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Performance enhancers among athletes linked to recreational drug use

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A study of male athletes shows that athletes who use performance enhancers are also more likely to engage in recreational drug use and are at higher risk for alcohol abuse. Athletes who use steroids, stimulants and weight-loss supplements were more likely to admit to heavy alcohol use, cocaine and marijuana use.

The findings come from Dr. Jennifer F. Buckman, assistant research professor at the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University in a study of 234 male athletes from a large, NCAA Division I university. Athletes who use performance enhancers were also more likely to miss classes, fail tests, and get into more fights. Steroid use has also been shown to increase risk of suicide and depression among teens.

The authors say that athletes view recreational drugs use as “utilitarian, suggesting "their use helps athletes cope with the problems of day-to-day living." Drugs and alcohol serve a purpose for athletes under pressure, and the study shows the importance of interventions and not just drug testing among athletes.

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Athletes who never used performance enhancers were much less likely to abuse alcohol or use drugs recreationally. Seventy percent of athletes who took steroids, supplements or stimulants also used marijuana, and one third admitted to cocaine use, compared to 22 percent and 3 percent of athletes who did not use performance enhancers.

Use of performance enhancers among athletes was also linked to higher rates of smoking, misuse of prescription drugs and binge drinking.

Study co-author Dr. Robert J. Pandina, director of the Center of Alcohol says it is important to understand that athletes are suffering the consequences of experimenting with recreational drugs and alcohol. Most of the athletes said recreational drug and alcohol use helped them cope with stress and anxiety. Others may be looking for new sensation.

The authors point to the importance of understanding why athletes who use performance enhancing such as steroids, creatine, "Andro," stimulants and weight-loss aids are at higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse. Nearly one third admitted to using the substances in the past year.

Dr. Pandina says testing for drugs among athletes is not enough, warning that it is more important to understand why athletes turn to drugs and alcohol. "This really says that we have to focus on the motivations for athletes' substance use, and make them aware of the consequences that are likely to come of it."