Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Drugs in sport

3-minute read

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:

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.

They include:

  • 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.

More information

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Status of asthma medication in sport | Sport Integrity Australia

Status of asthma medication in sport Therapeutic Use Exemption About the Australian Sports Drug Medical Advisory Committee Therapeutic Use Exemption Process In-advance Therapeutic Use Exemption Retroactive Therapeutic Use Exemption Medical Evidence Needed Status of asthma medication in sport Frequently Asked Questions ASDMAC Privacy Policy Check Your Substances Athlete Testing Guide Tell us where you are (whereabouts) Sports Integrity e-Book

Read more on Sport Integrity Australia website

Therapeutic Use Exemption | Sport Integrity Australia

Therapeutic Use Exemption Therapeutic Use Exemption About the Australian Sports Drug Medical Advisory Committee Therapeutic Use Exemption Process In-advance Therapeutic Use Exemption Retroactive Therapeutic Use Exemption Medical Evidence Needed Status of asthma medication in sport Frequently Asked Questions ASDMAC Privacy Policy Check Your Substances Athlete Testing Guide Tell us where you are (whereabouts) Sports Integrity e-Book

Read more on Sport Integrity Australia website

Education | Sport Integrity Australia

Education National Integrity Framework Anti-Doping Education Health Effects of Doping Intelligence Match-fixing Safeguarding Sports Wagering Research

Read more on Sport Integrity Australia website

Health Effects of Doping | Sport Integrity Australia

Health Effects of Doping National Integrity Framework Anti-Doping Education Health Effects of Doping Intelligence Match-fixing Safeguarding Sports Wagering Research

Read more on Sport Integrity Australia website

Sports Integrity e-Book | Sport Integrity Australia

Sports Integrity e-Book Therapeutic Use Exemption Check Your Substances Athlete Testing Guide Tell us where you are (whereabouts) Sports Integrity e-Book

Read more on Sport Integrity Australia website

Asthma Issues: sport, travel, and pregnancy - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Many patients with asthma run into trouble when they play sport. They may also be concerned about the use of asthma medications when pregnant or travelling.

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Athlete Testing Guide | Sport Integrity Australia

Athlete Testing Guide Therapeutic Use Exemption Check Your Substances Athlete Testing Guide Tell us where you are (whereabouts) Sports Integrity e-Book File/s

Read more on Sport Integrity Australia website

Pieds - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) are substances taken by people with the intention of changing their physical appearance and to enhance their sporting performance.

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

Check your substances on Global DRO | Sport Integrity Australia

Check your substances on Global DRO Therapeutic Use Exemption Check Your Substances Athlete Testing Guide Tell us where you are (whereabouts) Sports Integrity e-Book

Read more on Sport Integrity Australia website

Performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) are substances taken by people who would like to change their physical appearance, enhance their sporting performance, or both. There are several types of PIEDs, including anabolic steroids, peptides, and hormones.

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo