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Athletes’ Motivation for Performance-Enhancement Drug Abuse

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sports
Wordcount: 1980 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Research focusing on performance-enhancing drug used (doping) by athletes from 2006-2017 was reviewed. Seven articles were selected based on definition, or related overview on the subject. Doping has been a problem in sport, especially on the national level. The articles suggested that a prevention to doping is possible when it is handled before it becomes an issue such as a social intervention to increase personal attitude. An online academic database was used to search for appropriate articles containing the themes of ‘athletes,’ ‘performance-enhancement drugs,’ and ‘motivation.’ Of the seven articles that were reviewed, an athlete’s motivation is affected by their external (social factors) and internal (personal belief or confidence) influences. Therefore, by doping, an athlete’s may increase their performance, but it is unknown if would set them at the optimal arousal and performance peak.

 Keywords: athletes, motivation, performance-enhancement drugs, doping, Yerkes-Dodson law

Past studies have focused on the athletes’ substance abuse in alcohol and different types of motivations that appears in athletes. There seems to be a gap between an athlete’s motivation and their usage of enhancement drugs to boost their performance in their particular sports. These days most national sport leagues have guidelines to prevent players from taking substances, yet there was little research on the relationship of a player’s motivation and taking the drugs in relation to the Yerkes-Dodson law. Yerkes-Dodson Law states that the optimal level of motivation should vary with problem difficulty (Fantino, Kasdon, & Stringer, 1970).  Therefore, it seems as if current data has measured an athlete’s motivation on the performance vs. arousal graph and where doping may affect that bell curve. One of the factors of motivation is a player’s self-determination. Deci and Ryan (2008) would define the self-determination theory (SDT) as, “Self-determination theory (SDT) is an empirically based theory of human motivation, development, and wellness.” Through the SDT, it can be divided into two separate component which are the autonomous and controlled motivation. Deci and Ryan (2008) defined controlled motivation as motivation where “people tend to feel pressure to think or act a certain way when being controlled.” Autonomous motivation dealt with the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The former was characterized as players who participated in sports or any activities for the inherent satisfaction, while the latter is to attain a separable outcome (Rockafellow & Saules, 2006). A possible hypothesis for future studies to explore is that players tend to take performance enhancement drugs in high pressure situation when they are driven by controlled motivation. A second hypothesis is that when a player is past the optimal arousal and performance peak of the Yerkes-Dodson law, that performance drugs would reset them at the optimal level.


All searches were done through ProQuest PsycArticles search engine from UAB databases.

Search Strategy

The prerequisite key words were “athletes” and “performance-enhancement drugs” to exclude any articles that were related to alcohol or recreational drugs. Other searches were also done to broaden or narrowed results for appropriate articles.

Table 1 Terms used in PsycArticles search engine

Search Terms

Total Numbers of Articles Appeared

‘Athletes and Performance-enhancement Drugs’




‘Performance-enhancing Drug’


‘Athletes and Substance Abuse’


‘Sports and Substance Abuse’


‘Athletes and Drugs’


‘Sports and Drugs’


‘Sport Motivation’


‘Athlete Motivation’


‘Athletes and Expectation’



Inclusion criteria

A total of seven articles were decided to be included in this paper. that focused on the specific drugs, sports, athletes, and other vocabulary such as ‘doping.’ Motivation was a key term and topic that was focused on in this paper. Other factors that may affect motivation and indirectly affect the decision made by athletes on doping were included.

Exclusion criteria

Any articles where the research was primarily focused on recreational drug usage, or alcohol were excluded as they were not a form of physically enhancing drug. Non-athletes were also excluded from the search as it is rare for a non-athlete to steroids other than for medical purposes.


