25 Facts About Athletes And Performance Enhancement Drugs

Posted by , Updated on June 23, 2024

Performance-enhancing drugs are a **big problem** in sports. Athletes, feeling **huge pressure** from coaches, families, and fans, often use these illegal substances to get ahead. Government agencies and sports organizations are working **hard** to stop this by having strict anti-doping rules, doing random drug tests, and giving out **strong** penalties for breaking the rules. Still, some athletes take **big risks** to win. Even with **stricter** tests, athletes find ways to **cheat**, so more cases get caught. Click to discover **25 Candid Facts About Athletes And Performance Enhancing Drugs**.


Using performance enhancement drugs or "doping" came to the world's attention when Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen died due to abuse of amphetamines during the 1960 Rome Olympics.

rome olympicsSource: http://www.doping-prevention.com/doping-in-general/history-of-doping.html

The drugs athletes use typically fall into two categories: anabolics and stimulants. Many athletes use a cocktail of the two or will look to other kinds of drugs.

testosteroneSource: https://www.medicaldaily.com/rio-olympics-doping-facts-how-performance-enhancing-drugs-work-and-risks-394946

For instance, in the 2003 Dublin Olympics, UK sprinter Dwain Charles used a combination of drugs to improve his performance, recovery time, sluggishness, and reaction time. He was disqualified when it was discovered.

2003 olympicsSource: https://www.medicaldaily.com/rio-olympics-doping-facts-how-performance-enhancing-drugs-work-and-risks-394946

Athletes often will use diuretics, a drug that kicks the kidneys into overdrive and masks other doping substances in the blood stream.

furosemideSource: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-price-of-gold-doping-professional-athletes_us_58f65efce4b048372700dc0e

If an athlete is ever tested positive for drugs, they're usually stripped of all their accolades. A prime example is Ben Plucknett, who broke two world records in discus throw, but was stripped of those records when found positive for drugs.

1968 gamesSource: https://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/22/sports/ben-plucknett-48-track-star-who-lost-record-after-drug-test.html

Athletes that take performance enhancement drugs don't usually take small amounts but rather amounts much higher than recommended. This puts them in significant health risk.

drugsSource: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/performance-enhancing-drugs/art-20046134

While the risks haven't been well-studied, side-effects of doping for men include prominent breasts, shrunken testicles, enlarged prostate, and infertility, among other complications.

shockedSource: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/performance-enhancing-drugs/art-20046134

Women athletes taking drugs might experience a deeper voice, increased body hair, baldness, and infrequent or absent periods.

shocked womanSource: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/performance-enhancing-drugs/art-20046134

The other risks for all athletes include high cholesterol, liver abnormalities, heart problems, drug addiction, and psychiatric disorders.

athletesSource: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/performance-enhancing-drugs/art-20046134

But wait, there's more. A health study of German athletes that took anabolic steroids found that 25 percent of them developed a form of cancer.

cancerSource: http://healthresearchfunding.org/35-surprising-doping-sports-statistics/

Professional athletes aren't the only ones abusing drugs. It is a systemic problem for all athletes, including high school and college age students. For instance, a study found that .7% to 6.6% of high school students used anabolic steroids in one year.

high school athletesSource: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4140700/

Just to drop a little more knowledge about teens, 44% of teen athletes have reported it's very easy for them to obtain steroids without a prescription.

trackSource: https://healthresearchfunding.org/20-incredible-statistics-steroid-use-professional-sports/

Despite the efforts of the World Anti-Doping Agency and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to combat doping in professional sports, the Anti-Doping Database found that cases of doping has only increased in recent years.

dopingSource: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/sports/olympics/doping/

While doping became of particular interest in the 1960's, it has its roots in ancient sports. The Ancient Greeks would eat animal hearts and testicles, take fungi and hallucinogenic potions to give them an edge.

torch raceSource: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/greece/articles/an-ancient-history-of-doping-at-the-olympics/

If an Olympic athlete is ever caught doping, their medals are taken away and the athlete next in line receives it instead. Since 1968, 25 athletes who should have won gold received the medal retroactively after a doping case. After that, there were 41 cases for the silver medal and 56 cases for the bronze.

1964 olympicsSource: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/14/sports/olympics-medal-doping.html?_r=0&mtrref=c-7npsfqifvt34x24x78x78x78x2eozujnftx2edpn.g00.medicaldaily.com

In the Olympics, across all sports, Russia and Turkey are the most guilty of doping by a wide margin. For example, 225 Russian athletes were found having taken banned substances and that was just in 2013.

