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Ethical Issues of Use of Performance Enhancing Drugs: Critical Analysis

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Some athletes in their careers may choose to use performance-enhancing drugs to gain an advantage or improvement in their performance due to the physiological adaptions made by their body as a result of taking performance-enhancing drugs. Athletes may take the opportunity or risk-taking drugs for various reasons, however, this often creates an unfair competitive advantage for that athlete therefore it is unethical as well as medically dangerous.

Performance-enhancing drugs are predominantly used with the intention to accelerate visible athletic improvements, ranging from building mass and strength, speeding up recovery from injuries and masking the use of other drugs as well as to improve athletic performance. Commonly used performance-enhancing drugs consist of Human Growth hormones which stimulate the growth of muscle, cartilage and bone. Anabolic steroids are usually used by athletes to improve strength and power, whereby the drug enhances the male reproductive and secondary sex characteristics due to it having a similar structure to testosterone. Erythropoietin is another common enhancing drug as it increases oxygen absorption, metabolism and the healing process as well as improves endurance and reduces fatigue. Finally, both Diuretics (including; Thiazide, loop, and potassium-sparing diuretics) and alcohol are frequently used to mask the use of other drugs. Diuretics are also used to control weight and alcohol assists the athlete develop self-confidence which may lead to developed risk-taking behaviours during performance. By using performance-enhancing drugs athletes experience an acceleration to aid improvement of sports performance and to improve the physiological adaptations which are developed through training. For example; Diuretics are commonly utilised by weightlifters prior to a fight or competition (24 hours before a weight class weigh-in) to make themselves lighter to be put into a lighter weight class, then they rehydrate to be heavier then their opponent.

Athletes may choose to take performance-enhancing drugs to increase their physiological adaptations to training. For example; a sports person may utilise Human Growth Hormones (HGH) to increase muscle hypertrophy. HGH is frequently used to increase muscular endurance, and muscle size and to build muscular strength as well as improve the mass of muscles and bones. Bodybuilders may use HGH as it repairs torn muscles quicker, allowing athletes to recover quicker, therefore, enabling them to train more frequently at high intensities. This results in improved performance as the body build can gain strength through hypertrophy quicker. Whilst Erythropoietin (EPO) is used to assist the stimulation of muscle fibres which causes them to grow and to improve performance by enabling the athlete to exert greater force and repeat movements more often. However, Anabolic steroids also increase muscle hypertrophy as a result of the drug enhancing male reproductive and secondary sex characteristics (testosterone). Anabolic steroids increase the availability of hormones as a result of a higher concentration of testosterone in males in the body which as a result makes hypertrophy easier. Both these drugs assist in improving muscle hypertrophy and is beneficial for anaerobic athletes who participate in sports such as shot put, sprinting and rugby or AFL and NRL which require explosive movements. For example, a weightlifter may use anabolic steroids so that they can train hard and longer, whilst getting stronger faster.

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Additionally, Erythropoietin (EPO) is used by athletes to increase their oxygen uptake a physiological adaptation. This drug increases the production of red blood cells within the body which increases oxygen absorption and allows for more efficient transportation of blood, nutrients and oxygen to working muscles. Therefore, the athlete will have a higher blood volume and cardiac output which enables the athletes to remove lactate and carbon dioxide quicker meaning the athlete is able maintain higher intensities for longer as lactate removal and oxygen delivery are faster. This is beneficial for athletes participating in aerobic sports such as; cycling, walking and swimming. For example; a cyclist may use EPO to enhance their aerobic ability, which as a result allows the cyclist to cycle harder for longer.

Erythropoietin and blood doping is also a commonly used performance-enhancing drug which is used by athletes to improve aerobic capacity. EPOs and Blood Doping contribute to a decrease in the resting heart rate of an athlete. Athletes train to decrease their resting heart rate so that their heart doesn’t need to contract as frequently, allowing them to perform at higher intensities for longer resulting from the additional room between their resting heart rate and their maximum heart rate. Having a lower resting heart rate in sports including rowing, aquarobics and running or swimming will assist the athlete to gain an advantage during their performance.

Stroke volume can also increase or improved by utilising Erythropoietin as it increases oxygen absorption and increases the number of red blood cells produced. Increases in blood flow and oxygen throughout the body means the same amount of blood can be transported around the body with fewer heart contraction. This is a beneficial adaptation as it allows the athlete to maintain high intensities for a long duration as a result of the increase efficiently in removing lactate and oxygen delivery. Improving stroke volume is particular rewarding for aerobic athletes such as runners, swimmers, or cyclists as they receive profound advantages and increased performance by using aerobic training.

Using performance-enhancing drugs in sports is considered unethical as they provide the athlete with an unfair advantage, where the competition is no longer based on an even playing field and disregards the natural ability of the players, consequence establishing an inequality of opportunity for the participating athletes. The effects on the health of the athletes is another ethical consider involved with the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. The drugs are often associated with numerous medical conditions and side effects which have a major influence of the athletes’ health. These medical concerns include; an increased risk of developing a heart disease as well as countless side effects which vary from drug to drug. For example; Diuretics can cause dehydration, dizziness, cramps, heart damage and kidney failure, where Erythropoietin effects consist of; hypertension, blood cancers/ leukaemia, anaemia, pulmonary embolism, nausea and can lead to an increased thickening of blood, which can cause clotting, thrombosis and may ultimately cause a heart attack or stroke. Sports persons who use performance-enhancing drugs are developing an unfair advantage, as well as contributing to ethical concerns by gaining something such as performance-enhancing drugs which are not available to all athletes, especially athletes who follow the rules.

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Ethical Issues of Use of Performance Enhancing Drugs: Critical Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 24, 2023, from
“Ethical Issues of Use of Performance Enhancing Drugs: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
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