Objective: To investigate the perceived risks and benefits that elite athletes associate with illicit drugs and their beliefs concerning the effects of recreational drug use on athletic performance.
Design: Self-administered survey.
Participants: Nine hundred seventy-four elite athletes (mean age, 23 years; range, 18-30 years) were recruited from 8 national sporting organizations in Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport.
Interventions: Participants completed a self-administered survey that included questions exploring participants' perceptions regarding the effects of illicit drug use on physical performance.
Setting: National sporting organization meetings or competitions.
Main Outcome Measures: The main outcome measure was risk perception on athletic performance associated with illicit drug use.
Results: The majority of athletes believed that illicit drug use would impact negatively on athletic performance. The main perceived effects of illicit drugs on athletic performance were physical and mental functioning. A minority of athletes indicated that drug use would not impact on physical performance when taken during the off-season or in moderation.
Conclusions: The main risks perceived in association with illicit drug use were short-term consequences, such as physical and mental functioning, rather than long-term health consequences. The current findings may contribute to the development of harm reduction strategies that communicate drug-related consequences to elite athletes in an appropriate and effective manner.