Thugs on Drugs?: Effects of Drug Use On Athletes

Posted: 2010/11/28 in Athletes, Mental Health, Risk Communication, Sports
Tags: , , , , ,
“Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.” ~P.J. O’Rourke

A few weeks ago, I started our series on the importance of public image for athletes. A couple weeks ago, we dove into the NFL and its seemingly large turnout of criminals of all kinds. This week, we’ll be looking at how drug use negatively affects athletic performance. Although this seems like common sense, the numbers of athletes who use or who have been caught using steroids is rather large, especially considering the dangerous effects these drugs have on the people using them. While we could probably go on forever about all the various drugs athletes could take, in this post, we’ll focus primarily on alcohol and steroid use.

We’ll start with alcohol use because it’s familiar to most of us, whereas I’m just presuming that the majority of our readers haven’t taken steroids. Also, if you’ll remember, the last post discussed the most common crimes (particularly of NFL players) committed by athletes. According to a report from the San Diego Tribune 129 of 385 arrests made of NFL players between the years 2000 and 2008 were at least partially caused by alcohol use. In college, we are entirely aware of the effect that alcohol has on our social lives. Most college students, whether legal or minor, find ways to socialize with their friends with alcohol.
However, according to a bulletin in the UC San Diego athletic department, alcohol has negative effects on athletic performance. Some of these effects include intense dehydration, which in turn causes cramps or musculoskeletal injuries, fat gain (since alcohol has 7 calories per gram), and loss of testosterone in male athletes, as well as an increase of estradial (a form of estrogen that causes breast cancer) in female athletes. These were just a few of many negative effects of this popular drug. And, even more surprising is that a study done in Sydney, Australia actually shows that even drinking moderate amounts of alcohol after an athletic performance actually slows down the recovery time. I’m sure no one doing these studies are thinking they can control athlete alcohol use, but it’s definitely something to think about.
Next up is the use of anabolic steroids. Of course, steroid-use stories seem to be rampant in the media. Some of the pro athletes who’ve been caught or who have confessed to steroid use include Lance Armstrong,Alex Rodriguez, and Marion Jones. According to a study in Scientific American, it is anabolic steroids that are favored by athletes because of their promotion of muscle and tissue growth. (This is opposed to the prednisone often prescribed by doctors to cure inflammatory conditions).NPR reported a debate in 2008 about whether performance enhancing drugs should be used in sports. While opponents agreed that it gives those on steroids an unfair advantage, proponents of steroid use argued that drugs are given for various reasons in other professions, why not do the same in sports?
Well, I’ll tell you why (at least according to what I’ve read). Some of the negative effects of anabolic steroids include lowered sperm count in men, pain in urination, or a shrinking of the testicles. Women often see a “masculinization”. For example, they may see the growth of facial hair, menstrual cycle changes and shrinking breasts. Unisex reactions include acne, weakened tendons and even liver damage. One has to ask, is it really worth the risk?
And according to another study in Science Daily suggests that those on performance enhancing drugs are more likely to abuse drugs like alcohol, marijuana and cocaine- in other words, drug combinations that should not be mixed.
From a risk management standpoint, all signs point to alcohol in moderation, but no use of steroids. In the end, it’s just not worth it.

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