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

We're all familiar with famous athletes who've admitted to using 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, talk about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. By explaining the consequences of using performance-enhancing drugs, you can help your teen steer clear.

Common performance-enhancing drugs

Among teens, 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 used to improve performance during high-intensity bursts of activity and increase muscle mass and strength.
  • Anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the hormone testosterone, used to build muscle and increase strength.
  • 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.

Why it happens

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 might be influenced by pressure to make a team or get a competitive edge. Factors that might increase the chances that a teen will use performance-enhancing drugs include:

  • 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
March 11, 2015 See more In-depth