Risk taking: Athletes need to be fully informed of the dangers when they take prohibited drugs. *Photo supplied
Risk taking: Athletes need to be fully informed of the dangers when they take prohibited drugs. *Photo supplied

Sport is an integral part of society that can enrich the life of many. It goes beyond the measure of athletic excellence. 

Sport can teach us the importance of being honest, committed and playing fair — all ethical values that can be used through all walks of life.

True winners in sport achieve their goals through hard work, dedication, motivation, training and natural skill while persevering through all challenges their sport may present.

Others will choose to do whatever is necessary to help them excel and succeed in their sport. An athlete’s desire to be bigger, faster, or stronger can cause them to partake in what can become a very dangerous game — doping.

Doping is a term that refers to an athlete’s use of prohibited substances that have the ability to enhance their performance.

Doping not only contravenes the spirit of sport but can also be very detrimental to one’s health. The use of performance enhancing drugs has plagued sports over the years.  

The World Anti Doping Agency publishes a list of prohibited substances yearly that contains substances that athletes are prohibited to take unless they have a legitimate medical reason for doing so.

It is important that athletes take the time to learn about the health risks associated with performance enhancing drugs.

Following is a list of the most commonly abused prohibited substances and the possible negative health effects they may have.

Much of what is known about how some of these prohibited substances affect the body comes from observing users.

Anabolic steroids

Anabolic steroids are most commonly used to increase muscle mass and strength. They are also used to help athletes recover from intense workouts as they reduce muscle damage.

One of the greatest risks associated with anabolic steroids are that doses are usually much higher than those that are prescribed for medical reasons.

Some of the effects include:

  • Tendon rupture.
  • Liver abnormalities and tumours.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Prostate gland enlargement.
  • Aggressive behaviours, rage or violence.
  • Severe acne.

Androstenedione (aka Andro)

Androstenedione is a hormone that is usually converted to testosterone and estradiol in both men and women. It is often abused as it can allow athletes to train harder and recover more quickly. Some of the effects include:

  • Acne.
  • Shrinking of testicles.
  • Decrease in HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) which increases risk of heart attack and stroke.

Human growth hormone aka Gonadotropin

Human Growth Hormone is primarily used by athletes to increase muscle mass and performance.

Some of the effects include:

  • Muscle weakness.
  • Fluid retention.
  • Cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease – makes heart muscles thicker, weaker and/or abnormally enlarged).


Erythropoietin is a type of hormone used to treat anaemia in people with severe kidney disease. It increases the production of red blood cells and haemoglobin which results in improved movement of oxygen to the muscles.

Some of the effects include:

  • Stroke.
  • Heart attack.
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation in the lungs).
  • Death.


Diuretics change the body’s natural balance of fluids and salts (electrolytes) and can lead to dehydration if used excessively. Diuretics are often used by athletes to help them decrease fluids in their body which ultimately reduces their weight.

They can also be used by athletes attempting to dilute their urine to help them pass a drug test.

Some of the effects include:

  • Dehydration.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Drop in blood pressure.
  • Heatstroke.
  • Death.


Many athletes take nutritional supplements such as Creatine in addition to performance enhancing drugs. Many nutritional supplements are completely unregulated and marketed specifically to target athletes. The content in such nutritional supplements cannot always be established as many are deliberately or inadvertently altered. Creatine helps the body’s muscles release energy. It is often used by athletes for the short-term bursts of power that it can provide. Some of the effects include:

  • Nausea.
  • Weight gain.
  • Kidney damage.
  • Liver damage.


Some athletes may use stimulants to help rouse their central nervous system and increase their heart rate and blood pressure. In doing so stimulants can improve endurance, reduce fatigue, suppress appetite and increase alertness.

Although stimulants can boost physical performance they can also impair it as it can negatively affect an athlete’s well-being. Some of the effects include:

  • Nervousness and irritability.
  • Insomnia.
  • Dehydration.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Tremors.
  • Stroke.
  • Convulsions.
  • Heart attack.

In the end, while performance-enhancing drugs may boost one’s performance, the long-term health effects far outweigh any short-term benefits they may provide. It is vital that athletes take great care with the decisions they make and always question whether or not the consequences they may face are worth the risk.