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Substance Abuse and Performance Enhancing Drugs Among Athletes 

Substance abuse and performance-enhancing drugs

substance abuseThe issue of substance abuse and the use of performance-enhancing drugs has been an issue among world-class athletes and Olympians for decades.  Some athletes will do almost anything to gain a competitive advantage despite the dire warnings of the negative psychological and physical effects of the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.  Substance abuse in general and the specific use of performance-enhancing drugs is unfortunately on the upswing. Even the threat of death is evidently not a deterrent as long as victory is more likely to be achieved.  

Substance abuse however is not always the outcome related to the use of drugs or medication by athletes. Drugs may also be very useful tools in sports medicine.  Imagine undergoing surgery without painkilling medications or treating a serious infection without antibiotics.  Some medications offset intense pain and also enhance the process of healing.  So, drugs per se are not the problem as long as they’re being used in a legal, prescribed manner, under the supervision of trained medical professionals. Substance abuse, inappropriate medication usage and the use of banned substances in the world of competitive sports are the problem. As we’re all aware, substance abuse occurs not only with performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids, but also with so-called recreational or social drugs such as cocaine, marijuana and alcohol. 


Substance abuse occurs for various reasons, but almost always with the same negative consequences.  It may also lead to long-term, sometimes fatal, health and psychological problems including addiction.  The manual utilized by psychological clinicians to diagnose psychological problems, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV lists the following criteria indicating the presence of substance abuse: 

  1. A maladaptive pattern of psychoactive substance use indicated by at least one of the following:
    1. Continued use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurring social, occupational, psychological, or physical problem that is caused or exacerbated by the use of the psychoactive substance.
    2. Recurrent use in situations in which the use is physically hazardous (e.g. driving while intoxicated).
  2. Some symptoms of the disturbance have persisted for at least one month, or have occurred repeatedly over a longer period of time.

Substance abuse of any psychoactive substance including alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, and hallucinogenics may be included in these diagnostic criteria. 

Information provided by Weinberg and Gould’s  Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology

 By Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist  (Health Psychology

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