“Individuals do the best they can, given their circumstances as they see them.” This quote is taking from James Coleman a rational choice theorist. Moreover, the quote signifies the underlying depth of rational choice theory. Nevertheless, athletes and substance use and abuse are issues relevant in today’s competitive market. In this paper I will focus on athletes and substance use and abuse from a rational choice perspective. I will initially give a brief history of substance use and abuse in sports, explain the issue of athletes and substance use and abuse, and explain why and how rational choice theory applies to athletes and substance use and abuse. This paper will primarily focus on how rational choice theory applies to athletes and substance use and abuse. I will define rational choice theory relative to substance use and abuse in athletes. I will talk about the drugs abused by athletes in order to obtain maximum performance, particularly the most common substance abused – anabolic androgenic steroids. I will relate the reasons why and factors of use and abuse to rational choice theory. I will explain why the former is relevant to the latter, and I will more importantly develop a theoretical explanation of substance use and abuse from the rational choice theory in relation to athletes. Finally, after making my main points I will make policy suggestions on how to practically approach substance use and abuse in the real world.
The most common drug among athletes is steroids. The abuse of steroids dates back to at least 1950s. However, substance use in athletes dates to ancient times. Greek Olympians used strychnine and hallucinogenic mushrooms to psych up for an event. In 1886, a French cyclist was the first athlete known to die from performance-enhancement drugs. In the 1920s, physicians inserted slices of monkey testicles into male athletes to boost energy, and in the 30s, Hitler allegedly administered the hormone testosterone to himself and his troops to increase aggressiveness.
In a competitive world it is presumed that you have to be strong, vicious, successful, and in simplest terms better than the competition. In this high-pressure world, athletes are continually on the lookout for a winning edge. The advantage formula may be a new technique in training, a new diet or a new attitude. On the other hand, it could be the use of drugs. Drugs unlike hard work is immediate and ergogenic.Rational choice theory centers on human rationality. Rationality relates to aspect of being able to make decisions with reason. Furthermore, rational choice theory than applies to athletes in the terms of costs and benefits of substance use and abuse. Substance use is a choice made by athletes. Whereas, athletes can choose to work hard or take substances for immediate gratification. However, the factors and consequences should be rational and applied at will. Athletes have many options available and the ability to act. However, in the long run of rational choice the goal is determined by the most rational and significant wish or want.
Sources of Inspiration
Rational choice theory defines this particular wish or wants in terms of free will and choices. Nevertheless, rational choice theory applies to athletes and substance use and abuse because the benefits of taking substances outweigh the costs. Likewise, the goals rationalize motivation, which leads to the ability to act, and passions and drives become tangible. This inspiration can propitiate substance abuse as the most cost effective and beneficial way to victory.
Substance use and abuse by athletes is rarely studied on a national scale of demographics. However, there is research on substance use and abuse at the university level. An NCAA study on substance use and abuse habits found that improvement of athletic performance ranked the highest among athletes. This study also discovered that many athletes were willing to pay the cost of physical and physiological problems of using substances in order to enhance performance. This is essential from a rational choice perspective. Rational choice theory assumes that people act purposely in order to maximize individual goals. Individual’s efforts to achieve these are composed of two factors. The first, that some actors have greater access to resources than others. Second, that individual action is constrained by the social institutions that restrict the choices that people can make to achieve their ends.
The means and ends aspects of rational choice was developed by James Coleman. Coleman’s rational choice views individual as a rational profit seeker. The goal in profit seeking is the effort to maximize personal gains. This is where the competition in substance use and abuse take place among athletes. Rational choice emphasizes on the individual. Assumptions have been studied on rational choice theory. These assumptions are individualism, optimality, and self-regard. Individualism signifies that individual social action is the ultimate source of larger social outcomes. This notion of individualism runs in opposing views with the former ideals taken up from Durkheim’s social facts. However, in the latter view Coleman’s concern explained and reviewed the types of norms, demand for those norms, how norms emerge and how they were realized. The Optimality actions of individuals are optimally rationalized with the preferences of the individual and the opportunities or constraints the individual faces. In this sense, athletes will try to achieve the best for himself or herself, given the circumstances of their goals, desires and wants. Lastly, self-regard in rational choice theory has been studied as the individuals concern about his or her welfare. Athletes typical only care about their own self-regard and rationalized abilities to win.
