How Performance-enhancing Drugs Work

Why Some Athletes Use Drugs


Athletes face enormous pressure to excel in competition. They also know that winning can reap them more than a gold medal. A star athlete can earn a lot of money and a lot of fame, and athletes only have a short time to do their best work. Athletes know that training is the best path to victory, but they also get the message that some drugs and other practices can boost their efforts and give them a shortcut, even as they risk their health and their athletic careers.

As far back as ancient Greece, athletes have often been willing to take any preparation that would improve their performance. But it appears that drug use increased in the 1960s. The precise reason for the increase is uncertain, but we do know that anabolic-androgenic steroids were made available for sale during this period and the East German government began giving drugs to its athletes in an attempt to excel on an international level [source: The Guardian] [source: Sports Injury Bulletin]. Athletes may also misuse drugs to relax, cope with stress or boost their own confidence.

Athletes may have several reasons for using performance-enhancing drugs. An athlete may want to: build mass and strength of muscles and/or bones; increase delivery of oxygen to exercising tissues; mask pain; stimulate the body; relax; reduce weight or hide the use of other drugs.

The classes of drugs used for these purposes are shown above. Most of the drugs shown are banned outright in Olympic competitions. However, some of these drugs, such as cortisone and local anesthetics, are allowed with certain restrictions in Olympic competition because they have legitimate clinical uses. We'll look at each major class of drug and tell you about the dangerous side effects.