increase strength.
- Steroid precursors. Steroid precursors, such as androstenedione ("andro") and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), are substances that the body converts into anabolic steroids. They're used to increase muscle mass. Most steroid precursors are illegal without a prescription. DHEA, however, is still available in over-the-counter preparations.
- Amphetamines and other stimulants. Teens use these substances believing that they will increase alertness and improve endurance.
- Caffeine. Kids and teens may turn to energy drinks or certain endurance sports supplements containing caffeine, hoping to boost endurance and alertness.
Why it happens
Teens might experiment with performance-enhancing drugs to:
- Cope with body image insecurities
- Fit in with peers
- Gain muscle mass or strength
- Increase endurance
- Perform better or gain a competitive edge
Hazards of performance-enhancing drugs
Steroids and their precursors can have severe, long-lasting health effects. In growing adolescents one of the major risks of using anabolic steroid precursors is the permanent stunting of height. Other side effects include:
- Blood-clotting problems
- High blood pressure and cholesterol
- Irregular heartbeats
- Liver problems
- Mood swings
- Reduced sperm production
- Shrinking testicles
- Higher risk of infections such as HIV/AIDS if sharing needles
- Enlarged breasts in males, decreased breast size in women
- Irreversible hair loss
Creatine can also cause nausea, abdominal pain and kidney damage. The risk of kidney damage is higher when combined with certain medications, including over-the-counter pain-relieving drugs.
Possible red flags that your teen is using performance-enhancing drug include:
- Behavioral, emotional or psychological changes — particularly increased aggressiveness ("roid rage")
- Changes in body build, including muscle growth, rapid weight gain and development of the upper body
- Increased acne
- Needle marks in the buttocks or thighs
- Enlarged breasts, male-pattern baldness and shrinking of the testicles in boys
- Smaller breasts, voice deepening and excessive growth of body hair in girls
What parents can do
To prevent your teen from using performance-enhancing drugs or supplements:
- Focus on fun. Encourage your teen to focus on the fun of the game and self-improvement, rather than who scores or wins. Reassure your teen of your love and support, regardless of his or her performance.
- Discuss ethics and proper training. Remind your teen that using a performance-enhancing drug is cheating and also could lead to serious health problems. Explain that a healthy diet and rigorous training are the proven keys to athletic performance.
- Be clear about your expectations. Tell your teen that you expect him or her to avoid performance-enhancing drugs. Set rules and explain the consequences of breaking them.
- Get involved. Attend games and practices. Encourage your teen's coaches, school and sports organizations to discourage the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
- Keep an eye on your teen's purchases. Check the ingredients of any over-the-counter products your teen uses.
Help is available
If you suspect that your teen is using performance-enhancing drugs, talk to him or her about the risks and benefits of using. You might come across as more credible to your teen if you're willing to discuss both sides of the issue. Also, talk to your teen about his or her long-term goals and how using performance-enhancing drugs might interfere with those plans.
If your teen admits to using performance-enhancing drugs, encourage him or her to stop immediately. Make an appointment for your teen to see his or her doctor for a check-up and counseling.
In addition, consider informing your teen's coach. Tell your teen that you're disappointed and enforce the consequences that you've established — such as quitting the team. Most importantly, emphasize healthy methods for achieving his or her goals.