George Homans and Peter Blau, who examine social exchange and the benefits and costs of alternative courses of action, are also associated with rational choice theory. Homans’ and Blau’s concerns parallel economic issues but they focus on social rather than economic exchange, with social behavior being an exchange of activity. Hamans and Blau would have been very excited to discuss the rational choices made by athletes.
The fact that athletes and other individuals act rationally have been recognized by many sociologists. Sociologists of rational choice rely on behavior and human action. Substance use and abuse have been studied and explored on the realization that drug taking is a behavior. Therefore, substance use and abuse can be understood at the same extent as any other kind of behavior. In general, behavior persists if it minimizes discomfort and maximizes pleasure and satisfaction. Likewise, athletes use substances because they provide an increase in satisfaction and a reduction in discomfort. Aspects and elements of substance use and abuse in athletes occur for various reasons. Some of these reasons include behavioral, biological and influential. Most athletes use substances because the pleasure benefit outweighs the stress that may follow from withdrawal and because illegal substances are socially learned and rationalized as a tangible sub-culture.
The cause of substance use and abuse by athletes is to excel in athletic competition and to look more like society’s ideal body type. Some athletes turn to substance use and abuse because they feel under pressure to win at any costs. Likewise, for some athletes the desire and rational choice of succeeding will force them to win at any cost. Some athletes turn to substances that will help them compete and give them a better chance on winning. Society places importance on winning, and to come out on top, therefore many athletes are willing to make sacrifices – sacrifices that agree with the benefits and costs of rational choice theory.
The process of substance use and abuse in athletes takes the course of rational choice in relation to rationality of action. This notion assumes that people make the most out of what they have. The idea behind the substance use and abuse is that action takes place from desires and desires lead to beliefs, beliefs in turn leads to information. The logic behind the rational choice theory considers the choosing process as an important aspect of selective entity, free will, criterion, social influences and rationality under addiction of substance abuse.
Substances use and abuse in athletes include many factors – cultural environmental, interpersonal, intrapersonal and biological. Cultural factors are customs and mores, attitudes and social policy. Environmental factors are conditioning, learning and life events. Interpersonal factors are social and familial. Intrapersonal factors are developmental, personality, affect and cognition and sex differences. Lastly, biological factors are biochemical, genetic and physiological. Nonetheless, there is no one factor which encourages an individual to abuse substances. However, there is some evidence that there are sport specific factors which put additional pressure on the athlete to abuse drugs. This suggests an interrelationship between the factors of substance abuse and rational social theory.
Substances abused by athletes include therapeutic drugs, performance enhancing drugs, and typical misused drugs. Therapeutic drugs include OTCs – this includes laxatives, ephedrine, analgesics, weight loss meds and local anesthetics. OTCshave a low potential for misuse, and have an increased risk of further injury, anemia and eating disorders. Diuretics are a therapeutic drug that promotes rapid weight loss. It contains a dilution of illegal substances and has a negative overall impact on performance. Furthermore, it can cause dehydration, hypotension, muscle cramps and electrolyte imbalance. Opioids are a prescription pain killer and are most common because it can allow performance while injured. However, it can increase risk of further injury, dependence, drowsiness and mental clouding. Lastly, beta-blockers are anti-tremor and anxiolytic effect with a negative effect on endurance. It can cause depression, fatigue and bronchospasm.
Performance enhancing drugs are typically the drug of choice for many athletes. It is their drug of choice because from a rational choice perspective the positive costs outweigh the negative. Performance enhancing drugs include CNS stimulants such as caffeine which shortens reaction time and improve concentration. Systematic stimulants such as adrenalin found in local anesthetics, ephredrine and pseudoephedrine found in cold medicine and phenylpropanolamine found in diet pills. Pituitary and synthetic gonadotropin increases testosterone and is anti-estrogenic. Beta 2 agonists increases testosterone and ovarian cysts. Erythropoietin (EPO) stimulus RBC production and increases oxygen carrying capacity, allergic reaction. Lastly, the most commonly used performance enhancing drugs by athletes are anabolic androgenic steroids, they derivatives of testosterone.
Anabolic androgenic steroids fall into three classes: C-17 alkyl derivatives or testosterone esters or derivatives of 19-nortestosteone; and esters of testosterone. C-17 alkyl is soluble in water and can take orally. Examples of this type of drug include anavar, anadrol, dianabol and winstrol these types of steroids are often favored by athletes trying to avoid drug screen because the body can clean itself within one month. The 19-nortestorsterone derivates are oil-based; they are usually injected and absorbed into fat deposits, where long time energy is stored. Lastly, esters of testosterone are especially dangerous. Examples of them include Testx and cypionate. They can be taken orally and by injection.
Side effects of anabolic androgenic steroids for male and female athletes differ. Side effects for men include: permanent gynercomastia (breast development), testicular atrophy and decreased sperm count, premature baldness and difficult urination. For women the side effects are opposite: enlargement of the clitoris disruption of the menstrual cycle, permanent deepening of the voice and excessive facial and body hair. Both male and female athletes who take steroids experience nervous tension, aggressiveness and anti-social behavior, headaches, dizziness, and high blood pressure. In sense males slowly transforms into females and vice versa for females, so why would an athlete risk their health, gender and bodies to become perfect? They rationalize cost and benefits of the situation, and the rewards and incentives of being perfect in order to maximize a performance that seems worth it. This behavior is apart of the rational choice theory – it explains the action-based means of the situation.
Rational theory gives people choices. People choose to use drugs or to be drug-free. The decisions rely on society and social policies. I will suggest policies for parents, school, health professional and athletes about the substance use and abuse of drugs.
Parents should be aware of the signs and side effects that I previously mentioned. Moreover, if parents notice these signs then they should talk to their child about the risk of substance abuse. Addiction and substance abuse is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with immediately. Life is important and is the only source of rationality or irrationality. Substance users and abusers will need their parental help because irrational choices and addiction can endure many consequences.
School official can rationalize and create drug programs with potential benefits and rewards for the substance users and abusers. Of course the policies would have to consist of deterring use by testing and discipline, evaluation and treatment, reliable and sensitive testing programs, confidentiality and early prevention and awareness of substance abuse and use. However, it is important to note that the choice must be made from the substance user himself or herself. No official can force the decision upon the substance user to seek help, because the rational choice must take its full course and occur at the benefits and costs of the substance user.
Health professionals must take a double stand on the treatment and prevention side. According to Shaw, “treatment may contain a situation, preventing it from developing into a more serious condition. There is also the possibility that it might exacerbate a condition, holding it back from normal while keeping it from reaching a new balance.” Like rational choice the condition and or treatment is left to decide and rationalize its own path to normality. Likewise on the prevention side health officials should use the upper hand and clarify the drug dependency reaction with their client individualistic characteristic and explain to them the dangerous side effects of the substance.
Athletes should try to assess their condition or non-condition. They should interpret their rationality or irrationality. Since the choice is made by the individual than it is the individuals responsibility to assess their options. To weigh out the pros and cons and sacrifice the benefits and costs and vice versa. The decision of the athlete will be the choice they see fit; however, they will have to discipline themselves to follow through. Moreover, the athlete would have to be able to understand and explain the behavior. The power is in the hands of the athlete to decide if substance use and abuse is substantial and worth the consequences.
All action is fundamentally rational in character, and the athlete must calculate the costs and benefits of any action before deciding what to do. Athletes and substance users and abusers must be aware of the exchange between the cost and benefits. In perspective of rational choice the athlete is motivated by the wants or goals that express their preferences. Rational choice perspective assumes that people act purposely in order to maximize individual goals. Individual’s efforts to achieve these are composed of two factors. The first is that some actors have greater access to resources than others. Second, that individual action is constrained by the social institutions that restrict the choices that people can make to achieve their means-ends.
The athlete act within those specific and given constraints and on the basis of the conditions of what which they are acting. The consequences of the athlete decision can be long-term or short-term; however, that choice is primarily set by the athlete themselves.
Substance use and abuse in not only relevant to athletes but to also to adolescents that look up to the athletes as role models. If adolescents discover that their favorite athlete is a substance user they may want to follow suit and become a substance user too. Therefore, adolescents who admire athletes could also be studied from the rational choice theory. Of course, the actions and cost of benefits significant to this population would apply to the latter.
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