Parents, coaches, trainers and teammates play important roles in promoting clean sport by having important conversations with athletes about the dangers and harmful effects of anabolic steroids.

There are many different reasons athletes use anabolic steroids: to alter appearance, to gain a competitive edge, to build muscle faster, stay competitive as they age or to help recover from an injury.

Having a Conversation About Anabolic Steroids and Looking for Alternatives

Anabolic steroids may be used by athletes to enhance or maintain their performance. Athletes need to know that there are many alternatives to taking these prohibited and harmful substances.

Be Proactive – Help Prevent Use

There are specific times and circumstances when athletes are more vulnerable to beginning anabolic steroid use. Parents, coaches, trainers, and others can help intercede during these times. An athlete is more prone to turn to steroids when they:

  • Experience poor body image. Half of high-school-aged anabolic steroid users are not athletes. Instead, they use anabolic steroids for the appearance-altering effect. Athletes who feel that they don’t fit the body type expected for their sport can be equally tempted. To learn more about ways to educate and talk about positive body image, visit BodySense. This resource can help shape a conversation with your child, student, or athlete around body image.
  • Attempt to return from injury sooner. Athletes may feel insecure when they are injured and/or recovering. They may be fearful of losing their spot on the team, funding, or missing out on being noticed by scouts or recruiters. Given the therapeutic and performance-enhancing effect that anabolic steroids have, this is a time when athletes often make the decision to use prohibited substances in order to accelerate healing to be able to train and compete at high levels.
  • Try to ensure success. Prior to major events when their future may be impacted (e.g. major games, tryouts, scouted events, etc.), athletes may feel tempted by the quick gains that anabolic steroids are perceived to offer. Athletes may feel that they do not have enough time to attain the needed strength and power on their own through training.
  • Age out of their sport.  Many sports are comprised of athletes at many different ages and stages competing for a place on the team. Older athletes may feel threatened by the performance of their younger competitors or teammates and may decide to turn to performance-enhancing drugs to help maintain their performance.

What to Look For

As part of an athlete’s support network, you are an active participant in their sporting experience, both on and off the field. Below are some common characteristics athletes might exhibit that could suggest anabolic steroid use.


  • Lying and secretive behaviour
  • Withdrawing from established social relationships
  • Declining academic performance
  • Exhibiting forgetfulness and fatigue
  • Anxiety or increased irritability
  • Affective disorder (e.g. depression)
  • Delusions
  • Heightened aggression
  • Insomnia

You should also know and be aware of the signs athletes may exhibit when considering using anabolic steroids.  For example, certain topics of conversation or attitudinal behaviours could indicate that athletes may seek the benefits that anabolic steroids are perceived to offer. Some of these signs could be:

  • Frequent complaining about lack of playing time or loss in playing time 
  • Negatively comparing their physical characteristics to teammates or other athletes
  • Negative perceptions and comments about their body
  • Concerns about losing their place on the team
  • Frustration over slow gains in muscle and performance despite consistent practice and training

How Can I Help?

Individuals in an athlete’s support network can have a positive influence on their sport experience, helping them to make informed decisions and ethical choices. In this crucial role you can activate, protect and advocate for a clean sport experience.


Research indicates that having proactive, open and informative dialogue with athletes about the risks and dangers of appearance-altering and performance-enhancing drugs can help positively influence an athlete’s views about competing clean and choosing alternatives to doping. When having these conversations, it is important to have a balanced message that includes both the health risks and anti-doping sanctions that can result from taking anabolic steroids.

For example, risking one’s long-term health for short-term athletic gains or the impact that long-term sanctions can have on future sport participation are often overlooked or dismissed as insignificant by younger athletes.

Preventative conversations should also include appropriate ways that athletes can achieve their athletic goals – through properly developed nutrition and training plans. These conversations help to activate an athlete’s values and opinions around clean sport, helping to develop character and steer them in the right direction.


As an athlete progresses in their athletic endeavours, you should continue to ask probing questions that can reveal an athlete’s changing values and attitudes around the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Discussions and questions can explore an athlete’s:

  • Knowledge and opinions of performance-enhancing drugs (benefits, health risks, anti-doping violations)
  • Self-perception of their own body image
  • Personal goals and plans to attain them
  • Discussions with coaches or teammates about anabolic steroid use
  • Feelings of pressure to change their physical appearance
  • Need for significant improvements in athletic skills (strength, power, endurance, etc.)

Continuing to be active and involved in an athlete’s sporting experience can help you to recognize and protect an athlete who is struggling to make positive and ethical choices about competing clean.


Advocating for an athlete to succeed clean can involve seeking advice from medical professionals and high performance sport experts. For example, coaches and trainers can help develop a plan to make sure an athlete is reaching their goals, without subjecting their body to the harmful effects of anabolic steroids. Sport medicine doctors, strength and conditioning coaches and dieticians also have the expertise and resources to help achieve an athlete’s desired goals.

Overall, understanding what could motivate an athlete to use anabolic steroids can help structure conversations that will inform and educate them about the long term effects and consequences of anabolic steroid use.

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