Sports, use of performance enhancing drugs and addiction. A conceptual and epidemiological review

Sport, dopage et addictions. Délimitations conceptuelles et approche épidémiologique à partir des données de la littérature = Sports, use of performance enhancing drugs and addiction. A conceptual and epidemiological review / Pascale Franques, Marc Auriacombe, Jean Tignol. - (Annales de médecine interne 152 (2001) 7 Suppl. (November); p. 2S37-2S49)


Background. – Both the general public and non-sports medicine health professionals have recently been made aware of a large use of performance enhancing drugs among sports practicing subjects. It has been suggested that this behavior is similar to that of substance dependence. Also some have reported that practice of a sport could be in itself an addictive behavior.

Objective. – The main objective was to address the following question: is performance enhancing drug use in sports an addictive behavior?

Methodology. – We first reviewed the definition of performance enhancing drug use in sports and the diagnostic criteria of
substance dependence as they are currently accepted and attempted to determine a possible common factor. Secondly we reviewed epidemiological data from the literature according to three approaches:
a) Epidemiological studies of substance use among sport practicing and non-practicing adolescents and young adults;
b) Prevalence studies of dependence syndrome to performance enhancing drugs among performance enhancing drug users;
c) Studies of previous history of sport activities among in-treatment substance dependent subjects.

Results. – Use of performance enhancing drugs is an important and increasing phenomenon among adolescents. It is sometimes associated to risk taking behaviors for health (syringe use and sharing). Competition participants are at increased risk (up to 20% according to some authors) and some substances (anabolic steroids) are also used by non-sports practicing individuals. It has not been shown that sports practicing subjects were more at risk of using addictive substances compared to non-sports practicing subjects. It is not established that practice of a sport is by itself a risk factor for substance use. However, it could be that a subgroup of individuals that practice certain types of sports in an intensive way, that use both performance enhancing drugs and addictive substances and that engage in health risk taking behaviors have an increased risk for developing a dependence syndrome to both addictive and performance enhancing drugs. This sub-group is even more at risk because some performance enhancing drugs (anabolic steroids) could increase the risk for occurrence of a substance dependence syndrome through neurobiological actions. Yet, the few available clinical studies show that at most only half of regular users actually meet criteria for dependence. Also, one study has reported an overrepresentation of sports professionals among patients seeking treatment for heroin addiction.

Conclusion. – The large majority of sports practicing subjects have no dependence to either performance enhancing or addictive drugs. However, a subgroup of individuals that practice sports intensely and makes use of both addictive and performance enhancing drugs appear to be at increased risk for developing a substance dependence syndrome.

Original document


1 January 2012
Auriacombe, Marc
Franques, Pascale
Tignol, Jean
Other organisations
Centre hospitalier universitaire de Bordeaux - Bordeaux University Hospital
Université Bordeaux Segalen - Bordeaux Segalen University
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Addiction / dependence
Substance use research
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Scientific article
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Date generated
30 August 2021
Date of last modification
1 September 2021
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