Drug abuse among athletes

Other Names:
Doping in sport

Doping is a fraudulent method of obtaining an advantage over sports competitors and it is the cause of accidents that are often severe and sometimes fatal. Some athletes may use certain chemical substances, particularly hormone derivatives and stimulants, to artificially and temporarily increase their natural capacity. Such drugs are banned, mainly because of their potential harmful effects on health, but also because they are likely to endanger the generally accepted terms on which loyalty to sport is based.

The problem of doping has existed as long as sport has been known as a social phenomenon. The first recorded instances in connection with the ancient Olympic Games are noted by Philostratus and Galerius as having occurred in the 3rd century BC. The incredible number of small statues of Jupiter found around the ancient sports arenas bears witness to a desire to obtain the god's pardon for some contravention of the rules, and is an indication of the scale of the phenomenon.

A wide variety of drugs have been used, either singly or in combination, including: digitalis (-in), to slow down the heart (a champion normally has a congenitally slow pulse rate); strychnine, ephedrin and caffeine, to delay the onset of fatigue; and anorexic drugs, to aid an athlete to lose weight so that he can get into a lower weight group. In most common use, however, are amphetamines and related drugs, which are taken as stimulants; or tranquillisers, which include barbiturates and meprobromate, to combat anxiety, particularly in shooting competitions. Even strong analgesic drugs such as morphine or dextromonoramide (palfium) may be used to reduce pain due to excessive effort, as in cycling, or due to injury, as in boxing. The ease with which chemical tests for doping can be made has tended considerably to restrict the use of these drugs, but in recent times they have been replaced by the corticoids (cortisone affects the cerebral nerve cells and also plays a role in resisting stress, thereby enabling competitors to maintain long periods of effort); and especially by the anabolic steroids, which by synthesizing the tissue substances, particularly proteins, promote the growth of muscle volume when taken during training. The latter substances are sometimes known as 'muscle fertiliser'.

Drugs used may be pain-killers which give rise to euphoria, and suppress the sensation of fatigue which is, physiologically, a danger sign. The athlete surpasses himself - which is the object he is aiming for - but he has made too great an effort and thereby suffers from acute overstrain. In other cases, in a cycle race for example, euphoria makes the athlete oblivious to danger, and reflex changes (or more serious mental disorders) may lead to serious accidents. Finally, amphetamines contribute to the development of hyperthermia which can result in heat-stroke, sudden collapse during a race, psychological disorders, heart failure and coma. The use of corticoids can lead to duodenal ulcers, oedema, intermittent or premature heartbeats, osteoporosis, and mental troubles. Continued heavy dosing with anabolic steroids can lead to aggressive character modifications, hypertension, hypertrophy of the prostate (with a risk of cancer), and alterations in the liver - in some cases even to adenomas or to cancer of the liver. Testosterone, which is a natural anabolic hormone, may lead to sterility. There is also a risk of virilism in the sportsman or arrest of growth in adolescents.


In 1960, during the Olympic Games in Rome, different sources confirm that a cyclist died as a result of taking amphetamines. Since then there have been numerous doping suspicions and claims. In 1964, at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, some doping controls were set up. However, doping in sport has not diminished but, on the contrary, has expanded at a breathtaking pace in professional and elite sports circles.


The desire to win at all costs drives some to turn to illegal and totally unfair means in order to ensure that the athletes in their charge gain an advantage over their rivals. As means of detection have improved, they now attempt to cheat scientifically by artificially inducing natural physiological reactions, or by attempting with various tricks to hide the evidence of these manipulations. Such behaviour makes a mockery of the very essence of sport, and of the soul of what our predecessors, like ourselves, consider to be sacrosanct ideals: the inner desire to surpass one's own limits, the social need to compete with others, to find one's identity within society and to develop at all levels.

Narrower Problems:
Abuse of amphetamines
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
16.04.2018 – 16:13 CEST