Using drugs to improve performance in sport may lead to an athlete being banned. But it may also harm their general health. Sporting authorities have banned many drugs and other substances, not just because they might give an athlete an unfair advantage but also because of the wider health risks.
Why are some drugs and substances banned in sports?
So-called ‘performance-enhancing drugs’ or ‘performance and image-enhancing drugs’ are banned in sports because they could give a sportsperson an unfair advantage over other competitors.
Using drugs in sport undermines values like fair play and teamwork. When sportspeople use drugs, they not only might damage their own health, they also give sport a bad reputation and set a poor example to others.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) ‘Prohibited List’, and the authorities that enforce it (such as the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority – ASADA) aim to protect the integrity of sport and promote clean and fair competition.
What health damage can performance drugs cause?
Drugs that are banned in sport can cause several types of health problem. Their effects will depend on the type of drug; how much and how often it’s taken; and who is taking it.
Some of the more serious side effects that performance-enhancing drugs can have include:
- liver and heart problems
- prostate problems and impotence
- blood cancer
- loss of vision
- crippling arthritis
- increased levels of aggression
- stunted growth (in children and teenagers)
Other effects include (growth of breast tissue), hair loss, and numbness of the hands and feet.
Find out more here about the harmful effects of drugs in sport.
Which drugs and substances are banned?
Almost 200 substances and activities are banned by the World Anti-Doping Authority.
The main types of banned substance are:
- anabolic steroids (containing testosterone) – these are the most commonly used performance-enhancing drugs in Australia
- peptides and hormones (such as human growth hormone)
- beta-2 agonists (medicine used for asthma control)
- glucocorticoids (medicine used for asthma control)
- diuretics (medicine used for weight loss)
- illicit drugs, including
Activities that can give an athlete an unfair advantage (for example, having a blood transfusion to increase the number of red blood cells in the body) are also banned.
The a complete list of prohibited substances and methods.
Other medicines and supplements
If you play sport, it’s important to know there are also other substances, including some medicines and supplements, that are banned by sporting authorities. You might be taking some of these without realising they are banned substances – or that they contain a banned substance.
- some medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter medicines)
- some alternative medicines
- some sports and dietary supplements
If you play sport and take medicines, you can check their status at the Global Drug Reference Online (GlobalDRO) website. GlobalDRO provides information about the banned status of specific medicines based on the current WADA Prohibited List.
Note that GlobalDRO does not contain information on, or that applies to, any dietary supplements.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: March 2019