With the Rio Olympics having just ended, and with competing athletes getting caught every day for using performance-enhancing drugs (just look at the Russian athletes who were caught), the spotlight is on doping right now.
Of course, Olympians aren’t the only professional athletes who dope. Lets not forget the MLB’s Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez scandals. Not only does doping extend beyond the Olympics, it has also reached the locker rooms of amateur athletes.
According to the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, 1 to 3 million people in the U.S. has used anabolic steroids. But elite athletes only count for a small fraction of that population, according to Endocrine Reviews.
We’ll break down the numbers for you, but let’s first address what doping is exactly.
Doping refers to World Anti-Doping Agency-banned drugs and techniques used to enhance performance. “There are literally hundreds of known doping substances and an equal number of designer, veterinary, and yet to be identified drugs and techniques abused in sports today,” says a study published in World Psychiatry in 2007. There are nine categories of prohibited substances, like those specifically designed to enhance performance, such as anabolic steroids (which promote muscle growth in athletes who need extreme power and strength); hormones like human growth hormone; and stimulants including cocaine and narcotics. Methods considered doping include manipulating or tampering with blood.
While doping is common amongst both sexes, it is more prevalent with men. A survey published in the Journal of the International Society reported that the typical anabolic-androgenic steroid (AAS) user is a “well-educated 30-year-old male who wants to build muscles and strength and increase his physical attractiveness,” having nothing to do with being a “cheating” athlete. This study was conducted on 2,000 male steroid users who were about 30 years old, well educated, and earned an above-average income in a white-collar job. None of these participants were motivated by competition.
“Other motivating factors for taking anabolic steroids were increasing confidence, decreasing body fat, improving mood, and attracting a sexual partner,” the researchers stated.
See? No gold medals or trophies in sight.
In a recent study of 50 males, half of whom were pro athletes and half were amateur athletes, doping was admitted only in the group of amateur athletes—of course that could just mean they are more likely to admit to it, but it does show that amateur athletes are just as, if not more, likely to use performance-enhancing drugs.
Not convinced? In another survey of 363 men involved in strength training activities on an amateur level (like body-building), 5.23 percent reported using AAS at least once. In line with the previous study, all of them were above 18 years of age, exercised often and were educated enough to know the damaging consequences of doping drug use.
And recreational doping is not slowing down. In the European Union, the United States and Australia it has increased dramatically in the past 20 years, from about 5 to over 20 percent, regardless of the serious steroid side effects.
So, next time you’re participating in a fun run or local triathlon, don’t be surprised if you hear of a doping scandal. And if you feel you have an unfair disadvantage, feel free to report it. Some amateurs have asked officials from USA Cycling to boost antidoping measures within their ranks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“I’ve received hundreds of emails saying, ‘I don’t feel like I’m competing in a clean field,’” Derek Bouchard-Hall, CEO of USA Cycling, told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s a huge membership concern for us.” The WADA plans to increase the testing of amateur athletes. It will likely start with only the elite amateur athletes, as supplies are limited and costs of testing are high, but it’s head start (pun intended).