What are Performance Enhancing Drugs?

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  • Originally Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Revised By: John Allen
  • Edited By: R. Kayne
  • Last Modified Date: 11 February 2019
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Performance enhancing drugs are substances that increase a person's physical abilities and stamina. These drugs are taken for a variety of reasons, including to build muscle mass, dull pain, lower stress, and reduce weight. Abusing them can cause severe side effects, however, so most drugs are available only by prescription if at all. A great deal of controversy surrounds these drugs, and their use is a major concern among professional sporting associations worldwide.


The use of enhancements dates as far back as ancient Greece, where writings refer to "performance potions" and "performance elixirs." These were given to athletes in preparation for major games. It was not until the latter part of the 20th century that technology advanced enough to screen athletes regularly and enforce bans on the unfair use of steroids and other substances.

Performance enhancing drugs have a variety of uses, each intended to improve a specific physical attribute, such as strength or endurance. Some can even cover the traces of other drugs that are in an athlete's system. It is not uncommon for a person using performance enhancements to take a daily "cocktail" of different drugs.

Most performance enhancing drugs are taken orally as pills. Others may be injected, applied as a cream, or taken in powder form mixed with health shakes. The use of many of these substances can be detected through blood or urine tests.



Anabolic steroids are a type of performance enhancing drug that builds muscle mass. They are a hormone that increases the appetite, bone growth, and protein synthesis needed for the rapid development of muscle tissue. Anabolic steroids have a number of serious side effects, including a lowering of the voice, increased hair growth, and a shrinking of the testicles in men.

Powerful diuretics — which increase the frequency of urination — are used to artificially speed weight loss to enhance performance. Users can suffer from troubling side effects, including light-headedness and even fainting spells. Particularly controversial is the fact that users are often young people in sports where weight can be a critical factor, such as gymnastics or wrestling.

Performance enhancing drugs are not limited to sports, however. Beta blockers, a drug primarily used to manage heart problems, but which also lowers the effects of stress hormones, has found relatively widespread use among musicians. These drugs lessen the body's "fight or flight" response, which can arise under the stress of a concert or audition. Taking the drug helps musicians manage their stress and approach their performances with confidence.


There are a number of significant questions that accompany the use of performance enhancing drugs. Many people feel that the drugs give an unfair advantage to their users. Others point to the potential side effects, and claim that overuse may cause significant health problems. In addition, some point out the role model factor: young people often look to professional athletes as role models, and, if an athlete uses enhancements, the young people may be more likely to follow.

On the other hand, many people are willing to risk the possible side effects in order to obtain peak performance. The use of performance enhancing drugs is so widespread, it has been argued, that it would be impossible to regulate them effectively. Still others raise the point that other forms of technology — the use of high-tech materials in shoes, for example — already give certain athletes an edge, so performance enhancing drugs should enjoy the same allowance.


Despite the arguments in favor of these drugs, the use of a wide variety of performance enhancements is banned in professional sports. The term "doping" is used to describe the use of such drugs or other banned enhancements, like blood doping. Most sports associations have doping agencies whose sole purpose is to test for performance enhancing drugs and ban substances thought to provide an unfair advantage.

As technologies continue to develop, however, the job of determining whether an athlete has taken performance enhancing drugs becomes more and more difficult. In 1999, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was created to better coordinate drug testing and punishment. WADA is dedicated to tracking new drugs and developing tests to prevent them from reaching widespread use.


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Discuss this Article

Post 137

What is the punishment for using these drugs? What do they do to the body? Can it be fixed?

Post 110
Lance Armstrong got all his Tour De France medals taken away for using performance enhancing drugs. He also lost most of his sponsorships. How do you think history will remember him?
Post 109
@johnrss - I agree. And they always say that PEDS are not so much for getting bigger and stronger, but more for overcoming pain and injuries faster.

Sport steroids are really just a way to manage the toll of sports. Tommy John surgery is no different. And all those guys get shots and take pills for various aches and pains all throughout the season.

Post 108
There has been a really interesting debate going on around the use of performance enhancing drugs. At the same time that athletics at all levels, from professional to high school, are becoming more and more sensitive and restrictive about the use of PEDs, sports medicine is advancing and becoming more widespread.

The best example I can think of is the Tommy John surgery that many major league pitchers use. The surgery involves taking a tendon from elsewhere in the body and implanting it in the elbow. That seems like a performance enhancer to me, but it is completely accepted.

Post 105

These drugs could be useful for military activity, but should be banned to athletes for use.

Post 94

Athletes should not be allowed to use these types of drugs.

Post 48

Very helpful info for my school project!

Post 41

I learned that you can overdose on vitamins just as well as you can overdose on regular drugs.

Post 34

People who use this are stupid because it ruins lives and careers.

Post 33

Great post about performance enhancing drugs! I'm going to share it on Fb without side effects of steroids friends.

Post 30

When an individual has medical proof of low testosterone levels, it seems to me there should be some way of approving its use to a point. Having low levels gives the rest an advantage, just in a different way. I know it's a slippery slope -- just throwing it out there.

Post 20

steroid enhancements are used and some people believe the side effects to be dangerous to both yourself and others around you. me, i think the growth in the market is astonishing. i think they should be made available on the wider market. personally, i think they are great.

Post 19

I am doing a practice research. this is a very good site for this type of activity.

Post 18

steroids are not as dangerous as you guys think. if taken at the right dosage after extensive research as to what type of steroid is right for you they can be used effectively and safely. know your facts and don't use them in sport. it's an unfair advantage. if it's permitted then go ahead because everyone can have the same advantage as you

Post 14

why are some reasons why performance drugs should not be used?

Post 11

you can be banned for life, but as ben cousins has been. if you get rehab you can come back if the committee votes.

Post 10

performance enhancing drugs like this could be legal in some sports, i heard. is that true?

Post 8


Post 4

what are the punishments for using performance-enhancing drugs?

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