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

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Many drugs and other substances are banned in sport because they may give an athlete an unfair advantage.
  • Athletes might be tempted to use performance and image-enhancing drugs (PIEDs) because of a desire to win.
  • Using drugs to improve performance in sport may lead to an athlete being banned and may also harm their health.

Why are some drugs and substances banned in sports?

Sporting authorities have banned many drugs because they may give an athlete an unfair advantage. They might also cause health issues.

Using drugs in sport undermines values like fair play and teamwork. When sportspeople use drugs, they:

  • give sport a bad reputation
  • set a poor example to others
  • risk their reputation and career

Using drugs to improve performance in sport may lead to an athlete being banned and may also harm their health.

Why do people use drugs in sports?

Athletes might be tempted to use 'performance-enhancing drugs' (PEDs) or 'performance and image-enhancing drugs' (PIEDs) because of:

  • a desire to win
  • a desire for prizes and large sponsorship deals
  • social pressures to win

Health professionals advise that athletes can get their best results by:

  • having a healthy diet that meets their training needs
  • getting enough sleep
  • keeping hydrated
  • putting in lots of hard work

What types of drugs are used to enhance performance?

Drugs that can enhance someone's sporting performance are:

  • illicit and illegal drugs
  • legal drugs

Illicit and Illegal drugs

Illicit drugs include:

  • illegal drugs
  • medicines that are used for non-medical purposes
  • other substances used inappropriately (such as inhalants)

Illicit drugs fall into 3 categories:

  1. stimulants — such as amphetamines and cocaine
  2. depressants — such as heroin
  3. hallucinogens — such as LSD and magic mushrooms

Legal drugs

Some medicines and supplements are banned by sporting authorities. These include:

Commonly used medicines such as insulin, some asthma medicines and pseudoephedrine may be banned for some people because they enhance performance.

How can I check if a drug is banned?

You can check any medicines that you take at the Global Drug Reference Online (GlobalDRO) website.

GlobalDRO has information about the banned status of medicines based on the current World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List.

It has specific information on products sold in:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Note that GlobalDRO does not have information about dietary supplements.

What should I do if I need to take medicine for a health reason?

If you need the medicine for a legitimate medical reason, you may be granted a Therapeutic Use Exemption. A Therapeutic Use Exemption allows an athlete to use an otherwise banned substance.

You can find out more about how to apply on the Sport Integrity Australia website.

What health damage can performance drugs cause?

Many banned drugs are very safe when prescribed by a doctor for a specific health reason. However, these medicines are not approved for use by healthy people, in higher doses or in combination with other substances.

Stimulants

Stimulants speed up the central nervous system and may be used by athletes to reduce fatigue and increase their alertness. They include:

Health risks include:

Anabolic steroids

Anabolic steroids are natural or synthetic substances derived from the hormone testosterone. They are used to increase muscle size and strength. Health risks include:

Females may also get:

  • deepening of the voice
  • growth of hair on the face, stomach and upper back
  • changed menstrual cycle

Males may also get:

Some of these effects can be long lasting.

Human growth hormones and peptide hormones

In Australia, treatment using these substances is only allowed for medical purposes. Examples are:

  • human growth hormone (HGH)
  • insulin
  • human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG)
  • adrenocorticotrophin (ACTH)

Health risks include:

  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • heart attacks
  • thyroid problems
  • severe headaches
  • acromegaly (overgrown head, hands and feet)
  • diabetes

Blood doping and EPO

Blood doping is the use of certain techniques and substances to increase the red blood cells in your body.

Erythropoietin (EPO) is a peptide hormone that increases the number of red blood cells your body makes and can improve endurance. Health risks include:

  • blood clots
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • pulmonary embolism

Beta blockers

Beta blockers reduce the effects of adrenaline. They slow the heart rate, reducing blood pressure, anxiety and muscle tremors. This may improve the performance of athletes who need a steady hand, such as in archery, shooting, darts and golf.

Health risks include:

  • reduced blood flow to your hands and feet
  • dizziness
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • dry mouth
  • drowsiness

Diuretics

Diuretics promote loss of water from the body through urination (weeing). They may be used by athletes to reduce their weight or to flush other drugs out of the body. Health risks include:

  • dehydration through increased urination and sodium loss
  • dizziness
  • muscle cramps
  • joint conditions
  • increased blood sugar

How are drugs in sport regulated?

Sport Integrity Australia is Australia’s national anti-doping organisation. It aims to protect the integrity of sport and promote clean and fair competition. This is done by actioning anti-doping principles set out in Australian legislation and also meeting international requirements.

Sporting Integrity Australia works closely with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), an international agency set up to monitor the code.

WADA produce The World Anti-Doping Code International Standard Prohibited List, which lists all banned substances. The list is updated each year. The banned substances include:

  • anabolic steroids
  • peptide hormones and growth factors (such as human growth hormone)
  • beta-2 agonists (medicine used for asthma control)
  • hormones
  • diuretics
  • illicit drugs

Activities that can give an athlete an unfair advantage are also banned. Having a blood transfusion to increase the number of red blood cells in the body is an example of this.

Resources and support

For a complete list of prohibited substances visit the WADA website.

To learn more about the use of prohibited substances in sport visit the Sport Integrity Australia website.

To find out more about the harmful effects of drugs in sport or to raise a concern or report an issue, visit Sport Integrity Australia`or call their general enquiries helpline on 1300 027 232.

You can read more about performance-enhancing drugs at Australian Academy of Science.

To find out about the effects of legal and illegal drugs visit the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website.

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

Last reviewed: July 2023


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

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

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

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

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

Recreational drugs | Your Fertility

Taking anabolic steroids for body building or competitive sports causes testes to shrink and stops the production of sperm

Read more on Your Fertility 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

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 Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.