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Adolescent Athletes & Performance-Enhancing Drugs/Supplements

If you're the mother or father of an adolescent athlete, your life is probably as busy as your son's or daughter’s. It's important, however, to make time to talk to your adolescent about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs and supplements. By setting rules and consequences and explaining the possible health effects of drug use, you can help your adolescent steer clear of performance-enhancing drugs and supplements.

For adolescents, the most common performance-enhancing drugs and supplements include the following:
  • Steroid precursors, such as androstenedione ("andro") and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), are substances that the body converts into anabolic steroids. They're used to increase muscle mass. Most steroid precursors are illegal without a prescription. DHEA, however, is still available in over-the-counter preparations. Side effects of steroid precursors are similar to those for steroids.
  • Creatine is a naturally occurring compound in the body that's also sold as an over-the-counter supplement. It's primarily used to enhance recovery after a workout and increase muscle mass and strength. Creatine is popular with athletes who participate in football, gymnastics, hockey and wrestling. Side effects include weight gain, nausea, muscle cramps and kidney damage. 
  • Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the hormone testosterone, used to build muscle and increase strength. They're popular with football players and weightlifters. Use of anabolic steroids can cause heart and liver damage, can halt bone growth, and can result in a permanently short stature.

Some adolescents experiment with performance-enhancing drugs as a way to cope with insecurities, difficulties fitting in with a peer group, or a desire for independence. Others may be influenced by societal pressure to win at all costs.

Common risk factors for adolescent use of performance-enhancing drugs and supplements include:
  • Pressure from moms and dads or peers regarding weight or muscles
  • Being male (males are more likely to use performance-enhancing drugs and supplements than are females)
  • Negative body image or a tendency to compare one's appearance with others
  • Desire to gain muscle mass or strength

You can take various steps to prevent your adolescent from using performance-enhancing drugs and supplements or supplements. For example:
  1. Monitor your adolescent's purchases. Check the ingredients of any over-the-counter products your adolescent uses. Watch for performance-enhancing drug paraphernalia, (e.g., vials, re-sealable plastic bags, hypodermic needles, etc.).
  2. Get involved. Attend games and practices. Encourage your adolescent's coaches, school and sports organizations to discourage the use of performance-enhancing drugs and supplements. Reassure your adolescent of your love and support, regardless of his or her competitive performance.
  3. Discuss ethics and proper training. Remind your adolescent that using a performance-enhancing drug is similar to cheating and, more importantly, could lead to serious health problems. Explain that a healthy diet and rigorous training are the true keys to athletic performance.
  4. Be clear about your expectations. Tell your adolescent that you expect him or her to avoid performance-enhancing drugs and supplements. Set rules and explain the consequences of breaking them (e.g., if your adolescent uses performance-enhancing drugs and supplements, he or she has to quit the team).

Warning signs of performance-enhancing drug use:
  • Needle marks in the buttocks or thighs
  • Increased acne and facial bloating
  • Enlarged breasts in males or smaller breasts in females
  • Changes in body build (e.g., muscle growth, rapid weight gain, development of the upper body)
  • Behavioral, emotional or psychological changes (e.g., increased aggressiveness)

If you suspect that your adolescent is using performance-enhancing drugs or supplements, talk to him or her. Encourage your adolescent to be honest with you. If your adolescent admits to using performance-enhancing drugs or supplements, encourage him or her to stop immediately and offer a reminder of the health risks. Make an appointment for your adolescent to see his or her doctor for a medical evaluation and counseling. Consider informing your adolescent's coach, so he or she is aware of the problem. In addition, be sure to tell your adolescent that you're disappointed and enforce the consequences that you've established (e.g., quitting the team). Most importantly, emphasize the healthy alternatives to achieving his or her goals.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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