2010 opening ceremonySource: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/athletics/russia-doping-crisis-map-reveals-the-worst-nations-for-doping-in-sport-a6728916.html

While in most cases individual athletes choose doping, Russia is a very different animal with whistle-blowers, like Yulia Stepanova, pointing to the Russian government and Vladimir Putin's direct involvement.

putinSource: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/breaking/ct-spt-vladimir-putin-russia-doping-scandal-20180725-story.html#

Of course, Lance Armstrong's doping scandal rocked the world in 2012. He'd discovered a way to bypass drug tests for over twelve years. His medals and accolades weren't stripped until 2013.

lance armstrongSource: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/14/sports/olympics-medal-doping.html?_r=0&mtrref=c-7npsfqifvt34x24x78x78x78x2eozujnftx2edpn.g00.medicaldaily.com

For Armstrong, and as it turns out many other cyclists, evading detection from anti-doping testers wasn't all that complicated. In many cases, drug testing checks were so poor, all Armstrong had to do was not answer the door when they knocked, literally.

doorSource: https://bigthink.com/think-tank/lance-armstrongs-guide-to-passing-a-drug-test

So, how exactly do doping athletes beat drug testing? Naturally, most assume urine replacement, and they'd be correct. One popular kit is called "The Whizzinator," complete with clean urine, warming packs, and a prosthetic penis.

urineSource: https://sportsanddrugs.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=002706

Other athletes didn't have to take such extreme measures. One Tour de France cyclist claimed all he did was use a few grains of hand soap to beat a test for the banned drug EPO.

hand soapSource: https://sportsanddrugs.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=002706

Testing for EPO, however, has become much more stringent. To get around it, some athletes turned to blood transfusions or "blood doping" to enhance performance. Athletes will either donate their own blood and use it before a competition or use the blood of another athlete. Transfusions increase the blood's oxygen carrying capacity.

dopingSource: https://sportsanddrugs.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=002706

In the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Russian officials often interfered with the drug tests, not signing contracts until the last minute, and not making payments, which made it difficult to find anyone to do the tests. They would also question the testers' credibility and threaten to throw them out of the country.

russian fansSource: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2093953-wada-report-shows-tricks-russian-athletes-use-to-skip-drug-tests/

Because performance enhancing drugs like EPO are so popular, many companies in China, India, and Cuba make copycat versions with slight molecular changes to beat the drug testing fingerprint. Drug testers struggle to keep up with the latest version, giving athletes an edge to beat the tests.

Drug_TestSource: https://sportsanddrugs.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=002706

Athletes have gone as far as getting "drug tattoos" to get the gold. The tattoo needles have drugs that are injected into the body, allowing athletes to take smaller doses and not be detected. German research found this method is also 16 times more effective than getting an injection through a vein.

tattooSource: https://sportsanddrugs.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=002706#Tattoos

Photo: Featured Image - Wayne England, Lance Armstrong, CC BY 2.0, 1. Travis Isaacs, Abdominal tattoo is getting real, CC BY 2.0 , 2. ProjectManhattan, Drug Test, CC BY-SA 4.0 , 3. Ivanaivanova, Russian fans 2014-02-13 Winter Olympics in Sochi, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 4. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 5. m01229 from USA, Bath & Body Works - Winter Spice Vanilla hand soap (8222986872), CC BY 2.0 , 6. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 7. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 8. McSmit, Lance Armstrong (Tour de France 2009 - Stage 17), CC BY-SA 3.0 , 9. Kremlin.ru, Vladimir Putin (2017-01-17), CC BY 4.0 , 10. Jude Freeman, 2010 Opening Ceremony - Russian Federation entering, CC BY 2.0 , 11. Christophe95, 1964 Winter Olympics medals, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 12. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 13. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 14. PxHere.com (Public Domain), 15. PxHere.com (Public Domain), 16. Nephron, Mucinous lmp ovarian tumour intermed mag, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 17. Pixabay.com (Public Domain), 18. MaxPixel.net (Public Domain), 19. Casey Fleser, Stunned, CC BY 2.0, 20. MaxPixel.net (Public Domain), 21. Ilikeliljon, 1968 Mexico city Olympic Games, Gold Medal, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 22. Intropin, Furosemide (1), CC BY 3.0 , 23. No machine-readable author provided. Mb.matt~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims)., 2003 Special Olympics Opening Crowd, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 24. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 25. Alex Dawson, Rome Olympics 1960 - Opening Day, CC BY-SA 2.0