Theme 1. External Influences: Social Influences

The first external factor on motivation were the parents. Depending on the view, parents have an indirect or direct influence on an athlete’s motivation which later translated on future choices. In a direct sense, depending on the parents and their parenting style the athletes may feel more or less pressured to perform. In an indirect sense, the parents have an influence on their child’s upbringing and more so towards how their morality were shaped. Parents appear to play a key role in forming and shaping athletes’ personal morals which, in turn, have implications for their approach toward doping in sport (Erickson, Backhouse, & Carless, 2017). This would suggest that with the appropriate upbringing, an athlete would be swayed away from doping when they were influenced by controlled motivation. They would be pressured by how their parents would think of or view them if they were to abuse performance-enhancement drug. This led to the idea that an athlete’s motivation on whether or not on abusing performance-enhancement drugs may be indirectly influenced by their parents influences on the formation of their morality. This came about when Erickson, Backhouse, and Carless (2017) discover from their research that athletes have a natural desire to show their parents that their effort was not in vain by not doping if the parents were providing constant support early on.

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In another previous research, it was determined that besides parents there were two other social factors that would influence athletes’ decision to dope and they were medical staffs and coaches (Chan et al., 2014). Chan et al. (2014) found that during their research all three of the social groups (parents, coaches, and medical staffs) may be a risk factor on the athletes if their goal were solely on winning rather than the safety of the players. Therefore, the effect of controlled motivation has on an athletes’ decision to abuse the substance could be reflected on their social influences.

Theme 2. Internal Influences: Personal Belief

Players may be affected by their own internal influences such as their personal view on the topic of doping. For moral reasons, some athletes opposed the idea of doping, although they were in the minority, while the rest may view that the increased physical performance was a beneficial enough for them to partake as it also increased them psychologically [such as their confidence] (Chan et al., 2014). Personality was also a factor that was taken under consideration as particular athletes may strived for perfection and high goals in order to keep their arousal at an optimal peak such as the Yerkes-Dodson law.. As mentioned before players may have perfectionistic strivings, which is also related to athlete burnout (Jowett, Hill, Hall, & Curran, 2013). Burnout is a negative product of high amount of stress for prolonged period, which is not exclusive to athletes. It is usually followed by a player’s sudden low motivation (Jowett et al. 2013). Therefore, an athlete would yield a low performance to their low arousal state. It is unknown whether or not that it would translate over to their decision on if they would consider the idea of doping to boost performance or not. Previous researches have not indicated a clear direction of an athlete’s decision but based on current knowledge a player may not dope due to introjected avoidance motivation. Introjected avoidance motivation involves a focus on more negative and undesired experiences (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 2008; Assor, Vansteenkiste, & Kaplan, 2009).


The resulted findings of this literature review revealed that an athlete’s motivation in their decision on whether or not to abuse performance-enhancement drugs were depended on their social and personal influences. A possible future direction of the hypothesis would be to experiment with it and integrate Yerkes-Dodson law with it. While there are multiple researches to refer to, there is no clear starting point to begin experimentation. Most research defined the perimeter of the experiment, but the direction of causation was missing. Therefore, more research should be done to allow clearer comprehension on the subject matter in terms of direction of motivation and self-regulation on performance-enhancing drugs.


  • Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R.M. (2008). Self-Determination Theory: A Macrotheory of Human Motivation, Development, and Health. Canadian Psychology. 49(3), 182-185.
  • Rockafellow, B. D., & Karen, K. K. (2006). Substance Use by College Students: The Role of Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation for Athletic Involvement. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. 20(3), 279-287.
  • Erickson, K., Backhouse, S. H., & Carless, D. (2017). Doping in Sports: Do Parents Matter?. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. 6(2), 115-128.
  • Chan, D. K. C., Hardcastle, S. J., Lentillon-Kaestner, V., Donovan, R. J., Dimmock, J. A., & Hagger, M. S. (2014). Athletes’ Beliefs About and Attitudes Towards Taking Banned Performance-Enhancing Substances: A Qualitative Study. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. 3(4), 241-257.
  • Fantino, E., Kasdon, D., & Stringer, N. (1970). The Yerkes-Dodson Law and Alimentary Motivation. Canadian Psychology. 24(2). 78-84.
  • Jowett, G. E., Hill, A. P., Hall, H. K., & Curran, T. (2013). Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. 2(1), 48-61.
  • Assor, A., Vansteenkiste, M., & Kaplan, A. (2009). Identified Versus Introjected Approach and Introjected Avoidance Motivations in School and in Sports: The Limited Benefits of Self-Worth Strivings. Journal of Educational Psychology. 101(2), 482-497.


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