Sports Performance Pressure Fuels Drug Abuse

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The typical teenage drug user has changed over recent decades; no longer do they fit any simple profile. Many teenagers who abuse drugs are pilfering them from their medicine cabinet at home. The drugs are often originally prescribed as a remedy for a chronic pain condition, brought on by an injury or a disease like cancer. The drugs are left forgotten after the pain subsides, and curious teens may scoop them up for recreational use.

Other teens are using medications prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, believing that the heightened level of focus associated with the medication will allow them to forgo sleep and cram for an exam or project. The teens using these stimulants are often under intense pressure between academics and extracurricular activities.

Among teen athletes, another type of drug abuse is popular. Drug abuse to enhance sports performance is highlighted in an article appearing on the Nationwide Children’s website. The article notes that a focus on winning has become more prominent than enjoyment of the game. In addition, sports success is connected to popularity with other students and may fulfill pressure from parents to secure a college scholarship.

For an adult, it may be easy to look back on athletic experiences in high school and see their place relative to other life experiences. For a teenager in high school, however, the pressure may be extraordinarily intense, and teens may be willing to go to extremes to please their peers, parents and coaches.

The article highlights the four classes of drugs used to enhance sports performance: androstenedione, creatine, anabolic steroids and ephedra alkaloids. The drugs, all for sale over the counter with the exception of anabolic steroids, are not under the control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As a result, the supplements are not monitored for content or distribution methods.

The substances are often marketed as “natural and safe,” but science says otherwise. Androstenedione, for example, has been linked to premature closure of growth plates and may also increase the occurrence of acne, testicular atrophy and aggressive personality traits. The drug may be most widely known as the supplement that Mark McGwire used to enhance his hitting performance and homerun record. While small amounts of the drug will not raise testosterone levels, high doses may have that effect. The drug has been banned by the International Olympic Committee and college sports affiliations.

Creatine is a protein that is sold as a white powder in nutrition stores. The drug is used to maximize the exertion possible in muscle tissue and is the most popular drug among high school athletes. It occurs naturally in red meat and in some varieties of fish. Athletes take the drug not only to improve performance, but to reduce muscle soreness following a workout. Creatine has been linked to adverse effects on the renal system as well as other less-serious side effects, such as weight gain and gastrointestinal distress.

Much of the impact of these drugs is not yet documented, primarily because the drugs are legal but are not regulated by the FDA. More research is needed to determine the full range of side effects and their potential damage on the user.

Parents should take time to talk with their teen about the dangers of using supplements to enhance sports performance. Winning may be a goal, but not at the expense of health and safety.

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