Performance-enhancing drugs and teen athletes

Performance-enhancing drugs can be tempting for teen athletes. Understand the warning signs and what you can do to keep your teen from using shortcuts to improve athletic performance. By Mayo Clinic Staff

News stories abound about famous athletes who admit to having used performance-enhancing drugs. So it's no surprise that as many as 1 in 20 teenagers reports using steroids to increase muscle mass.

If you're the parent of a teen, make time to talk about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. By explaining the consequences of performance-enhancing drugs, including the side effects, you can help your teen steer clear of the dangers.

What are the most common performance-enhancing drugs?

Among teens, the most common performance-enhancing drugs and supplements include:

  • Creatine. Creatine is a naturally occurring compound in the body that's also sold as an over-the-counter supplement. It's primarily used to enhance recovery after a workout and increase muscle mass and strength. Creatine is popular with athletes who participate in football, gymnastics, hockey and wrestling.
  • Anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the hormone testosterone, used to build muscle and increase strength. They're popular with football players and weightlifters.
  • Steroid precursors. Steroid precursors, such as androstenedione ("andro") and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), are substances that the body converts into anabolic steroids. They're used to increase muscle mass. Most steroid precursors are illegal without a prescription. DHEA, however, is still available in over-the-counter preparations.

What are the hazards of performance-enhancing drugs?

Steroids and their precursors can have severe, long-lasting effects on health. The higher the dose, the more severe the effects. Some of these side effects are reversible, while others are not. In growing adolescents one of the major risks of using anabolic steroid precursors is the permanent stunting of height.

Other side effects include shrunken testicles and breast growth in boys (gynecomastia), and excess facial hair and deepening voice in girls. Both sexes may also experience acne and other health issues, such as:

  • Aching joints and risk of tendon injuries
  • Blood-clotting problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver problems
  • Mood swings

Creatine can also cause side effects in adolescents, including weight gain, nausea, muscle cramps and kidney damage.

Why do teens take performance-enhancing drugs?

Some teens experiment with performance-enhancing drugs as a way to cope with body image insecurities or to fit in with a group of peers. Others may be influenced by societal pressure to win at all costs.

The following factors may increase the chances that a teen will use performance-enhancing drugs:

  • Desire to gain muscle mass or strength
  • Negative body image or a tendency to compare one's appearance with others'
  • Pressure from parents, other adults or peers regarding weight or muscles
  • Being male — boys are more likely to use performance-enhancing drugs than are girls
Aug. 22, 2013 See more In-depth