An alarmingly high number of elite teenage athletes say they plan to take performance-enhancing drugs, a study has revealed.
One in 12 interviewed in an Australian study conducted for the World Anti-Doping Agency said they intended to use drugs to lift their performance, and many others might use them but were undecided.
The findings have sparked calls for psychological profiling to identify athletes at risk of doping.
The profiling could be used to target individuals for extra education and drug tests.
The study of 436 elite development athletes aged 12 to 17 found that 34 intended to use performance-enhancing drugs within the next year.
A further 38 athletes were undecided while 364 did not intend to dope.
The study mainly recruited athletes through sports clubs in Queensland during 2011 and included various sports, including rugby league, soccer, AFL, netball and hockey. The study did not find pro-doping attitudes were more prevalent in particular sports.
Associate Professor Stephen Moston from the University of Canberra, who conducted the study for the world agency, will present the findings at the Australian Psychological Society's annual conference in Cairns next week.
He said athletes who intended to use drugs or were undecided commonly used strategies to switch off their normal moral code to justify doping. Some compared doping to something else (''at least I'm not taking cocaine''), others minimised the consequences (''it doesn't hurt anyone''), while some blamed others such as coaches or the media.
''These kids are terribly nice 99 per cent of the time but when it suits them they can switch their morality off and do something they know is wrong and stand there with all innocence and say, 'I didn't do anything','' Professor Moston said.
He said athletes who were more in favour of doping were obsessed with winning.
They also believed their teammates or coach would encourage them to use performance-enhancing drugs, and that drugs were prevalent in their sport.
''One of the reasons people start taking drugs is because they think everybody else is,'' Professor Moston said.
''In all of our studies we ask people to guess how many elite athletes they think are using performance-enhancing drugs generally, and then in their own sport.
''Normally they give a big overall number, about a third of athletes … but they think their own sport is relatively clean.
''But people who are intending to use drugs think drug use is really common - maybe 40 per cent of all athletes - and their own sport is hardly any different.''
Professor Moston said psychological profiling could identify athletes at risk of doping early so they could be targeted for more intensive education, and possibly increased drug testing.
''There are concerning attitudes even at this young age that need to be factored into education programs,'' he said.