College athletes who take performance-enhancing substances are more likely to misuse alcohol and drugs, finds a new study.

The study showed that those who used performance enhancers, ranging from steroids to stimulants to weight-loss supplements, were more likely to admit heavy drinking and using drugs like marijuana and cocaine.

They also had elevated rates of alcohol and drug-related problems, such as missing classes, failing tests or getting into fights.

During the study, research team led by Dr. Jennifer F. Buckman, Assistant Research Professor at the Centre of Alcohol Studies, found that nearly one third of the athletes acknowledged using a performance-enhancing substance in the past year.

The list included banned substances like steroids, creatine, “Andro,” stimulants and weight-loss aids.

The findings revealed seventy percent said they had used marijuana and one third admitted to cocaine use, versus 22 percent and 3 percent of athletes who did not use performance enhancers. They also had higher rates of smoking, binge drinking and prescription-drug misuse.

Moreover, athletes who used performance enhancers were more likely than nonusers to be natural sensation seekers, a desire to have new and varied experiences, but they were also more likely to say they used drugs or alcohol specifically to cope with stress and anxiety.

This, according to study co-author Dr. Robert J. Pandina, suggests that these athletes often see a “utilitarian value” to using recreational drugs. “They are using them to cope with the problems of day-to-day living,” he added.

Pandina points out that although many college students are under pressure, athletes- particularly those at the most competitive schools - may face additional stress. He adds that while testing athletes for drugs helps, it is not enough by itself; understanding why some turn to drugs is also key.

“This really says that we have to focus on the motivations for athletes’ substance use,” Pandina says, “and make them aware of the consequences that are likely to come of it.” The study appears in Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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