Why Teen Athletes Use Performance-Enhancing Drugs—and How We Can Stop It

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Featuring Kristin Wilson, National Director for Clinical Outreach at Newport Academy

PED use in early adolescence

When we hear about the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), it’s usually via media coverage of Olympic athletes and other celebrities. PED use often occurs in early adolescence. The kids who are striving for the perfect grades or to perform athletically in high school are vulnerable. Their idea of self-worth is “I’m only as good as my last swim event.” Or, “I’m only as good as my last grade on my test.” That constant seeking to please other people leads to low self-esteem. Therefore, this can lead to PED use. Furthermore, it can lead to substance abuse, mental health disorders, and eating disorders.

But with PED use—as with mental health disorders, there’s typically an underlying issue. These can be low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety. If we can tap into it psychologically, we find this idea that “I’m not good enough.”

Athletes are put under pressure, even at the high school level. These are teens who are looking to please others in order to gain self-esteem. Consequently, it is no coincidence that the greatest increase in PED use is in sports where the emphasis is on the individual, as opposed to team sports.

Long-term health effects of PEDs

Athletes use a variety of types of PEDs, picking and choosing based on the athletic endeavor.  Therefore, the long-term effects of these drugs are unclear and vary widely. They can be as simple as thickening the blood, or result in heart attack, pulmonary embolism, and long-term joint damage.

Rebuilding self-esteem and self-worth

At Newport Academy, we help teens get to the underlying issues. We teach them how to deal with low self-esteem without turning to destructive behaviors. We work on the underlying mental health, trauma and attachment wounds. We encourage our teens to find their passion. Teens can ground themselves in something they’re passionate about.

 

This article was adapted from an August 2016 interview with Kristin on ESPN Radio’s New York Sports and Beyond,. Segment titled: “The Dangers of Young Athletes and Doping.”

Listen to the entire interview, which begins at 24:20.

 

2017 Addendum:

In the latest statistics from the federal government’s Monitoring the Future annual study, researchers examine the use of performance-enhancing substances in high schools. The survey data includes over 67,000 students. Overall, close to 7 percent of students report trying anabolic steroids at least once. This is a definite increase from the 5 percent reported in 2012.

Even scarier, use of synthetic HGH nearly doubled to 11 percent of high school students. Without a doubt, students in American high schools do not only use drugs to get high. In addition, they use drugs to achieve. Most likely, the students do not see the long-term health consequences of these drugs. They simply are not aware of or they deny the risks.

Whether in academics or sporting events, performance-enhancing drugs are truly dangerous. In her outreach efforts, Kristin Wilson continues to see this concern among parents. Indeed, these parents are reaching out for qualified professional help.  Hence, Newport Academy offers programs to address this growing concern.