Performance enhancement drugs, oxycodone, codeine, Vicodin, painkillers, all drugs that athletes have and can become addicted to. Many athletes are often under tremendous pressure to perform at the highest level, and this pressure can lead to the use of PED’s and prescription drugs. While sports promote physical fitness, mental toughness and competition, and while all these things are good, it does not mean that they can always have good outcomes. The consequences of drug addiction can be devastating for athletes, including damage to their health, both mentally and physically, suspension from competition and even legal repercussions. The lure of instant gratification, and to meet the expectations to be able to achieve success will cause athletes to do whatever they feel is needed to achieve these things, no matter what the costs will be.

When it comes to drugs that athletes will turn to, PED’s, or performance-enhancement drugs, are the most common. The most common type of PED that athletes will use is steroids. Steroids are a drug that gets injected into one’s body. Steroids have always been frowned upon in the sports world because it is seen as cheating, which of course it is. When an athlete, who already trains every day to try to become the best at their sport, uses steroids, which strengthen muscles and reduces body fat, it impacts your image to the public and other players heavily. An example of this is former MLB superstar Barry Bonds. Before he started using steroids, Bonds was already the best player in the MLB, he won two MVPs, which are awarded to the best player in all of the sport, and three Gold Glove awards, which go to the best fielder in all of baseball. Bonds stapled himself as one of the best to do it, but once it was revealed that he was using steroids it prohibited him from making it into the hall of fame. This shows that steroids, or just PED’s in general, can extremely hurt someone’s image. Being in the hall of fame is a massive achievement for athletes of all sports, and even though Bonds was already having a hall of fame career before the steroids, he has still not been able to have the achievement of getting into the hall of fame.

Now, it is not uncommon to think that athletes only use PED’s to gain an upper hand over their opponents, or maybe even to try to secure a place on their roster. It is also common to think that athletes that aren’t the face of their sport will be the only ones to use PED’s, to try to gain that spotlight, but this is not always the case. Yes PED’s can be used to just cheat, but they can also be used as a coping mechanism. Athletes of all sports face extremely high pressure, especially during the playoffs or a big tournament. The article Athletes’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health, by Brandon T. Carreathers, states “New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez admitted to the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) that he took steroids because of the amount of pressure he felt when he arrived in Texas in 2001 (ESPN, 2009). Rodriguez is one of many athletes who turned to PEDs due to the enormous amounts of pressure.” (Carreathers, 2020). Alex Rodriguez was a world-class athlete when he played, and he is one of the best MLB players of all time, who is loved by many fans. And if a very well-known, and already great player feels the need to turn to steroids just to help him deal with the pressure, what else will athletes do to cope?

Furthermore, the pressure athletes face can come from many outlets. Whether it is from the fans, the organization that an athlete plays for, or the actual family of the athlete, it can all lead to immense amount of pressure. The same article states, “This pressure to succeed at such a high level comes from the athlete’s organizations and their families. NCAA research revealed that many Division I athletes believe their parents expected them to play at the professional level.” (Carreathers, 2020). Feeling the need to please your parents is a feeling that all people feel, but student-athletes feel it at a higher level which results in them doing whatever it takes to please their parents. Along with their parents, athletes also face pressure from the organization and the fans. Both the fans and the organization expect the athletes to play at a super high level, which could result in PED use. Also, when it comes to professional athletes, their job is to play that sport, they get paid for it, and all people need money so they can support themselves and/or their families. So athletes wouldn’t want to jeopardize their livelihood, which could result in PED use.

Moving on from PED’s, athletes can also turn to prescribed drugs to help cope. The use of prescribed drugs often comes after an injury, a very popular prescribed drug that athletes can become addicted to are painkillers, specifically Vicodin and OxyContin. Athletes will turn to these drugs as a way to help deal with the high level of competitiveness and the levels of intensity that they face. In the article Substance Abuse Concerns for Athletes After Injury, by “Michael’s House”, it states, “Erik Ainge, former backup quarterback for the New York Jets, sat out the entire 2010 football season as he recovered from a pain killer addiction that started after an injury.” (Michael’s House, 2021). Although Ainge was just a backup quarterback, he still fell victim to substance abuse. So it does not matter if you are a star athlete or just a backup, you can still become addicted to a substance all the same.

Athletes that are currently playing aren’t the only ones that can become addicted to prescribed drugs. “Michael’s House” states “In 2009, Sam Rayburn, former defensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, was taken into police custody for committing fraud or forgery to illegally obtain a controlled substance. The arrest revealed that he had a painkiller addiction that at its height reached 100 Percocets per day.” (Michael’s House, 2021). Retired athletes can become addicted just as much as athletes currently playing, and in this case, even more. Sam Rayburn admitting that he had taken 100 percocets per day shows how heavily athletes can become addicted.

On the whole, the pressure to perform at the highest level can push athletes towards the misuse and abuse of performance-enhancement drugs and prescribed drugs, which can lead to addiction and severe consequences. While sports promote positive qualities like mental toughness and competition, it is important to recognize that these qualities must be balanced with a focus on health and safety. Also, injuries in both current and retired athletes can lead to substance abuse like painkillers. Overall addiction can have devastating effects on athletes, whether it’s physical damage, mental damage or both.


Carreathers, Brandon., 2020, “Athletes’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health”

House , Michael’s. Michael’s House Treatment Centers, 17 Nov. 2021, Subsrance Abuse Concerns for Athletes After Injury

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