Performance-enhancing drugs and teen athletes
Medically reviewed on March 22, 2018
We're all familiar with famous athletes who've admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. So it's no surprise that as many as 1 in 20 teenagers reports using steroids to increase muscle mass.
If you're the parent of a teen, talk with your teen about the dangers of 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 and strength.
- 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.
Why it happens
Some teens experiment with performance-enhancing drugs as a way to cope with body image insecurities or to fit in with a group of peers. Others might be influenced by pressure to make a team or get a competitive edge. Factors that might increase the chances that a teen will use performance-enhancing drugs include:
- Desire to gain muscle mass or strength
- Negative body image or a tendency to compare one's appearance with others'
- Pressure from parents, other adults or peers regarding weight or muscles
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
- Liver problems
- Mood swings
- Reduced sperm production
Creatine can also cause nausea, abdominal pain and kidney damage.
Possible red flags of performance-enhancing drug use 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:
- 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 true and 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. Reassure your teen of your love and support, regardless of his or her competitive performance.
- Monitor 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. 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 medical evaluation and counseling.
Consider informing your teen's coach, so he or she is aware of the problem. In addition, tell your teen that you're disappointed and enforce the consequences that you've established — such as quitting the team. Most importantly, emphasize the healthy alternatives to achieving his or her goals.
Don't put off talking with your teen about performance-enhancing drugs. Help your teen understand the risks, as well as healthier ways to support athletic performance and a good body image.