Psychology of Doping

I first read this article expecting to see an unbiased look at the side effects both physically and mentally from taking steroids, but this was not their aim. Instead, these researchers were looking for different psychological tactics to get steroids out of sports because it is against the rules. There is already a large amount of anti-doping propaganda in existence, but this article has rightly argued that these current methods are not effective enough in dissuading potential steroid users. In this article they came up with 5 existing ineffective arguments not to dope:

  1. It’s not fair
  2. There are medical risks
  3. Doping brings lawyers into sports
  4. Doping convolutes studies if subjects use steroids
  5. Doping destroys the pure image of sports to kids

Before I go further into the analysis of this article, I want to confess that I did not enjoy reading this article because of the all or nothing look at steroids, ignoring all of the legal methods of prescription by doctors to thwart inflammation type ailments, help the recovery of surgery, or even to help an older man with lower testosterone feel more vitalized and youthful. I believe that the propaganda is similar to marijuana, where it was completely demonized, and myths of harsh side effects surrounded the issue. This in general makes it difficult to be objective about our decision, and instead base our decisions off of other people’s feelings. While I am not opposed to keeping it illegal in sports, and having a good drug testing system, I do not want to have a blind allegiance to anyone or anything. Due to this jumble of facts, people think that the main reason for doping is to get an automatic 10% increase in strength or something like that. Instead, the vast majority of people that I have talked to that regularly use it toward sport performance is for the use of recovery.

People at the most elite levels of their sport train a huge amount daily to either maintain or continue to see improvement. More and more volume in the training seems to be a consensus with how to improve, but people neglect to understand the additional recovery that is needed. The optimal amount of training is to train as hard as your body can recover, otherwise you enter into the realm of overtraining where performance drops and people have a very high risk of injury. By introducing steroids, these recovery times have been impacted the most, allowing these top athletes to be limited by the amount of hours in the day instead of the amount of training they can do.

I think that a major problem actually comes from the all or none mentality against these illegal substances. Even if there is much truth within the article, by not taking a completely unbiased stance, it clouds what can and cannot be believed, so it is just easier to disregard those types of propaganda completely, and attempt to figure out things for yourself through trial and error. The trial and error is where many people get into trouble though because steroids do in fact have some serious side effects, and is harsh on the body to tolerate.

Finally, getting back into the article, the researchers narrow the user population down to 3 demographics: athletes, aesthetics, and criminals. The athletes’ main motivation lies in sport performance, where an aesthetics’ individual wants to optimize looks, and the criminals want an edge through increased anger and power. With each of these categories, they discuss a critical time within the first 1-2 years of training where younger lifters start underdeveloped, lack a sense of worth, or want to impress the ladies. Then after trying these supplements, they feel unbeatable, and become hooked on the additional power when on a cycle. This is a difficult cycle to stop, but this article’s strategy is to primarily influence the cost/benefit ratio, and a secondary solution not discussed in depth is for early prevention.

There’s an interesting study that was cited with 198 Olympians determining the lengths of their motivation to win. 98% of these individuals said they would dope if they were guaranteed they weren’t caught and they would win the Olympics. A second question asked “if you win every competition for the next 5 years, but die from the side effects of doping after 5 years, would you still dope”, and a whopping 50% still said they would do it. The feeling of being immortalized as the best seems to take priority over being alive.

It is difficult to influence the cost/benefit ratio in non-athletes, but for athletes there has been a recent push in the Olympics to not only improve their current testing methods, but to go through previous Olympics with the new testing technology and punish any new positives that come up. This has resulted in many medaling positions to be given to others, and specifically in the sport of Weightlifting, so many people have been positive that 8th-9th place finishers have been bumped up to medalists. The aim of this re-testing is to put a new vibe out that nobody is safe, which is what they discuss in the article if they want a change in sports.

By taking away medals, and banning the individuals from competing, this brings possibly a bigger factor into the picture, bringing shame to the athlete’s name. If the athlete thinks that the risk is much worse than the standard slap on the wrist, and instead brings shame to their name and lose sponsorship/payment permanently than there will be much more consideration prior to doping. While the crackdown in the Olympics is still relatively recent, this article believes that anti-doping will continue to improve because the “everyone’s doing it” mentality will be diminished in future years.

Jack Rummels

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