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Are Performance-Enhancing Drugs Dangerous for Teenagers?

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on February 8, 2023

Many professional athletes use performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). PEDs greatly enhance athletic performance. When some athletes use these drugs and others don’t, the playing field suddenly is not level any more. In 1999, the World Anti-Doping Agency was founded, which helped develop a “code” of substances banned in sports. By 2007, more than 600 sports organizations had adopted some form of this code. Since then, more and more drugs are added to the code every year.


The reality is that drugs really can help your athletic performance–but not without side effects. Some professional athletes care more about winning the gold medal or championship than the long-term effects of these drugs. Even athletes who don’t compete in sports at a professional level may use substances such as steroids to enhance their performance and get their dream body. 


Teenagers are very impressionable. Let’s say your son wants to bulk up but doesn’t feel like putting in the hard work and effort. He may discover steroids as a shortcut. Steroid use is, in fact, prevalent in teenagers–as many as 1 in 20 teenagers admit to using “roids” to increase muscle mass. But the side effects of steroids and similar drugs are very detrimental, especially at a young age. Some side effects of anabolic steroids in males include:

  • Reduced sperm count
  • Infertility
  • Shrunken testicles
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Baldness
  • Breast development
  • Increased risk of prostate cancer
  • Severe acne
  • Stomach pain
  • “Roid rage”


And both males and females who abuse steroids may suffer from: 


  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Liver or kidney problems or failure
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) 
  • Blood clots 
  • Fluid retention
  • High cholesterol 
  • Diabetes 


Some red flags that your teenager may be abusing PEDs include:


  • Behavioral, emotional, or psychological changes 
  • Changes in body build, including muscle growth, rapid weight gain, and development of the upper body
  • Increased acne
  • Needle marks in the buttocks or thighs
  • Enlarged breasts, male-pattern baldness, and shrinking of the testicles in boys
  • Smaller breasts, voice deepening, and excessive growth of body hair in girls

What can you do if you think your teen may be abusing performance-enhancing drugs? 


Here are a few topics to get the conversation started:


  • Talk to them about the serious health effects of these substances. The possibility of health problems in the future is hard for teens to understand, but it’s certainly worth a try. 
  • Explore where your teen is getting the PEDs. Many PEDs must be prescribed by a doctor, so there are serious consequences involved if they are getting them illegally.
  • Explain that using PEDs is cheating, and it would be much more rewarding to become a true athlete through rigorous training. 


If they still aren’t convinced, then you may need to take further steps. Force your teen to quit his or her sports team, or check your teenager’s room for recent purchases of  medications. If they are still using PEDs despite all your efforts, you will need to make an appointment for them to see a counselor. 


But that’s a drastic measure which you probably won’t need to take. Sit down with your teen, have a heart-to-heart conversation, and gently convince them that drugs are not the answer. It may not be easy at first, but with enough time, you can help your kid grow into the athlete that he or she wants to be.


Written by Natan Rosenfeld

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