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Elite Athletes' Perceptions of the Effects of Illicit Drug Use on Athletic Performance

Thomas, Johanna O MPH; Dunn, Matthew PhD; Swift, Wendy PhD; Burns, Lucinda PhD

Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine: May 2010 - Volume 20 - Issue 3 - p 189-192
doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e3181df5f87
Original Research

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.

From the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Submitted for publication October 29, 2009; accepted March 18, 2010.

The project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

Reprints: Matthew Dunn, PhD, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia (e-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.