Coping by doping? A qualitative inquiry into permitted and prohibited substance use in competitive rugby

Coping by doping? A qualitative inquiry into permitted and prohibited substance use in competitive rugby / Faye F. Didymus, Susan H. Backhouse. - (Psychology of Sport and Exercise 49 (2020) 101680 (9 March)


Despite a growing body of literature examining the social psychology of doping in sport, stressors and coping as potential doping risk and or protective factors have received scant attention. The aim of this study was to explore permitted and prohibited substances when coping with stressors among a sample of rugby players.

Underpinned by our relativist ontology and our constructionist epistemological position, we conducted a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews.

Following criterion-based sampling, we interviewed three women and eight men (Mage = 22.64, SD = 2.66 years) who were competing in rugby league (n = 7) or rugby union (n = 4) at national level one or above in the United Kingdom. We recursively used six phases of reflexive thematic analysis to analyze the data, and enhanced rigor by focusing on a worthy topic, coherence, rich rigor, credibility, and making a significant contribution.

The sampled players used permitted and prohibited substances to cope with stressors (e.g., injury, pressure to perform, selection) and perceived these substances to be helpful during injury rehabilitation; to facilitate sleep, performance, recovery, and selection; and to adjust bodyweight and composition. The health risks of permitted and prohibited substances, anti-doping rules, parents, and the athlete’s persona had both protective and vulnerability roles.

The findings highlight the rugby players’ diminished capacities to anticipate, cope with, resist, and recover from the surroundings, opportunities, and conditions that promote potentially harmful permitted and prohibited substance use in rugby. Collective and coordinated action should be taken to reduce player vulnerability.


Research / Study
9 March 2020
Backhouse, Susan H.
Didymus, Fay F.
United Kingdom
Rugby (WR) - World Rugby
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Leeds Beckett University (LBU)
Medical terms
Substance use research
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24 March 2020
Date of last modification
11 May 2022
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