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What Should We Tell Our Kids About Performance Enhancing Drugs?

Performance enhancing drugs in sportsEveryone (including our kids) has heard about the champion cyclist who finally admits to using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), allegations of professional football players using PEDs to speed their recovery from injury, and professional baseball players who "juice-up" in order to throw and hit better.

We know 2 things for certain:

  • As long as there are championships to be won or millions of dollars to be made, some athletes will be tempted to use PEDs.
  • The "cheaters" will always be one step ahead of the "testers."

So what do we tell our kids about PEDs? It is important that we give our children factual information about PEDs, but also state very clearly how we as parents stand on the use of illegal substances to improve performance. A science-based and concise description of PEDs and their hazards is the Athlete’s Handbook available from the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Some questions you and your youngster may have about PEDs: What makes a PED illegal?

  • The substance has been shown in scientific studies to actually enhance performance, giving the user an unfair advantage over his/her competitors.
  • Use of the drug is illegal for other than approved medical uses.
  • The drug is known to cause serious side effects or is considered dangerous.

What makes a PED not illegal?

  • The substance really isn’t a PED, that is, it doesn’t enhance performance. Most substances in this category are dietary supplements, like protein powders, yohimbine and deer antler spray. Other substances, like creatine and andro, might enhance performance a little but their effect is inconsistent.
  • The substance is not considered hazardous. The exception being some supplements that contain ingredients that cause drug tests to be positive, like caffeine or ephedra. Youngsters need to know that just because a supplement is not banned doesn’t mean it can’t harm them. Unfortunately, because supplements are not FDA regulated, the label might not always tell you everything that’s in it.

What are the problems associated with using PEDs?

  • Physical injury or illness as side effects of these drugs
  • Loss of playing status (eligibility), loss of medals, awards, if you’re caught
  • Police record of unlawful behavior
  • Loss of scholarship opportunities

Use of PEDs by young athletes is as much an ethical issue as it is a medical issue. Like most high-risk behaviors in youth, prevention can be achieved by:

  • Talking to your youngster regularly about PEDs — answer questions, offer facts.
  • Stating clearly and plainly how you as a parent feel about PEDs — if you think it’s cheating, say so. If you don’t want them using these substances, make that very clear. Being ambivalent about PEDs as a parent often sends a signal to a youngster that it’s OK to use them.
  • Giving the young athlete healthy alternatives to PEDs. Emphasize the basic: sound training, good nutrition and plenty of rest.
Dr. Jorge Gomez, Sports Medicine Specialist — West Campus