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The Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs on Your Body

Our innate competitive drive  – at play on levels both biological and societal – can reach cutthroat levels in the world of sports. Athletes often seek every available opportunity to gain a competitive edge. With so much pressure placed on winning, shortcuts like performance-enhancing drugs begin to look appealing, despite their potentially fatal consequences.

Performance-enhancing drugs are thought to gives athletes an edge in competition, but do so with adverse health effects in the long-run. Many of these substances cause cardiovascular conditions, organ damage, tumors, and endocrine effects, all of which do more harm to the athlete than good. We broke down the effects of substances such as anabolic agents, peptide hormones, beta-2 antagonists, diuretics, stimulants, and narcotics on the body to explore how performance-enhancing drugs may actually impede performance.

The Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs on the Brain

Anabolic agents and peptide hormones can severely affect the brain. Anabolic agents such as testosterone promote muscle growth in the body. Using them can lead to increased aggressiveness and sexual appetite – also known as ’roid rage.  Post-steroid withdrawal can result in depression and, in some cases, suicidal ideation. Peptide hormones like erythropoietin (EPO) control the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen. EPO doping essentially thickens the blood – its use without close medical supervision can lead to an increased risk of blood clots and strokes.

Stimulants and narcotics can also cause other psychological effects. Stimulants, such as caffeine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine, are used to trigger responses that allow the body and mind to perform with elevated levels of focus and energy. This increase in energy can lead to nervousness and irritability. Furthermore, stimulants in the amphetamine family can have numerous pathological cardiovascular effects.

In sports, narcotics are sometimes employed to mask an athlete’s pain, and this can result in an increased pain threshold and a resulting failure to recognize injury. Certain substances also produce a false sense of invincibility, which can lead to further injury. Both stimulants and narcotics can cause dependence and addiction as well, which can further impair an athlete’s ability to perform.

The Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs on the Eyes

Human growth hormones (hGH) occur naturally in the body. They stimulate growth as well as cell production and regeneration, and they are often used in a medical setting to aid those born prematurely. An excess of hGH can lead to the development of pituitary adenoma, a slow-growing tumor arising from cells in the pituitary gland. A large pituitary adenoma can cause loss of vision when the tumor grows upward in the brain cavity and compresses the optic chiasm. Blurry vision can also occur if the tumor grows forward and suppresses an optic nerve.

Pituitary tumors and subsequent vision loss are serious side effects of misusing hGH. These represent a startling extreme of the unexpected health ramifications that abuse of performance enhancers can have. In many cases, the injury that we do to ourselves with substance abuse—performance enhancers or otherwise—follows a more indolent course or, at least, is less apparent to the user. If you’re concerned about the signs of diminished health as a result of your use of any type of substance, and want to hear more about potential recovery options, call 1-888-986-4028.

The Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs on Hair

While anabolic agents such as testosterone promote muscle growth, they also have endocrine effects. Testosterone is the main hormone in humans that produces male primary and secondary sex characteristics, like vocal cords, testicles, and body hair. An increase in testosterone in women can lead to an increase in these male characteristics, particularly hair growth on the face, stomach, and upper back.

Anabolic agents can also exaggerate male pattern baldness – in both males and females! The scalp has a high amount of androgen receptors, and male pattern baldness can be linked to anabolic agents binding to these receptors. Genetic factors can also increase susceptibility in certain individuals.

The Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs on the Heart

Peptide hormones such as EPO increase the red blood cell count, which raises the percentage of the blood composed of red blood cells. Side effects of this include the thickening of the blood, which requires the heart to pump harder and can lead to a heart attack.

Stimulants can also cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Beta-2 antagonists, drugs used to treat respiratory ailments that have effects similar to stimulants, can cause heart palpitations. Misuse of hGH can also lead to high blood pressure and, in some cases, heart failure. Narcotics, on the other hand, can decrease the heart rate, and diuretics – drugs that expel water from the body, often used by athletes who need to meet certain weight restrictions – can cause a drop in blood pressure.

The Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs on the Kidneys

A prolonged excess of hGH can lead to a functional pituitary adenoma and, subsequently a condition called acromegaly– which can cause enlarged hands, feet, and other areas of the body. This can additionally cause insulin resistance and, in some cases, Type 2 diabetes. When the body resists insulin – a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into cells – the body loses an important source of fuel. This dysfunction in blood sugar control can lead to fatigue and weight loss, both of which decrease an athlete’s performance.

The Effect of Performance-Enhancing Drugs on the Liver

High doses of anabolic agents can cause liver damage. The steroids, because of modifications that make them more bioavailable and longer-lasting, are metabolized in the digestive system, meaning they go through the liver. The anabolic agents can lead to a range of damage: everything from minor enzyme elevations to hepatic peliosis – blood-filled cavities throughout the liver – as well as liver tumors (sometimes benign, sometimes malignant).

This damage to the liver can be serious, although it is often reversible with cessation of the steroid. The state of our liver health generally provides a good overall indication of how careful we are with what we place into our bodies, including any toxic substances that we ingest. The damage that we can do to ourselves with performance-enhancing drugs and other abused substances is much more far reaching, however – affecting widely diverse organ systems as well as impacting our mental health. Numerous treatment programs are available – for you or someone close to you struggling under the weight of the compulsion to continue using drugs of any kind. Call to speak with a confidential treatment support advisor at 1-888-986-4028 for more information.

The Effect of Performance-Enhancing Drugs on the Lungs

While the blood-thickening properties of peptide hormones such as EPO can lead to heart attacks, thickened blood can also raise body’s risk for blood clots, which can lead to pulmonary embolism – a blockage in the artery of the lungs, usually caused by a blood clot in the deep veins of the leg. Termed deep venous thromboses (DVTs), these clots can be quite large, and can break loose – traveling to and becoming stuck in the pulmonary blood vessels, preventing normal circulation and oxygen exchange in the portion of lung that is affected.

Dehydration caused by water-expelling diuretics can also lead to blood clots. Without enough fluids, the blood vessels narrow and the blood thickens, which – again – can lead to blood clots.

The Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs on the Reproductive System and Secondary Sexual Characteristics

Anabolic agents bind glucocorticoid, progesterone, and estrogen receptors, leading to altered hormone levels. In males, an altered level of testosterone often means the development of breast tissue and inhibited function of the testes, as well as a reduced sperm count. In women, an increase in testosterone increases male primary and secondary sex characteristics, which can lead to the deepening of the voice, the growth of the clitoris, and abnormal menstrual cycles.

The Effects of Performance-Enhancing Drugs on the Skin and Bones

Steroids can affect the skin and the bones. Skin – especially the face and scalp – has a high level of androgen receptors. Anabolic agents are known to prompt an increase in sebum production, which can cause cystic acne. Anabolic agents also lead to a premature closure of the growth centers of bones in adolescents, which can lead to stunted growth.

As mentioned, excess hGB can lead to pituitary adenoma and acromegaly.  Acromegaly causes changes in the body that lead to disfigurement. Part of these changes involves a thickening of cartilage, which can lead to debilitating arthritis.

Hope for Those Struggling with Performance-Enhancing Drug Abuse

Performance-enhancing drugs may appear to elevate an athlete’s abilities in the short term, but they inevitably lead to serious health issues that can end an athlete’s career. When an unhealthy amount of pressure is placed on winning, athletes may feel obligated to perform at unrealistic levels, leading them down the dangerous road of doping. If you or someone you know is suffering from steroid abuse, contact today to find treatment resources that will meet your needs.

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