Protecting Our Kids from Drug Abuse in Sport

By freelance contributor, Helen Brunt

People who are involved in amateur and professional sport alike know what it means to persevere, prevail, and reinvent to achieve the ultimate goal and rise above the competition. Even at an early age, the desire to obtain victory and succeed in sport as both team member and individual athlete is irresistible for those with a competitive fire burning within, and as the skill level and talent for young athletes continues to raise ever higher, more and more adolescents are feeling the pressure of making it into the team or getting on the podium. Sometimes the urge to succeed is so great that kids sacrifice time, energy, and health, and the path to attainable victory through performance enhancing drugs becomes inevitable. As parents, teachers, coaches and peers, it’s important to do what we can to encourage a balanced lifestyle where the temptation for victory does not override the integrity of the sport itself.

An Increasingly Troubling Issue

Drug abuse in sport is hardly a new phenomenon, and its impact has changed the social landscape of scandalized sports like professional cycling which is still recovering from the throes of doping and misconduct. But the idea that it could affect the seemingly innocent lives of young athletes is almost too unbelievable to comprehend; this is a time of life where sports should not bear the kind of pressure which drives such a level of desperate measure. But performance-enhancing drugs in and of themselves are not necessarily a “desperate measure” for some, making them even more potentially dangerous; for some individuals, they may be perceived as simply another advantage to be gained. During an age like adolescence and teens where drugs in general become easily involved, it should never be assumed that youth who are pursuing their passion on a competitive level will always resist the temptation to up their game or bulk up their body image.[i]

Understandably, the short-term and long-term effects of taking performance enhancing drugs can be devastating. Hormone imbalance, blood clotting, high blood pressure, liver damage, and other ailments can occur as a result of taking steroids or creatine.[ii] But it is not only performance enhancers which pose a threat – even over the counter medication can present a risk. The number of teens abusing painkillers is becoming increasingly worrying each year, not only leading to long-term organ damage but also functioning as a precursor to illegal drugs like heroin which provide a strong alternative. As young athletes train harder, eat less, sleep less and work longer hours, their bodies – which are already undergoing a difficult transformation – experience considerable strain. Painkillers quickly become a common turn-to for many youngsters, which not only cause severe addiction and internal damage but mask symptoms of physical injuries which could permanently hinder their performance in sport.

Opening up Discussion

Obtaining medication and performance enhancers for teens is easier than many parents might think – and because youngsters know that using is not permitted, they are careful to keep signs of use hidden where possible.[iii] This applies to drugs in any context, but it also makes one question how the dialogue and ideology which surrounds sport – particularly at an early level – can be changed to help combat this. It’s not only important to have open, honest discussions about abusing drugs which address legitimate concerns and consequences, but people must examine the balance between healthy competition and too much pressure. Without question, sport will always be extremely pressure-driven, especially at an early level for those seeking a prospective career in the field. And while winning a victory can never be undermined, it is the integrity of the sport itself – team work, effort, practice and fun – which should be allowed to flourish rather than be overshadowed by an obsession for victory.[iv]

Sadly, drugs will always play a role where the younger population is concerned, just as they will in professional sport. But the best place to start is at home, in the classroom, and the locker room. It’s important for kids to be able to ask questions and receive informed answers as well as different perspectives (the you-must-fear-drugs-because-they-are-BAD argument doesn’t always prevail) and feel comfortable asking them. Most importantly, it’s essential that kids understand that while sport may be the be-all-or-end-all in their lives, it’s not worth the cost of their own health, and that there is more to life than achieving victory itself.

 


[i] FDA.gov. “Teens and Steroids: A Dangerous Combo”. Accessed December 22, 2014.

http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm373014.htm

 

[ii] MayoClinic.org. “Performance-enhancing drugs and teen athletes”. Accessed December 22, 2014.

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/performance-enhancing-drugs/art-20046620

 

[iii] ParentsHelpingParents.info. “Find the drugs”. Accessed December 22, 2014.

http://parentshelpingparents.info/start-here/find-the-drugs/

 

[iv] KidsHealth.org. “Taking the Pressure Off Sports Competition”. Accessed December 22, 2014.

http://kidshealth.org/kid/stay_healthy/fit/pressure.html

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